The other day when I was meditating, I was really beset with thinking for 35 minutes, because of being tired and being overwhelmed at work, and probably also because it was late in the evening. I don’t freak out about that kind of thing, but it did feel like a struggle.
And then for the last five minutes, something really interesting happened. I just gave up — in a very positive way. Out of the blue, I found I just wanted to let the mind rest. And I was able to just sit there, in what seemed like a slightly low energy but calm and content state. It felt absolutely right.
Sometimes these creative impulses just come up, completely unexpectedly.
The tension between freedom and discipline, effort and rest, is an interesting one, and some people experience this in relation to whether to sit. A writer I know recently wrote to me saying that it was a real struggle sometimes to stay on the cushion. She’d keep looking at the clock and having a desire to move. After one turbulent sit, she too had an out-of-the blue revelation:
When the bell sounded, I decided to sit for a few minutes longer. I wasn’t forcing myself to meditate; I was meditating because I was choosing to, and I could stop whenever I wanted to. I was struck by the difference in the quality of this “free,” rather than compulsory, meditation. It felt less pressured, more open, more relaxed. Now I’m wondering how to bring that feeling of freedom into my daily practice, given the fact that I *know* I need the structure of a time goal each day.
If you have trouble getting on the cushion, I think the thing to do is to choose to take the freedom out of the situation completely. It’s when we’re not quite committed to sitting that we end up in a will-I-won’t-I struggle with ourselves. I was stuck like that for the longest time (to be a bit more specific, most of the past 30 years!) until a few months ago when I decided that what I need to do was redefine my sense of self. And that led to this post which was a complete game-changer. In the last 100 days I’ve missed one day, and having seen how that missed day came about, I’m absolutely sure I won’t miss one in the next 100 days.
Once you’ve decided that meditating is just what you do — it’s part of who you are then you have a different kind of freedom. You have the freedom of not having to make a choice. You just do it. And “doing it” is a self-chosen minimum commitment, like five minutes per day. Five minutes is your fall-back position for those DEFCON 1, one-step-away-from-the-loony-asylum types of days, but hopefully you’ll average more than that.
And then there’s how to deal with the thoughts — although hopefully by now they’ll no longer be thoughts so much about whether you’re going to stay on the cushion or not. Suzuki Roshi said that if you want to tame a wild horse (or maybe it was a bull) give him a big field to stand in. Try to confine him and you have a fight on your hands. But in a big field, he just stands there quietly. So you can create a big field of awareness by really noticing the space around you. Really notice the light, and space, and sound in front, behind, and to the left and right. Feel, if you can, like your mind is filling that space. Feel a slight stretch as your attention goes in many different directions at the same time. And keeping that sense of spaciousness, start to notice the breathing. The mind has freedom, and you’re sitting in a committed way.