Congruence…

So a couple days ago I posted a video on my YouTube channel called ” Curiosity, Authenticity, & Beginner’s Mind.”

In that video I talk about how exploring your curiosities is an expression of authenticity and that this kind of authentic open-mindedness geared towards the exploration of wonder and discovery is synonymous with the Zen Buddhist idea of Beginner’s mind.

I won’t rehash the whole video here. I’ll include a link and you can check it out for yourself.

Anyway, sometimes after I release a video I read something or I hear something that connects to what I was trying to say in that already released video, and I wish I would have read it or heard it before I released the video so that I could have included that little nugget in the video.

Well, yesterday that happened. I was listening to an episode of the Office Hours podcast with T.K. Coleman and Isaac Morehouse. The episode was called “Results Matter More Than Status and Rules.” In the conversation between Morehouse and Coleman, Coleman says something that I think poignantly conveys what I was getting at in my recent YouTube Video.

Coleman says: “It doesn’t matter if I’m like everyone else, it doesn’t even matter if I’m different, what matters is that I’m congruent with what I’m doing.”

What Coleman’s getting at is that sometimes we wax and wane between two fearful poles when it comes to exploring our interests and curiosities.

Sometimes we’re afraid to explore an interest because its something that everyone else is doing, and we don’t want to be just like everyone else.

Sometimes, the opposite is true, and we’re afraid to explore our curiosities if they are dramatically different than everyone else’s.

Both positions are obstacles and obstructions blocking our authenticity and impeding exploration, innovation, and discovery.

It doesn’t matter if you’re congruent or in-congruent with what ever social or cultural group you may find yourself a part of. What matters is if you are congruent with yourself.

As I say towards the conclusion of my video “Curiosity, Authenticity, & Beginner’s Mind” –

Sometimes we get so rooted to a specific tradition,a particular school of thought, a particular way of being, or a particular way of doing things that we cease to examine anything at or outside the periphery of who or what we think we are or should be.

But, Beginner’s Mind is what beckons us to explore our curiosity no matter what it is. It calls us to give voice to these curiosities regardless of whether it is an interest shared by everyone else, or whether it is something directly related to whatever traditions or groups we belong to. In this regard, Beginner’s Mind calls us to explore these curiosities even and especially when it is starkly different. The most important thing to ask ourselves is, are we being authentically congruent with who we are, with what we’re doing, with what we believe, and with what we value?

The curiosity and wonder expressed within Beginner’s Mind is the active expression of one’s emerging congruence with one’s authentic nature.

Advertisements

Curiosity, Authenticity, & Beginner’s Mind

I’m an avid note-taker and I guess you could also call me a kind of content curator or maybe a content collector. I’m constantly taking notes as I’, reading books and blogs, as I’m listening to podcasts, and I’m also constantly capturing and collecting interesting social media posts from the people I follow on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc. As I was looking through some of my recent notes and some of the additions to my content collection, I started thinking about curiosity, authenticity, and an idea in Buddhism called Beginner’s Mind. So let’s talk about that right now.

Earlier this week I saw an Instagram post from Ty Phillips. Ty is one of the co-founders of the Tattooed Buddha Website and he regularly writes there, as well as bunch of other places. Here’s what he posted:

Tyinsta

This really struck me and I saved it immediately. What I love about this is quote is that its not just about originality of thought or trying to be an original thinker. It’s not just about avoiding mediocrity or falling into the trap of the status quo. Its about discovery. It’s about exploration, innovation, and curiosity. It’s also about authenticity.

With this in mind, what’s interesting is Ty’s background. He belongs to the Celtic Buddhism tradition, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Ty explains that Celtic Buddhism is a merger of Tibetan Buddhism with Celtic history and mythology, and so what he tries to do in his own work is to “unite Anglican and Buddhist teachings”. I have to admit as someone kind of obsessed with the study of religion and culture, I’m fascinated!

Buddhism has a rich history, it is a rich tradition, culturally and philosophically. Yet, instead of treading the well-established or well-worn path of traditional Buddhism (not that there’s wrong with doing that), he’s uniting these two seemingly unrelated spiritual paths into something kind of new and unique, and he does so because it is an authentic expression of who he is. That’s pretty inspiring.

If you follow this channel or if you have seen any of my videos at all, you know I’m fairly deep in studying Buddhism, or more specifically Zen, and and even more specifically Chan but, that’s not the end-all, be-all of who I am or what I’m interested in. In the spare time I’m afforded I’m usually found juggling four to five books on a wide range of subjects – Philosophy, Ecology, Sociology, theology, Religion, psychology, and the list goes on and on. If I’m on my phone – I’m probably reading an ebook or a blog. If I have earbuds in – you can bet I’m listening to a podcast or an audiobook. If I’m just lounging – there is always either my kindle or a hard copy book in hand or at least close by. But, I don’t see any of these subjects or endeavors as separated or isolated from one another, and I don’t see them as being separate from my Zen practice. They all inform one another. Philosophy, ecology, sociology, etc. – that all forms the lens through which I see my Zen practice, and my Zen practice forms the lens through which I see these various topics and fields of thought.

There’s a great Tweet I recently captured from T.K. Coleman that says:

tktweet

Coleman, goes a little deeper into this idea in one his blog posts titled You Don’t Need to Make a Career out of Everything You Love. In the essay Coleman talks about having passions, interests, and pasttimes outside of your career. Coleman says that “the universe is bigger than your job. It’s bigger than your job plus all the other jobs that will ever exist. Hence, there will always be interesting, exciting, and inspiring possibilities to explore that are not directly connected to the work you receive paychecks for.” He goes on to say that “the sum total of all my coworkers, customers, company mission, compensation, and creative activities related to my job will never be big enough to capture and satisfy the full range of my diverse interests.” Coleman highlights that “being human means you’re bigger than all the jobs and all the passions you’ll ever have.” I know Coleman is talking about work and career but, I think what he’s saying still applies to what we’re talking about. No one thing, no one career, no one path, no one tradition, no one idea, no one school of thought, no one interest, can authentically summarize the totality of who you are.

Red Pine writes that “One of the hallmarks of Zen is that it’s teaching is not separated from our every day lives.” Zen is not separate from who we are, it isn’t separate from who you are. Nor is it separate from all the divergent things that make up your life. In his book The Zen Experience, Thomas Hoover writes that “in Zen the distinction between oneself and the world was the first thing to be dissolved…it resolves naturally into a love of all things.” There’s a sense of wonder and curiosity here. This is kind of what leads me to think about what Zen calls the ‘beginner’s mind’. There’s a great article I read on Dailyzen.org titled “Beginner’s Mind” by Charlie Ambler. In the article Ambler explains that “Zen practice is about everything…It’s all-encompassing,” not because Zen is one thing but because Zen is made up of everything. Zen is all the things.

