While my wife and I were on our Fall camping vacation last week, I was "meditating" near a pathway in a botanical garden on cliffs over the Pacific while she was taking photos. The rugged coast of northern California is so beautiful!
Since I'm always going on about how useless that word "meditation" is, unless you get a lot more specific about exactly what a person is actually doing, let me elaborate on that.
There’s a standard American joke that goes, “A man walks into a bar…” and proceeds to have a short story ending with a punch-line. To get this post started right, I’ll finish the joke:
Question to Elizabeth: We hear the term “nakedness” a lot in the dharma. They often say: “Rest in the naked state.” In my life, I have found it extremely difficult to be naked, to be exposed both physically and emotionally. I tend to enjoy quite a bit of privacy. When I am exposed, I feel very uncomfortable, quite agitated and it's times when I feel extremely agitated that I do not want to sit on my cushion. In fact, if I get to such a point of agitation, I don't sit on my cushion but do things to numb it out. Is there a way that I could methodically work with this type of situation so that I can systematically learn to gently unveil myself? I really think these periods of agitation from exposure need to be worked with consciously and methodically to keep me engaged and on my cushion, but I don't know what to do. When I am on my cushion during such emotional upheaval, I feel like I need some way to walk myself through the practice step by step so that I can allow myself to look deeper into what this agitation really is. Can you offer me any suggestions?
Just the other day I found myself in the all-too-familiar situation of trying to explain what I do when I meditate to a curious and inquiring stranger. I’m sure this has happened to you before…You know, you’re sitting on the bus or in a coffee shop and you strike up a friendly conversation with someone next to you. One thing leads to another, and before you know it you’ve let it slip that you meditate. Then comes that slightly tense moment as you wait to find out whether or not the other person thinks you’re a total wacko and if you need to try and change the subject to something safer…like sports or IKEA.
This time it was a little bit different though…
This was sent in by Melle, a friend of ours from the Netherlands...
Holding the train in your arms
The train can be an excellent place to meditate. Especially when you manage to get a seat. The train I regularly commute on is one of the busiest lines in the country. It has the airport as one of its main stops and lots of business people use the coaches as their first working space of the day. You have the grumpy people hiding in their papers, avoiding any contact, and the rise-and-shine early chit-chat ladies all mixed together in a relatively small room, travelling at about 100 km/hr. Feelings are bound to rise, and not always in a very flowery way.
I’ve been meditating now for over 15 years. It’s one of the most important things in my life and also one of my favorite things to avoid.
My alarm is set for 5:45 am…I think. The theory is to have enough time to do at least an hour of meditation in the morning before I seize the day. What often happens is...
When we think about meditation, it's easy to think about sitting on a cushion, or in nature and working with our mind, working with our practice. And, to some extent, that's what we need to do when we formally practice. It's through our formal practice that we gain the stability to practice every day, to integrate what we've learned into how we are and who we are in our lives.
"In the practice of meditation, having developed a sense of trust in oneself, slowly that expands its expression outward, and the world becomes a friendly world rather than a hostile world. You could say that you have changed the world: you have become the king or queen of the universe.
On the other hand, you can’t exactly say that, because the world has come toward you, to return your friendship. It tried all kinds of harsh ways to deal with you at the beginning, but finally the world and you begin to speak with each other, and the world becomes a real world, a completely real world, not at all an illusory world or a confused world. It is a real world. You begin to realize the reality of elements, the reality of time and space, the reality of emotions—the reality of everything."
It is an ordinary Wednesday morning, I'm just arriving at my agency. Park the car, go upstairs, say hello to still somewhat sleepy colleagues on the way to my room. Wake up the screen and sign in to online banking. Like most of the mornings.
SHOCK! Red numbers. BIG red numbers, right in front of me on the screen, and it´s MY business account. Nothing to interpret, nothing to reconfirm, this is a matter of fact - the account is not only in the red, it's close to its limit. And it's only a few days until salaries have to be paid. In plain language: big problems ahead.
Our first day of retreat coincided with the 49th day of the death of Khandro Tsering Chödron, Sogyal Rinpoche’s aunt. This being an important day in the Tibetan tradition, the morning became a celebration of Khandro’s life through photos, video and by Rinpoche’s anecdotes about her. For me, as a woman stepping into a male dominated tradition, witnessing the importance and respect accorded Khandro as a supreme Vajrayanapractitioner was heartwarming. She appeared to be a woman just like any one of us attending the retreat, who, through following the dharma, became a great master. I wished I had the opportunity to meet her and sit in her presence.
Then however, we started chanting and reciting prayers, and I could feel my skepticism rise up at the rituals that followed. Granted, the full Vajrayana spectacle doesn’t usually occur on the first day of a meditation retreat for beginners - this was a special occasion. But it did give me a glimpse of what my future would be like if I stayed on this path : visualizing gods I don’t believe in, chanting mantras in a language I don’t speak, and praying for the long life of lamas who teach impermanence. Hmm.