On Wabi-Sabi Wednesdays, I feature excerpts from my book, Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House, released this spring.
“The result is not the point; it is the effort to improve ourselves that is valuable.”—Shunryu Suzuki
I live in Boulder, Colorado, where a larger than normal percentage of the population meditates. Lots of people had suggested I do the same, but I was much too busy to just sit there doing nothing for 20 minutes each day. I was a working mother. I traveled. I … I … I ….
I had to give this meditation thing a try.
Zazen, or “sitting Zen,” is the practice of sitting in lotus position (legs crisscrossed), with a straight spine and upright head, eyes slightly open, lowered, and unfocused, emptying the mind of all thoughts and focusing all attention on the breath as it enters and leaves the body. Simple enough. I would just sit, for five minutes a day. I figured I had five minutes to spare, and I was sure I could make myself be still for five short minutes. Think of how fast five minutes goes by when you’re late.
It was torture. I tried counting to 10 and stopping when thoughts intruded; I labeled them “thinking” and let them go. I never got past three before I had to stop for a thought, and that rankled me. I turned my meditation practice into a challenge—and that brought up all my competitive drive (not my prettiest part). I got weird. “I made it past two today,” I would tell my friends, as if I were talking about my golf score. It really mattered to me that I be “good” at meditation—that I get past three. When I saw how silly I was, bringing my report-card mentality to something as unlinear as meditation, I began to see this discipline’s magic. I could see what I hadn’t seen before. (When I stop thinking I need to “fix” that, I’ll be on my way to enlightenment.)
“There is no particular way in true practice,” Zen master Shunryu Suzuki writes in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. I took his advice and moved on to other meditation methods that didn’t trigger my basest instincts. Now when I sit, I let myself get lost in a candle flame; I need something else to focus on. I ring a chime at the beginning and the end, and I burn Nag Champa, Indian incense made from champa flowers, sandalwood oil and spices, in the hand-carved incense burner that my friend Rachel brought me from Thailand. At the end of my meditation, I pull a Tarot card from the deck, just for fun and a little frivolous motivation. (A lot of little rituals help get me in the mood.)
I still can’t sit long, and I honestly prefer to get my quiet time in by practicing yoga or walking the dog. Adopting a Catahoula who needs two good walks a day was the best thing I ever did for my psyche. Even on days when I’m far too busy (which is most), I have to stop and get outside with Rug. I leave the cell phone at home and head for paths that I know won’t be populated, where I can be quiet and grateful.
Photo by Joe Coca