Ambler goes on to say that “Over time, repeated experiences become routines, and we start to narrow our field of vision. With this narrowing comes a heightened acuity but also a neglect of periphery. We stop noticing details we used to pick up on. As we zero-in on our skills, goals, values and thoughts in this way, we both gain something and lose something at the same time.”

In other words, Beginner’s mind unlocks the purity of open-mindedness, the open-mindedness of exploration and discovery.

Ambler points out that “To approach any activity with a beginner’s mind is to remain open and curious. We remember what we don’t know, instead of focusing on stroking the ego. We become radically humble and honest with ourselves about what we’re doing. We find joy in simply doing and learning rather than trying to prove something to the world…And when we do this, a new sort of excellence emerges, one rooted in joy rather than zeal.” To me this is statement of authenticity, a call to the spirit of sincerity.

We express the authenticity of all of our passions and curiosities, the authenticity of all that we don’t know and all that we hunger to know more about.

My Zen teacher recently wrote an article called “This is the Reason Why I Am a Reluctant Monk“. There’s a great line in that essay, he says “The truth is our training is never complete.” It’s never over, we’re never done.

Sometimes we get so rooted to a specific tradition, a particular school of thought, a particular way of being or a particular way of doing things that we cease to examine anything at or outside the periphery of our tradition, outside the periphery of who or what we think we are or should be. Beginner’s mind beckons you to explore your curiosity, to give voice to it, to be your authentic self.

Suzuki Roshi once said, “When you become you, Zen becomes Zen.” When you become you, art becomes art. When you become you, literature becomes literature. When you become you, life becomes life. When you become you, the world becomes the world. Carl Sagan said that “we are the way for the universe to know itself.” In his book, The Great Work , Thomas Berry writes that “the human might be identified as that being in whom the universe celebrates itself”. As mystical and woo-woo as this idea may sound, maybe there is at least some metaphorical truth here, maybe we are that part of the universe that is coming to know itself as itself. Maybe, when you become authentic, everything in the entire universe becomes authentic, too.

Zen Teachers?

 

So, I’ve been doing a lot thinking about Zen teachers, about what it means to have a teacher, about what a zen teacher even is, and about what it means to be a zen student, especially in our particular, modern, Western context or situation. So, let’s talk about that right now!

I guess you could say I’ve predominantly been a kind of a self-taught Zen practitioner. I’ve gotten deeper into Buddhism and Zen from practicing meditation, reading various books, watching videos, listening to podcasts, dharma talks etc. It’s only been in the past several weeks that I’ve found a teacher, that I’ve joined a Sangha, and that I’ve taken the Refuge vows and the Five Precepts. In other words, my forays into Buddhism, and now Zen, has been something of a self-guided or self-directed multimedia production.

Yet, the more I continue to study Zen, the more I realize how much the role of a Zen teacher is emphasized. Zen literature is overwhelmingly littered with examples of would be zen students desperately searching for a teacher, often times doing so with great difficulty.

One of the more famous stories is the story of Huike (hwee-kay) trying to convince Bodhidhamra to take him on as a student. Huike stands in the snow all night, the snow piles up to his waist. Bodhidharma still refuses to accept him as a student, and so in an effort to prove his sincerity to Bodhidharma Huike cuts off his own arm and gives it to Bodhidharma. It’s only then that Bodhidhamra relents and takes Huike on as his student.

Now, don’t get me wrong I don’t think this story is literally true. I think its a highly mythologized tale. However, like all mythology, its purpose is not to convey a facticity of historical events but, to convey a deeper meaning. In this case, I think part of the purpose of this story is to suggest that becoming a zen student and finding a teacher is difficult, it isn’t easy, it will take some effort, and it will probably cost you something.

Dogen, himself, writes that “You may have to climb mountains and cross oceans when you look for a teacher to inquire about the way.” In other words, according to Dogen, seeking out a teacher, seeking out training, one must take on a perilous quest to find one. Dogen seems to suggest that its so vitally important to have a teacher that he even goes so far as to say that “If you cannot find a true teacher, it is better not to study (Buddhism) at all.” That seems like a rather bleak prescription.

Now, I can’t help but think about the fact that the world has changed dramatically since the time of these quasi-mythical tales of Buddhist seekers traversing to far-off distant lands, risking and limb (especially in the case of Huike), all in an effort to find someone to provide them information, guidance, and direction. This was not a world of high-speed data and an always-on internet connection. Their world was a world in which google searches had to be performed on foot, their search results could take years, if they came at all.

If there is anything I have learned throughout my academic studies of world religion, it is that religion can be extremely adaptive to cultural and contextual change. Religion seems to be constantly reevaluating itself and its orientation to its particular time and place as the social world continues to shift forward.

This is not to say that there is not always a fundamentalist, orthodox, or conservative element that remains. There will, perhaps, always be those who cling rigidly to the classically accepted and well-fortified demarcations of their religion’s ideologies, those who are unwilling to alter or expand the borders and boundaries of their religion.

Yet, it seems to be an undeniable truth of most religions, that within the changing contexts of each new age or era there is to be found some form of reformational endeavor (i.e. the emergence of varying denominations and expanding theologies in Christianity, the evolution of the different schools of Buddhist thought and their corresponding philosophies, etc.).

In each case, the devotee is tasked with answering the question of what it means to be devoted to their particular religion in their particular time and in their particular place. They must ask what their religion or philosophy means in the present moment. A Christian must grapple with what it means to be a Christian and what Christianity means in what whatever socio-cultural context it is present within. A Buddhist must come to a cognizant understanding of what it means to be a Buddhist and what Buddhism means here and now.

Ok, so I’m not totally sure that I think of Buddhism or Zen as a religion, although there are probably those who do, and clearly that is how they have been traditionally defined. Regardless, I think it remains true that whether we are talking about religion or philosophy, we must recognize that times change, people change, things change, everything changes, and if the ideas that we value are to continue to be of any value they must change as well.

Also, I’m not trying to downplay the significance of a zen teacher or the potential importance of having a zen teacher. Honestly, I’m not nearly knowledgeable enough to know whether or not a zen teacher is still so necessary in the this burgeoning world resplendent with readily available resources and information. What I am trying to do is mindfully recognize the significant ways in which the world we are all presently a part of has and continues to change.

For instance, Rob Bell is a Christian speaker, writer, and thinker, and in one of his books that I read years ago called Velvet Elvis he writes about the necessity of adapting and evolving our ideas:

“Times change… We learn and grow, and the world around us shifts, and the Christian faith is alive only when it is listening, morphing, innovating, letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus and embracing whatever will help us be more and more the people God wants us to be.”

