Sunday, June 08, 2008


I found myself in an online conversation the other day about meditation, rattling away with my accustomed volubility, and then I went silent. It's been a long time since I've been meditating. I felt I didn't have the right to talk about it any more. It was surprisingly, intensely painful. Like speaking animatedly about a fun time with a friends for a moment or two and then remembering that they're dead.

I built an online identity around meditation, and now I've forfeited the rights to that identity. The painfulness of that makes me only too aware of how, comically, I'd invested my ego in training in ego-less-ness. (To do myself credit, I was aware of it at the time, too. But at least I was meditating then.)

It's not that I no longer have faith in meditation. I do, if not quite to the extent I used to. And I mean to be meditating. I'm just not. A kind friend suggested that a lot of the space that meditation used to inhabit in my life, massage now inhabits; and that's true, and helpful. But there's more going on than that.

A piece of it is that the Seventeenth Karmapa came to America, and to Seattle. And as usual, when one of the Tibetan bigwigs comes to town, I start avoiding the sangha. People get weird about authorites. And it brings all the more superstitious types out of the woodwork, the sort of people who excitedly tell you that this is the month in which the Buddha achieved paranirvana, and that therefore all practices done in this month are 100,000 times more efficacious. There are people for whom that sort of talk is meaningful and encouraging -- and may their practice prosper! -- but I'm not one of them. It reminds me of nothing so much as of Huck Finn going into the closet to pray for a fishhook. So that support has not been available, or at least I haven't been able to configure myself so as to avail myself of it.

But this conversation stirred everything up in my mind. Made me realize that I urgently need to meditate, that my clarity has been degrading a little, and will degrade more if I don't resume sitting.

Meditation is not usually relaxing. It can be unpleasant or frightening. It's hard work, and usually not very obviously rewarding, not in the short term. It's often lonely, even in a group setting. Why then do it?

Well. 1) I am convinced that the Buddha got the main proposition right: that our experience is suffused with suffering, and that meditation can be an important part of reducing that suffering. 2) I am further convinced that the mind is basically good, and that the more it is freed from suffering the more that goodness will appear, and 3) I am, finally, convinced that the mind is extremely powerful, and that I have a moral obligation to train it, just as the owners of a pit bull have a moral obligation to train their dog. It may be basically good -- I'm of the opinion it is -- but that doesn't mean it won't tear somebody's throat out.

So. I will go and sit, now.

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