“There is love here.
Where there is awareness there is love.
When there is the habit of attachment and fear, we collapse out of love.
And when not collapsed out of love, we see others, all around, hurting, collapsed.
The heart vibrates.”
The bells ring softly at dawn, gently awakening slumbering participants, scattered in various lofts, rooms and campsites. In silence, we walked down the path leading to the meditation hall. As I looked at the early morning sky, a red sun was rising behind a mountain top, announcing the beginning of our first retreat day. When I reached the door leading into the room full of cushions, mats and chairs, the crimson sun had risen gloriously in the summer sky, warming the earth and each of us as well.
As we found our way onto a cushion or an appropriate version of such, we took our seats – in the midst of our lives. All that has happened, is happening and could happen is present. A myriad of opportunities arise: attachment to stories of pain and disappointment or delight and joy, hope and striving, opinions, judgments, and beliefs of control or of being controlled. Countless distractions make themselves available. I notice “wanting” a hot, rich cup of coffee. My face feels tense and my jaw is tight. It is cold in the meditation room. The bells ring: early morning sitting, in silence, has begun. I am accompanied by myself: all I think I am – and am not. I am being invited to step out away from habitual thinking and feeling and into full presence – into this moment, just as it is, like it or not.
The words of Goethe come into my mind: “The present moment is a powerful Goddess”. And so it is: the beauty and the terror of the present moment. Is it possible to simply be? To return to here, now? Some people say: “I’m not doing this right – my mind is racing all over the place!” Sitting in silence is the most courageous act we can do in our lives. If the mind races, this is good news! It is good news because observing the mind racing means we are aware. Each time the mind returns to the past or jumps ahead to the future – or goes in the direction of: “I could have” or “you should have” – we are distorting the moment. Yet we have the opportunity to escort awareness back to “now”, each moment. And we begin again. Mindfulness Meditation is just this: no where to go, nothing to do and no one to be.
As I sit, I am aware of my automatic responses to just about everything. Being a teacher of meditation and mindfulness, shouldn’t I be, well, better at this?? So I am comparing already – making something good or bad, better or worse, right or wrong – and we are four minutes into the morning meditation. “This could be a long sit”, I warn myself – again, a story I have made up. “Long” as opposed to what? And where is the endpoint anyway? Does mindfulness cease or change when the bells ring at the end of our sitting time? Is it possible to be in continuous mindfulness? And what if there was no beginning or no end? Simply living mindfully?
Again, my mind is “thinking” and asking questions. Another quote comes to mind: “Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything has a purpose.”(by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross). What if I stop constructing my world just for this moment? I pause, allowing my racing thoughts to slow down. I become aware of my body once again, aware of my feelings. The experience I am having in this very moment is enough. There is space, even if just a little, between awareness of body and experience and the push and pull of conditioned thoughts and feelings. In the words of our retreat leader, Gregory Kramer, by being present to everything – all of life – we are able to take in the fullness and the flavor of this moment.
Time goes by and I have no sense of minutes or linear measurement. I notice my thought forms and made up scenarios. I am quite good at creating story lines and believing they are truth! As I step away from the whirlwind of my mind, I come back into the present moment. Being still – pausing – becomes an allay, a friend. As practice deepens, the power and potency of silence grows. As I let go of demanding activities of work and family, I begin to see the complex web of interrelated conditioning I have identified with for most of my life. I do not turn away.
Returning to the present moment again and again not only allows escalating thoughts and distractions to lessen, returning illuminates, over time, all that is beneath the activity of the mind. Choosing expansiveness and acceptance, I begin to see life with a new perspective – a new frame of reference. When I open to what is here, now, I am able to observe the tensions of the body and the turmoil of the mind. Accepting whatever is present, with kindness and love, I notice my breath deepening and my body beginning to relax. I feel ease and a sense of inner disarmament.
Information is not wisdom. To allow for expansiveness and tranquility of the mind, we must turn away from over thinking and, instead, welcome each thought as a “visitor”, returning, again and again, to “now”. Each new moment holds the opportunity to stop and come home to our bodies, accept all that is and be still; and in this stillness to dwell; and in this dwelling to find the beauty and flourishing of what is truly real.
This is Part One in a series of three writings on mindfulness, set in the deep woods of Skagit County, Washington. It is my hope that sharing direct experience is helpful in relating to the concept of being here, now. We are exploring the underlying principles and the foundation of mindfulness. Part one opens us to stopping – in this case, sitting on a cushion – and being open and accepting of “what is”. In Part two, we will explore trusting what is happening, regardless of whether we like it or not. And in Part Three, we will bring the silence of meditation to engaging with others. What happens when the comfort and privacy of being on a “cushion” meets another world – or it could be said “another person”?
This is Part One in a series of three writings on mindfulness, set in the deep woods of Skagit County, Washington. It is my hope that sharing direct experience is helpful in relating to the concept of being here, now. We are exploring the underlying principles and the foundation of mindfulness. Part one opens us to stopping – in this case, sitting on a cushion and being open and accepting of “what is”. In Part two, we will explore trusting what is happening, regardless of whether we like it or not. And in Part Three, we will bring the silence of meditation to engaging with others. What happens when the comfort and privacy of being on a cushion meets “another world” ~ or it could be said “another person”?