Full disclosure, I’m not a Christian or a theist but, I still think he’s making a really important point here, and one that can easily be applied to Buddhism, or any other tradition or idea for that matter.

Everything is impermanent. Nothing is static. Nothings stays the same.

Not only does everything change but, everything is in the constant and never-ending process of actively changing.

The world around us is constantly shifting and as such, we must continue to learn, grow, and evolve. Our traditions, beliefs, or ideals are alive only when they are listening, morphing, innovating, and letting go of whatever has gotten in the way, and embracing whatever will help us continue to learn and grow along the way.

In fact, my Zen teacher recently wrote an article about being a Reluctant Zen teacher, and he makes a very similar point.

“I think we should be re-evaluating our devotion to authority figures all the time and that we shouldn’t be accepting things on tradition alone. And, as teachers, I think we need to constantly be re-evaluating what we’re doing and making sure we aren’t doing things that drive a lot of people away or don’t work.”

“I wonder if we make a mistake when we think that models of practice that worked in India, China and Korea should be used here. Should we be making our own way instead?”

“I also wonder sometimes if we could reform Zen for the west, in the same way that a few organizations like Insight Meditation Society have been able to reform Theravada.”
So, if we’re going to explore this approach we have to begin to ask “what is a Zen teacher?”

In his book, What is Zen?, Norman Fischer explains that “A Zen teacher isn’t a person; a “Zen teacher” inevitably involves a world, a context.” On the one hand a “Zen teachers exist in the context of Zen teaching, Zen communities, a Zen practice environment, so finding a teacher means finding a community, a sangha, a teaching, a context.” But, I also can’t help but think there’s more to it than just that.

As I mentioned Earlier I now belong to the Morning Sky Zen Sangha. In our discussions there, we’ve been going through The Mirror of Zen. One of the verses that really sticks out to me is verse two which says the following:

“The appearance of all Buddha and Patriarchs in this world can be likened to waves arising suddenly on a windless ocean”.

One way to interpret this verse, as my teacher does, is to say that there is no separation between you and the teacher, both the teacher and student arise from the very same ocean of one-ness, and that “we tend to worship teachers or put them on a pedestal or something” and this is a bit of a mistake. But, also I think that you could read it another way.

Teachers, Buddhas, Patriarchs, arise suddenly, sometimes unexpectedly sometimes from unexpected places. What I mean to say is that because a Zen teacher “inevitably involves a world, a context” and because of this kind on inseparable oneness, anything and anyone that arises can potentially be your zen teacher.

A zen teacher is anyone and anything that you garner experiential wisdom and knowledge from.

I did a four part series on Montaigne and Buddhism (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). Michel de Montaigne was a French Renaissance writer/philosopher, and certainly not a Buddhist but, while I was reading Montaigne’s essays, it felt as though he was teaching me about Zen and Buddhism, at that moment Montaigne became my Zen teacher.
Returning to my Zen teacher, Daniel Scharpenburg, he says that “the role of a teacher is more about reflecting you back at yourself rather than being above you”

In his book, Sit Down and Shut Up, Brad Warner makes the same kind of analogy when talking about a Zen teacher. He says that
“You need to have a mirror to be able to fix your hair or apply your lipstick properly. It’s certainly physically possible to do these things without a mirror and there are no laws against it. But you’d have no real idea what you actually looked like until you walked outside and everyone started giggling at you because you’ve got lipstick all over your nose. A good Buddhist teacher can be your mirror. The teacher, in turn, learns to use her students as a mirror in a similar way.”
Brad Warner explains the following in a post on his blog:

“If you’re serious about finding a teacher, you’re probably going to have to do some work looking for one.”

“There’s value to working for things that are important.”

You’re going to have to search. You’re going to have to keep your eyes and ears open, especially in unexpected places, and maybe with unexpected people. You’re going to have to cultivate a kind of open-awareness.

Perhaps, as Dogen says, we do need to climb mountains and cross oceans to find a teacher but, maybe that’s not so much an external journey any more. I think we all have mental mountains that we need to traverse, as well emotional and psychological oceans that we will have to cross if we ever hope to reach the other shore. And what if its the process itself, the journey itself, that is the teacher? What if its the effort and the act of scaling the internal mountainous terrain and sailing across these treacherous and tumultuous seas that teaches us the most?

Maybe its the search itself that is the teacher?

Dogen writes that “You should remember that how much you study and how fast you progress are secondary matters. The joyfully seeking mind is primary.” Dogen places special emphasis on the “Way-seeking mind” (doshin).

He says that “wisdom is seeking wisdom” – I think, in a way, he’s suggesting that the act of seeking wisdom is an indication of wisdom or wisdom is attained by the very process of aspiring to wisdom. There is no distance between the two – aspiration is itself a kind of attainment or maybe the aspiration is indicative that you have already attained it, its something you already have. So when he talks about the “Way-seeking mind” or when says that the “joyfully seeking mind” is primary – I think it is an emphasis on the eager openness of beginners mind.

There’s an article I read a few weeks ago by Norman Fisher called “No Teacher of Zen”. In it recounts another Zen story, in which Huangbo says “Don’t you know that in all of China, there are no teachers of Zen?” Imagine his students confusion, their teacher announcing that there are no teachers of Zen – obviously they had questions – if there are no Zen teachers why are they there? Why are there these places of Zen training and study? Why are there people like Huangbo who have set up these places of Zen training and study? Huangbo clarifies stating, “I don’t say there is no Zen, only that there are no teachers.”

“the teacher can’t teach you.”

“there are no Zen teachers because Zen isn’t a teachable subject matter or skill.”

“students are responsible for their own practice and their own awakening. No one can communicate a truth worth knowing; the only worthwhile truth is the one you find uniquely, for your own life.”

What does it mean to be a student? Perhaps, to be a student of zen it is not to be so fundamentally devoted to a particular ‘teacher’ but, instead to rooted to the practice, rooted to the quest, to search, to the study. Perhaps, it means constantly scanning the horizon in search of any person, place, or thing that can teach you.

Someone recently sent me a great quote from a book called The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out by The Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje. I think it summarizes what I’ve been trying to get at in this video and I think its a great place to end.

“The teachings and teachers are ubiquitous. Reality is your teacher. Everything that appears can become your teacher. The four seasons can teach you. Anything can be a teacher of Buddhist teachings. Anything.”

What I Should’ve Said About the Sangha…

So last week I posted a video titled “My Sangha“, it was all about what it means to take refuge in the Sangha if you’re in an area without a temple or Zen center, or if you just don’t have the availability to regularly participate in a local Sangha. Yet, for all that I did say, I’ve begun to realize, there was quite a bit I didn’t say, and more importantly there was quite a bit a could have said better, and probably quite a bit I should clarify. So let’s talk about it right now!

