Four years on the old zafu
So today marks four years since I learned how to practice Vipassana, or Buddhist insight meditation. I’d been going to a Buddhist meditation group for a few months, but what I know about sitting still had come from learning Transcendental Meditation in my late teens, and then having a friend show me some mantra-based Hindu meditation techniques. When I took the class, which lasted eight weeks. I’d heard people talking about how they started and really liked the effects produced by the practice, but they couldn’t keep it up or find time after a while. I made a decision that I would meditate every day during the eight-week course, and then after it finished I kept right on going.
So what’s different? I don’t know. After getting conditioned by all the marketing pitches for TM, I still figured I’d get instant results, and that virtually overnight I would be transformed into this ueber-groovy person who sailed through life’s problems like a warm knife through butter. But it wasn’t like that. It was a lot more like learning to play a difficult song using guitar tablature — changes, when they would come, would be almost glacial.
Let’s see. As for those glacial changes, I am a lot calmer and more comfortable in my skin. When something traumatic or sudden happens, I seem to have a moment in space where I can decide how I am going to respond. I still respond stupidly sometimes, but that’s my decision. I’m more thoughtful and anchored in the present moment, and less prone to daydreaming. I can bring myself into the present moment quite rapidly whenever I drift away into the future or the past, just by connecting with my breath.
On the downside, I’ve become a lot more cerebral — perhaps too much so, I think. So I’ve taken to working on some other practices with the objective of opening my heart to others, and becoming more warm and generous and loving and compassionate. Also, that cerebral nature has diminished my old rapid-fire sense of humor somewhat, although when I really want to, I can still turn the laughs on. So I think maybe it’s time to join a sketch comedy or improv workshop to hone those skills a bit. And I still get emotionally wounded to an exaggerated degree — “butthurt” is the popular appellation — as any reader of this blog or anyone acquainted with me knows. But I believe that today I’m more focused on my part in whatever is triggering the emotional upset, so instead of pointing fingers of blame, I try to look inward toward causes and conditions.
I guess the salient thing to remember is that I practiced every day even during the most difficult portion of my life, that two-year period when I was out of work and homeless and on the receiving end of a lot of help. Perhaps sitting in meditation daily helped keep me from losing my mind, or going off the deep end, or deciding to end it all. I certainly flirted with the idea of personal oblivion more than once, because things were so hard. But meditation, and practicing a recovery program, and getting physical exercise from riding my bike everywhere, I am convinced kept me going when I might have given up.
So will I continue to sit daily? I’d guess so, at this point. Kind of a habit now. no? —Jackson Griffith