I take it as a good sign for our meditation practices that in packing for a brief getaway to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, my husband and I packed our meditation cushions.
Last month, without leaving mid-Michigan, we both had the happy coincidence of getting time with two extremely clear, direct, accessible and accomplished meditation teachers: Shinzen Young and Sister Sayalay Susila. I’ve written about Shinzen and why I’m drawn to his scientifically inclined outlook.
Sister Susila is a Buddhist nun from Malaysia, and she was delightful. (More recently, I also had the chance to attend a one-day session with Ajahn Sucitto, whose teachings I found beautifully poetic and refined. I will be seeking out more of his teachings as well. Here is Ajahn Sucitto’s blog. )
Despite being introduced to meditation by my father at a very young age, I think it has taken years of practicing yoga to get me to be able to accept a meditation practice. Some people are naturally drawn to turning inward, but I always experienced my mind as too restles and my body as too stiff to want to regularly return to long sits; yoga was my meditation.
But these days, when Sister Susila says something like, “You must contemplate impermanence until cravings drop away” (which I took as, “force won’t rid you of your cravings”) or “The body is not solid the way you think. With concentration and wisdom, you see the body and mind as they really are . . . so you can accept your body being old with equanimity” — well, I believe it deeply, because I’ve spent years returning again and again to the mat, which is nothing if not a constant reminder of the ever-changing nature of the body and the mind. I think I needed these years of a yoga practice to get here, though. Simply contemplate impermanence? Not concrete enough.
In case anyone who happens on this post is interested in Buddhist concentration and insight meditation practice, I thought I would share Sister Susila’s handy one-pager on the mental factors of mindfulness and wisdom needed in vipassana (opens as a PDF).
Real meditation is the highest form of intelligence. It is not a matter of sitting cross-legged in a corner with your eyes shut or standing on your head or whatever it is you do. To meditate is to be completely aware as you are walking, as you are riding in the bus, as you are working in your office or in your kitchen—completely aware of the words you use, the gestures you make, the manner of your talk, the way you eat, and how you push people around. To be choicelessly aware of everything about you and within yourself, is meditation. If you are thus aware of the political and religious propaganda that goes on ceaselessly, aware of the many influences about you, you will see how quickly you understand and are free of every influence as you come into contact with it. (Jiddu Krishnamurti, Collected Works, Vol. XIII, Individual and Society, p. 323)
I haven’t blogged since April because my work demands have been relentless again. There were periods that I felt a saturation — experienced as a lowered tolerance for external stimulation. And I wondered whether meditation could eventually help shield me from feeling drained during times like these. I want to achieve an unstickiness with my job — to be “free of every influence as you come into contact with it.”
In the meantime, though, I’m simply looking forward to putting down my meditation seat in a different setting.
P.S. — About the meditation seats above. The cushion on the left is the ubiquitous kapok zafu cushion. The meditation seat on the right is the very light — two pounds — and portable Salubrion Meditation and Yoga Seat that I got from DharmaCrafts.
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