YouTube is a great outlet for sharing and discussing ideas but, one of the problems with the medium of Youtube, for me at least, is that sometimes it can be difficult to effectively communicate and express your thought in such a short form medium. I try my best to keep my videos at or around 15 minutes, and usually I’m trying to cover a lot of ground in that time. Sometimes things get lost in that process or I’m not quite as clear as I’d like to be. Last week’s video about taking refuge in the Sangha is one such example.

I received a great comment on that video that made me recognize that I should say more on the subject.

“Taking refuge in the Sangha is not just about what a Sangha means to you. Members of a Sangha are seeking refuge in you, too. So, it is best, if you can to practice in person with a Sangha, so that you are there for them as well. We can also develop hubris if we believe we don’t need a teacher or other Sangha members to “catch” us in our belief that we’ve got it, when in fact we are far from it.”

There are some really excellent points here.

I certainly don’t mean to suggest that an official Sangha is not important or helpful. In fact, just last weekend I took the Refuge vows and the Five Lay Precepts. By taking the Refuge vows and the Five Lay Precepts, I officially joined the Morning Sky Zen Sangha and I became a part of the Tsaodong Ch’an Lineage and tradition..

Now, I’ve discussed the refuge vows in the past couple videos, this is the Triple Refuge, the Refuge of the Three jewels, the triple gem, or the three shelters.

I take refuge in the Buddha
I take Refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha

As my teacher explained in that ceremony, taking refuge in the Buddha does not simply mean the historical figure of the Buddha but the Buddha Nature found in everyone. Here the Buddha represents Enlightenment.

Taking refuge in the Dharma is not simply taking refuge in the teachings of the Buddha but the teachings of all beings. In other words, here, the Dharma represents truth.

And, finally taking refuge in the Sangha is not simply the community of fellow practitioners but also the community of all beings.

And that’s part of what I was trying to highlight in last week’s video.

In his book, Friends on the Path, Thich Nhat Hanh writes the follwoing:

The trees, water, air, birds, and so on can all be members of our sangha. A beautiful walking path may be part of our sangha. A good cushion can be also. We can make many things into supportive elements of our sangha. This idea is not entirely new; it can be found throughout the sutras and in the Abhidharma, too. A pebble, a leaf and a dahlia are mentioned in the Saddharmapundarika Sutra in this respect. It . If is said in the Pure Land Sutra that if you are mindful, then when the wind blows through the trees, you will hear the teaching of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Eightfold Path, and so on. The whole cosmos is preaching the buddhadharma and practicing the buddhadharma. If you are attentive, you will get in touch with that sangha.

This is meant to not only stress the interconnectedness of all things, but I also think that its meant to give some encouragement to those of us who are not always in the position to be a part of an official Sangha in person. When we can see that the sangha is not limited to particular place or a specific group of individuals, but that the sangha is also comprised of all sentient beings, as well as anything and anyone we come into contact with during our practice, We can then recognize that we are never alone, we are never not part of a community – we are all part of an interdependent web of life, our community is always all around us.

We should welcome and acknowledge the support of the community that is always near us.

I’ve been reading a paraphrasing of Dogen‘s Shobogenzo by Brad Warner, called Don’t Be a Jerk, in it he writes that we should “rely on whatever has the truth, whether it’s a lamppost or a stop sign or a Buddha, whether it’s a stray dog, a demon or a god, or a man or a woman” and that one should even “look to trees and stones to be your teachers, even fields and villages might preach to you, as it says in the Lotus Sutra. Question lampposts and investigate fences and walls.”

I think what I wanted to try to say was that regardless of one’s location, availability, or circumstances one can always take refuge in the sangha of all beings, they too are part of one’s sangha.

In this regard, I don’t think its a bad or irreverent thing to ask what a Sangha is?, or what a Sangha is for you?

A really great book I read years ago is a book called The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark In it he writes that “religion can, and should be, objected to, questioned, and talked about. Contrary to many adherents who demand unquestioning respect for their faith, religion is perfectly and wonderfully objectionable.”

“The religiously faithful aren’t just permitted to critique and complain and reform; they’re BOUND to do as much BY religion. Without it, there is no faithfulness”

To me, this seems to be in keeping with the evolution of Buddhism. The historical development and progression of Buddhism has proven to be quite plastic, by that I mean that the tradition is malleable, there is a fluidity there. In each successive generation practitioners have constantly been found asking what it meanss to be a Buddhist in their context. As a result Buddhism has constantly adapted to changes of time and place, and it has done so without ever losing its core principles and teachings.

One of the books I just started reading is a book called Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind. Here’s a passage that I think gets at what I mean here:

The world we work in today is not the world of Michelangelo, of Marie Curie, of Ernest Hemingway, or even of Paul Rand. It is a new world, empowered and entranced by the rapid-fire introduction of new technologies—a world where our metaphysical front door is always open, where anyone can whisper in our ear, where a “room of one’s own” no longer means you’re all alone.

We can easily apply this to the Buddhist tradition, or any other tradition for that matter.

The world we live in today is not the world of the Buddha, of Bodhidharma, of Hongzhi, of Dogen, or of any of the other great teachers and Zen masters. It is a new world…

As Kwame Anthony Appiah writes in his book, Cosmopolitanism, “the worldwide web of information – radio, television, telephones, the Internet – means not only that we can affect lives everywhere but that we can learn about life anywhere, too.”

For example, I should mention that the Morning Sky Zen Sangha, isn’t exactly what you would call a traditional Sangha. It’s primarily based online. I live in Palm Bay, Florida and my teacher is in Kansas City, MO., and its other members are found all over the country. In other words, by embracing and utilizing the internet based communications technologies our modern world, my Sangha is reformulating what a Sangha is, what a Sangha looks like, and what a Sangha can be in the reality of our present world.

However, the refuge and support I receive from my teacher and the other members of my Sangha is in no way diminished by the fact that it is transmitted through an internet connection, if anything, the fact that the support of my Sangha can transcend the barriers and limitations of geography in such a way is a testament to its strength and vitality.

I believe firmly that our faithfulness or commitments to our beliefs, ideals, and traditions is directly proportionate to our ability to question them, our ability to reevaluate them, and our ability to reformulate them.

By asking what a Sangha truly is, what it means to be a part of Sangha, what a sangha means for me, or what a Sangha means for you, it is a way of acknowledging the fact that our world has dramatically changed and continues to do so, and it is way of expressing our deep commitment to these traditions and ideas.

In What is Zen? Norman Fischer writes that “Zen has to be different to fit us, but we have to be different to fit Zen.”

It is a reciprocal activity.

As Thich Nhat Hanh writes “When we say, ‘I take refuge in the sangha,’ it is not a statement, it is a practice.”

It is an active orientation, a vow of reciprocal action, a promise enacted reciprocity.

Returning to Thich Nhat Hanh, he say that “A sangha is not a community of practice in which each person is an island, unable to communicate with each other—this is not a true sangha. No healing or transformation will result from such a sangha. A true sangha should be like a family in which there is a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood.”

He goes on to say – “Don’t think that we sit for ourselves. You don’t sit for yourself alone, you sit for the whole sangha—not only the sangha, but also for the people in your city, because when one person in the city is less angry, is smiling more, the whole city profits.”

When we sit, we sit with and for all beings, we sit with and for the entire world.

As Dogen explains, “Mountains practice with one who meditates. Water realizes the way with one who practices.”

We should not only be the recipients of support, we should equally lend support to whatever community we find ourselves a part of.

We should take refuge in the sangha of all beings, but also all beings should be able to take refuge in us, as we are part of their sangha as well.

In other words, the Sangha is the practice of being open and aware enough to receive the support available from the entire world, it is taking refuge in the entirety of the world. But, it is also the practice of being open-enough to be the space in which the entire world can take refuge in you.

What makes a Sangha a Sangha is not it’s physical location or its brick and mortar structure. A Sangha is not limited to a building, or one geographical place, nor is it liimited to the the literal proximity of the participants to one another. The Sangha extends beyond all this. What makes a Sangha a Sangha is the shared reciprocity of caring support and compassionate connection. To take refuge is to be a refuge.

My Sangha…

In this video talk about what’s known in Buddhism as the Sangha, or the ‘community’, and what it means to take refuge in the sangha if you don’t have a local Buddhist community or when you just don’t have time to go to your local Buddhist community. Below is a rough transcript. Enjoy!

So, if you’re a Buddhist or if you’ve studied Buddhism at all you may have come across the term Sangha. A Sangha is a Buddhist community of practice, in other words, a temple, meditation center, or a Zen center. But, what if you don’t live near a temple or Zen center? Or, if you’re like me and you don’t always have time to get your local Zen center, what is a sangha for you then. That’s what we’re going to talk about right now.

In Buddhism there’s something called the Triple Refuge or the refuge of the Three Jewels: “I take refuge in the Buddha (the teacher). I take refuge in the dharma (the teaching). I take refuge in the sangha (the community). I know this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about the Three Jewels. I briefly discussed them in part four of my “Montaigne & Buddhism” titled “Why Should Buddhists Care?” But, today I wanted to focus on the refuge of the sangha a little more. Maybe you’re like me in that I’m a predominately a kind of self-taught Zen practitioner. I’ve gotten deeper into Buddhism and Zen from reading various books, watching videos, listening to podcasts, and dharma talks etc. So, for me the endeavor into Zen and Buddhism was not one primarily of community orientation. At the time I wasn’t even aware if there was a Zen center near. I’ve since discovered that there is. I have visited my local Zen center more than once and I have greatly enjoyed it each time. However, between hectic-ness of work and family life I don’t get to go as often as I would like. But, as I said in the intro maybe you live in an area with out any kind of official sangha, without an actual temple or Zen center. How does one, then, take refuge in the community, the sangha?

In his book, What is Zen?, Norman Fischer explains that “The word sangha…means “community” but, also that “the word sangha as used in Mahayana Buddhism means…the community of all beings.” Fischer goes on to say that “In the relative sense, sangha is the people you practice Zen with” and In “the absolute sense, sangha is all sentient beings.” In the Mahayana school of Buddhism, and especially in Zen. There is no separation between one’s practice and one’s everyday life. They are one and the same. If one’s practice and the activities of one’s everyday life are not separate spheres, then, it also stand to reason that the idea of a sangha  cannot be separately demarcated sphere. In other words, perhaps, one could say that the Sangha is anyone or anything you practice Zen with, or anyone or anything that aids you in your practice of Zen, or contributes to your Zen practice.

I just wrote an Article for The Tattooed Buddha Website that was published a few days ago. The title of the article is “Barking Dogs & Meowing Cats: Samatha Meditation Between the Pauses”. In the article I talk about what my daily meditation practice is like and what the environment of my daily meditation practice is like.

Every morning I get up early, I grab my cushion, I let the dogs out, I set my timer, and I meditate on my patio for about 45 minutes. On paper, that sounds more serene than what it actually is. Don’t get me wrong, some mornings, when I have enough awareness, or when I’ve gotten enough sleep the previous night, the sound of birdsong and the whispers of a slight breeze softly pirouetting through the trees in my backyard is meditation gold. Picking an object of concentration in such a setting is like being at a buffet. Unfortunately, this isn’t actually the most accurate portrayal of the soundscape. Remember those dogs I let out? Yeah…let’s talk about them for a minute. I have a Chiweenie who has made it his personal mission, his quest, to vigilantly defend the yard against every rustling bush, viciously hunting down every intruding lizard, and barking vehemently as if sounding the alarm against the evils of the squirrel menace. I also have a neurotic Jack Russell Terrier mutt, who noisily and aggressively rushes to the aid of her pint sized comrade in arms, unquestioningly seconding the commotion, yelping without ever having a clue as to what is being yelped at. She quickly grows tired of the traumas found in the backyard battlefield. Whining, panic stricken, and in a state of utter despair, she scratches at the patio screen door seeking asylum, calling for canine sanctuary. If that wasn’t enough, throw in an indoor cat meowing incessantly at the sliding glass door, desperately yearning for the outside world. Not so serene now, is it?

I’ve begun to see that regardless of the torrent of external and internal activity, I can physically locate a stillness, a quiet, somewhere within myself. Often while I’m watching the breath and becoming distracted by the cacophony of diversions that both my mind and my environment elicit, I search for that stillness. I try to see if I can I touch this stillness, even if but for a moment. Sometimes I find it in the still stability of my hands as they rest together on my lap. Sometimes I find it in the brief pause between breaths.

I don’t always find this quiet, I can’t always see the stillness, and I don’t always have the ability to touch it, but, when it happens, when I can manage to touch that ever-present stillness within myself, I simultaneously touch the stillness that is present in everything else around me. There is a stillness in the tress as the wind caresses the leaves. There is a calm in the chirping of the birds. There is even a quiet stillness found present in a barking Chiweenie, a whining Jack Russell, and an incessantly meowing cat.

Zen Meditation, or zazen, is at its best when it welcomes in, embraces, and sits with the present moment of the world around us, whatever it may be, whatever may be happening, and whatever it may contain. In Brad Warner‘s book, Don’t Be a Jerk: And Other Practical Advice from Dogen, Japean’s Greatest Zen Master, he writes that “unlike most other forms of meditation, [in zazen] we keep our eyes open. This is a way of acknowledging the outside world as part of our practice and as a part of us.” Warner says that “By opening our eyes, we are letting in that light that Dōgen says we should shine inward. So although we are shining our light inward, we also accept that there is no hard line that divides ourselves from the outside world, or the rest of the universe.”

You may be thinking, that all sounds great, but, what about the sangha? what does any of this have to do with the sangha?

I’m getting there, I promise. I just read a great blog post by Sensei Alex Kakuyo called 3 Things I learned from my Outdoor Meditation Retreat. In the blog post he writes about a time he was working as Farmer, and not only did he not have access to a local sangha but, virtual or online access to a sangha and such dharma related resources was limited. So he would do self-led meditation retreats, autonomously exploring outdoor meditation. He writes about the experience stating “I wanted to sit in a beautiful park with birds singing in the trees.  But you can’t enjoy those things without dealing grass stains and bird poop.  They’re part of the process, and expecting anything else is a cause of suffering.” I can relate. For me to sit zazen in the morning on my patio means I also have to deal my dogs barking and whining, and one of my cats meowing. Sensei Alex highlights the fact that “The world will always be there, banging at the front door.  The best way to deal with it is by letting it in.” This next part of his essay was the light bulb moment for me and it drives home the point I’ve been trying to get it in this video. He says that as he was meditation in these outdoor areas, observing and “letting-in” the contents of the environment he began to recognize that “The birds, the ants, and the people at the park had all been supporting me like a traditional Buddhist sangha”. All of these various elements of the outside world became so apart of his practice that they were actually supporting and upholding his practice, they became his sangha. He says that “Everyone and everything on the planet is working hard to help us in our walk toward awakening.  We just need to open our eyes and notice the gifts that we’re given.”

in a weird kind of way, my sangha is made of up my of these dogs and cats, and the whole conglomeration of what is present at the time and place of my practice. The sangha is anyone or anything you practice Zen with, anyone or anything that aids you in your practice of Zen, any thing or anyone that somehow contributes to your Zen practice.

As Max Erdstein says “The Whole world is the monastery”.

This may sound strange but, this really isn’t a foreign concept to Zen. I just recently finished reading The Essential Dogen. Dogen, who I mentioned earlier and who I’ve quoted in a past video, was a 13th century Zen Buddhist priest, who has not only been credited with bringing Zen to Japan but, also founded the Soto school of Zen. In Dogen’s voluminous writings he talks about ‘insentient beings speaking the dharma’.

Dogen writes the following:

“Mountains practice with one who meditates. Water realizes the way with one who practices.”

“Because earth, grass, trees, walls, tiles, and pebbles of the world of phenomena…all engage in buddha activity, those who receive the benefits of the wind and water are inconceivably helped by the buddha’s transformation…and intimately manifest enlightenment.”

“The sutras are the entire world… There is no moment or place that is not sutras.”

“The sutras are written in letters of heavenly beings, human beings, animals, fighting spirits, one hundred grasses, or ten thousand trees. This being so, what is long, short, square, and round, as well as what is blue, yellow, red, and white, arrayed densely in the entire world… is no other than letters of the sutras and the surface of the sutras. Regard them as the instruments of the great way and as the sutras of the buddha house.”

Everything that you encounter on the path of your practice is the dharma. The entirety of the phenomenal world forms the letters of the sutras. Everything is your sangha. As you begin to practice and as you continue to practice take a deep look at everything and everyone in your world, that is your sangha.

Meditation & Discomfort…

Whether you’ve been mediating for a couple weeks or several years, chances are at some point in your practice you’ve been confronted with some kind of discomfort, whether physical, emotional, or psychological. So let’s talk about that right now…
I recently posted a video titled “I Suck at Meditating” in that video I outlined some of the frustrations I have with my daily meditation practice, and, even more so, I talked about the frustrations I have with what seems to be my lack of meditative progress. Sometimes meditation itself can a kind of catalyst for discomfort. Meditation is an extremely ‘reflective’ experience. Now I don’t mean reflective in the sense of being in deep thought. What I mean here is that meditation is mirror-like in that it can incisively reflect the details of one’s subjectivity back to oneself. It can reveal the details of our attachments, expectations, anxieties, fears, judgments. Although this can sometimes be a painful and uncomfortable experience, it can also mean that its working. Meditation fully confronts one with the contents of reality and all that is included within the present moment, which often includes things that aren’t so pleasant. I posted that video in a Facebook discussion group I belong to and I received a great comment from another member of the group. They stated the following:
Due to that misunderstanding about the goal being not having anything thoughts, I’ve tried to use meditation to escape unpleasant feelings. It didn’t work very well.
I’ve had a major life change recently, not handling it well, and my therapist told me I have to actually feel emotions instead of repressing them, so I’ve been trying to allow that to happen in meditation. It feels awful to be aware of how much everything hurts, of how angry I am, and doesn’t feel like lovingkindness or peace. But my physical health is improving, so I guess it’s having benefits.
I replied saying that as paradoxical as it may seem often the most lovingly kind thing you can do for yourself is to allow yourself to feel how you feel. Sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself is to give yourself permission to experience exactly whatever you’re experiencing. It can be much more violent to try to repress or ignore pain and discomfort. Yet, from my experience, it seems that when you’re fully present to the hurt and you simply observe it with mindfulness, the sting begins to fade.
This really got me thinking. Early on I tried to use mediation as an escape from discomfort, stress, and frustration. A few years ago it felt like my life was falling apart. I lost my job, lost my house, my marriage was on the verge of collapse. It felt like I was in a losing battle with depression. On top of everything else I lost, I lost hope as well. Whenever I would feel myself getting overtaken by anxiety, stress, depression, or anything like that I would run to the cushion. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad strategy – meeting strong emotional and psychological reactions with meditation head on. But, that’s not exactly what I was trying to do. I was trying to use meditation as a means to push away the discomfort and not deal with it, to escape from it. I was trying to use my practice as a way in which to avoid dealing with the problem.
Jon Kabat Zinn writes that “You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion.” In other words, if you use your meditation practice as a means in which to avoid facing the perturbances and difficulties of everyday life you will remain trapped in suffering, and if you cling and grasp too firmly in an attachment to the idea of and the desire for tranquility and stillness, you will remain ensnared by delusion. Dogen says that “Realization is reality right now. Even shocks, doubts, fears, and frights are none other than reality right now.” Jon Kabat Zinn goes on to say that “Mindful sitting meditation is not an attempt to escape from problems or difficulties into some cut-off ‘meditative’ state of absorption or denial. On the contrary, it is a willingness to go nose to nose with pain, confusion, and loss, if that is what is dominating the present moment, and to stay with the observing over a sustained period of time”.
I recently read a great article by Daniel Scharpenburg on the Tattooed Buddha Website. Daniel is a fantastic writer and meditation teacher and the Tattooed Buddha is really cool website that I’ve recently had the pleasure of writing for. Daniel’s article is titled ‘Greed, Hatred, and Delusion‘, or whats known in Buddhism as ‘The Three Poisons’. These three poisons are also known as ‘Attachment, Aversion, and Ignorance’. Greed is synonymous with Attachment, we are greedily attached to our desires, attached to the desire to have our desires permanently fulfilled. we are addicted to comfort, satisfaction, and security, yet, we are never fully satisfied, we are constantly chasing the dragon. In Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, Dan Harris writes that “We’re always on the hunt for the next dopamine hit. We hurl ourselves headlong from one cookie, one promotion, one party to the next, and yet a great many of us are never fully sated”. This is Greed, this is attachment.
Hatred is equated with Aversion – aversion to pain, discomfort, etc. As vehemently as we are attached to our desires for what we want, we are just as equally averse to all that we don’t want. Daniel Scharpenburg makes it clear that this hatred/aversion can be directed toward “unpleasant people, circumstances, or even toward ourselves.” He highlights that hatred and aversion “can manifest as anger, but also as impatience, ill-will, annoyance and hostility.” In his book, What is Zen?Norman Fischer expresses a similar idea when he says that “This aversion appears as a cacophony of resistance in the body to the pain, as well as painful emotional thinking, including blame of others, self-blame, fear, despair, anger, and so on.” We are so attached to our ideas, beliefs, and concepts of pleasantness, comfort, and satisfaction that we express a deep seated hatred and aversion to anything that threatens to shatter or conflict with those desirous beliefs.
Being so caught up in these bifurcated beliefs, so firmly distinguishing between pleasant and unpleasant, between what we want and what we don’t want, we are lead into the third poison, Delusion and Ignorance. Put simply, Delusion and Ignorance arrives at the very moment we believe that all our desires can be lastingly fulfilled and that all discomfort and unpleasantness can somehow be avoided. In other words, we demonstrate an utter lack of understanding concerning the nature of reality.
In the article I recently wrote for the Tattooed Buddha I discuss what’s known in Buddhism as ‘the second arrow’. In the Sallatha Sutta the Buddha states the following:
When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, and laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical and mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows. In the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, and laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical and mental.
The first arrow is unavoidable. We will inevitably and invariably be confronted by pain, loss, discomfort, unpleasantness, difficulties, etc. It is our reactivity to the first arrow that causes the strike of the second arrow. We are the second shooter, the second gunman, the second archer on the grassy knoll. We are responsible for the second arrow. As I say the article, the second arrow flys “when we begin bemoan the fact that things aren’t the way we think they should be.” Norman Fischer explains that
What makes suffering suffering is our aversion to it, our desire to escape, our childish sense that this shouldn’t be happening, that we shouldn’t be suffering, and that we should be able to figure out how to make it stop. That attitude makes the suffering worse. But when we are willing to suffer when it is time to suffer, when we don’t mind, when we know that suffering is and was always built into being alive in a living world, and that this is the beauty and the privilege of living, then we can take on the suffering, and it isn’t really suffering.
Fischer goes on to say that “If you can sit still for all this and keep breathing, eventually you discover that it is the aversion, much more than the primary sensation, that hurts.” Perhaps one could say that the second arrow is the very expression of the three poisons, that is, our Attachment, Aversion, and Delusion. It shows us what we are attached to, what we are avoiding, and what we are ignorant of or deluded by.
If I’m being honest, I have to admit that sometimes my meditation practice is more an expression of my attachments, aversions, and delusions than it is my release from them. But, it’s through my sitting practice that I’m beginning to be able to see and detect these three poisons more easily. These poisons coming to light, especially during mediation practice, can be unpleasant, uncomfortable, and, perhaps, even painful. It can be extremely tempting to push the experience down or to push it away. Yet, as Jon Kabat Zinn explains “There can be no resolution leading to growth until the present situation has been faced completely and you have opened to it with mindfulness, allowing the roughness of the situation itself to sand down your own rough edges.”
A few weeks ago I was listening to an episode of The Minimalists Podcast. It was episode 135, titled “Acquaintances”. While they weren’t discussing meditation or Buddhism, I think what they had to say relates to what we’re talking about here. They talk about how avoiding everything you dislike will stunt your growth.” Avoiding experiences you dislike will severely limit the breadth and depth of your experience of reality. In fact, Experience becomes richer when you open yourself up to experiences you dislike. In his book, Buddha Mind, Buddha Body, Thich Nhat Hahn writes that “When we know that our suffering, our hatred and fear are organic, we don’t try to run away from them. We know that if we practice, we can transform them and they can nourish our happiness and well-being.” If we can fully confront our suffering, our pain, our discomfort, our attachment, our aversion, and our delusion, not only can we avoid the sting of the second arrow but, we can also transform our pain and our poisons into the fertilization of our new growth.
The truest testament to the results of mediation is not the quality or the pleasantness of your time spent on the cushion but, the quality of your life spent off the cushion.

I Suck at Meditating…

If you’ve ever felt frustrated or disappointed about meditating, well…you’re in good company. In this video I talk about about my meditation frustrations and what meditation is really all about. I hope you find it helpful! Enjoy!

 

I suck at meditating. Maybe you think you do too. So let’s talk about it.
I suck at meditating. It’s true. I’m a bad meditator, a committed and disciplined meditator but a bad one none the less. I get up early every morning, or at least 6 days out of the week, sit on my cushion, and meditate for 30-45 minutes. The problem I have with my practice is my progress…
I am constantly getting unknowingly lost in thought – getting lost in thought without even realizing its happening.  Now, I know that the misnomer of a ‘clear mind’, or ‘clearing the mind’, or a mind free from all thoughts is something of a meditation myth. To some extent the mind can never be clear, it can never be free from all thought. You can’t stop thinking, specifically because you are not the author of your thoughts, the mind is a ‘thought’ producing machine, a ‘thought’ creating machine, all ‘thoughts’ are ‘thoughts’ without a ‘thinker’. But, one of the suggestions I often here in meditation instructions is to try and see the thought arise as it arises. Well…I suck at that. By the time I recognize ‘thinking’ I have already been overtaken by it. I don’t see it until I’m already in the thick of it.
I slip-away, black out, I doze off – sometimes this dozing isn’t really sleep so much as a sleep-like haze – I guess that’s why the aspiration of meditation is ‘awakening’, to ‘wake-up’
I’ve been growing increasingly frustrated with my meditation practice – or more specifically increasingly frustrated with myself for not being able to meditate up to the standards I think that I should be.
I’ve also been getting increasingly frustrated with the results of meditation practice, or more specifically the lack of results, which I have masochistically categorized and listed: (Maybe you’ve experienced some these yourself if you’ve tried meditating)
  • Meditation is supposed to help with focus but I find myself getting distracted so often
  • Meditation is supposed to increase memory but I’m noticing how forgetful I am and how often I forget things
  • Meditation is supposed to aid in making one less of an asshole but I am seeing how much of a dick I can be
  • I am seeing how frustrated I get with people, with situations, how annoyed I get with things I don’t like, whether its doing things I don’t like, or being places I don’t want to be
  • Meditation is supposed to help calm or regulate one’s mood and overall demeanor but damn am I one moody mother fucker.
  • Just recently I really lost my temper with my daughter and one of the first things that I felt was disappointment and resentment with myself. I was even more angry with myself when I started thinking about the fact that I meditate regularly, thinking why isn’t this meditation paying off? why isn’t it working? Why am I still losing my temper? What am I doing wrong? What’s the point of getting up so early, sitting, sometimes uncomfortably, for 30 minutes at a time, if i’m still just as much of a jerk.
From time to time I write after my sitting practice – as a kind of extension of the practice. I was writing after a particularly ‘bad’ sitting. My mind had been racing around like a toddler hyped up on mountain dew and pixie sticks. I don’t think I had a moments peace for the entire 30 minute sitting. I was getting exhausted just trying to watch my mind, and I kept almost slipping into sleep, and unconsciously dropping into the cloud of thoughts, spacing out, without even realizing it had happened, coming out of with an almost confused disorientation, “What happened?” Where did I go? How long was I out for? Dude, where’s my car? As I was airing my meditation grievances in written form, something occurred to me: isn’t it interesting that we can so clearly define what is a bad sitting? We can so clearly describe what constitutes a bad meditation session. We can so easily articulate what failure looks like, what fucking up looks like? What being wrong is? But, what is a good sitting? What does a good sitting feel like? What does a good meditation session look like? What would succeeding look like? Well…damn…I don’t know, I don’t know how to answer those questions, We might instinctively feel like we know the answers but stop, take a minute, and genuinely try to answer those kinds of questions, if you’re like me its like trying to hit a moving target , its like trying to catch that toddle high on sugar and cracked out on caffeine. I also had another realization: I am noticing that I am noticing these things. I am seeing that I am seeing these things. Things about myself are becoming more clearly visible
Well…Maybe this is a win. It’s an anti-climactic win. Perhaps a kind of disappointing win, a melancholy win, but, maybe a win none-the-less.
In episode 135 of the 10% Happier Podcast, Dan Harris and his guest Paul Gilmartin discuss this precise situation and these exact ideas. Paul Gilmartin says that “nothing degrades the quality of my life like obsessing about the quality of my life” and Gilmartin goes on to say that “Meditation is good at introducing yourself to what you’re obsessing about”.
I’m not only obsessively noticing my lack of focus, my tendency to be distracted, my forgetfulness, and my general proclivity toward being an asshole. I’m also seeing how much judgement I have, or how much I’m judging myself. I’m noticing all my expectations for myself, for my meditation practice, and all my expectations for everything else that I do for that matter. I’m seeing how much I cling to those expectations. I’m noticing how attached I am to those expectations, how caught up in those expectations I am.
I just recently finished reading Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris, Jeff Warren, and Carlye Adler. It’s an easy and insightful read, about beginning, cultivating, and continuing the habituation of a meditation practice. In the book Harris points out that  “Expectations are the most noxious ingredient you can add to the meditation stew.” Harris goes on to say that “Ambition and striving—the assets that often help us so much in the rest of our lives—can work against us on the cushion.”
In this regard, the Harris’ book highlights the fact that “Meditation is unlike anything else you do in life, in that here, “failing”—that is, noticing you’ve gotten distracted and starting again—is succeeding.” Harris writes that “When you wake up from distraction, that is the magic moment, the victory.” There’s no way to fail, failure vanishes into success the moment a ‘failing’ is attentively recognized with a keen and observant awareness. In his book, Wherever You Go There you Are, Jon Kabat Zinn writes that “Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.” Jon Kabat Zinn goes on to say that “in meditation practice, the best way to get somewhere is to let go of trying to get anywhere at all.”
 In this regard, there’s no bad meditation, there’s no such thing as a bad sitting.
Returning to Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, He goes on to say that “One of the learning curves of this practice is maintaining your intention without being attached to a particular outcome, including the outcome of feeling better.” As Harris notes, “The goal is to be open to whatever comes up, and to approach it all with mindfulness, friendliness, and interest.” It’s not about being good at meditating or getting good at meditation or being a good meditator. I came across a great tweet from Ethan Nichtern. Nichtern is a senior teacher for the Shambhala Meditation Center of New York. He tweeted the following:
Ethan_Tweet
It’s not about the outcome, it’s not about the results, its not about meeting expectations, yours or anyone else’s, instead its simply about doing the work and being present.
With that in mind not only is there no such thing as a bad sitting, there’s also no such thing as a good sitting. In his book, What is Zen?, Soto Zen priest Norman Fischer explains that when it comes to meditation “There’s no such things a ‘good, better, or best'”. In fact, it’s Meditation that can help one to let go of one’s ideas of how things should be.
Jon Kabat Zinn writes that “meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It’s about feeling the way you feel. It’s not about making the mind empty or still…meditation is about letting the mind be as it is and knowing something about how it is in this moment. It’s not about getting somewhere else, but about allowing yourself to be where you already are.”
If you feel good while you’re meditating allow yourself to feel good. Notice what its like to feel that way. If you feel bored or frustrated or anxious or distracted while your on the cushion allow yourself to feel that way, and pay attention to the way that feels.
I think Jon Kabat Zinn makes an important point when he says:
There is nothing wrong with feelings of boredom or staleness, or of not getting anywhere, just as there is nothing wrong with feeling that you are getting somewhere and in fact, your practice may well be showing signs of becoming deeper and more robust. The pitfall is when you inflate such experiences or thoughts and you start believing in them as special. It’s when you get attached to your experience that the practice arrests, and your development along with it.
Boredom can be fascinating when you have awareness enough to objectively observe it. Staleness can be incredibly fresh when you can mindfully open yourself up to the full experience of it. What does boredom feel like? What does the staleness of meditation feel like? Can you locate the feeling of boredom and/or staleness in your physicality? The same could be said of frustration, anger, annoyance, disappointment, there are observably physical components to each. You can learn a lot by just letting them be, letting them be what they are, letting yourself be where you are.
Maybe you’ve tried meditation and gave up because you thought you sucked at it or because you thought you failed at it. But, Meditation is about learning to fall, learning to fail, learning to let go of it all, and learning to be right where you are, wherever it is that you are.