Being Present for My Life (written 2015)
I'm not sure at what point on the journey I realized that meditation and the path I was on had to do with being present for my own life. At the very beginning, I think I even wished that it meant exactly the opposite: that is, escaping from those things in my own life that were too painful. Disappointments, physical pain, anger, loss, grief, yearning. All those universally human experiences that we'd easily classify as undesirable. And meditation, it seemed to me, would be a way to enter a place where all this receded into the distance, and for awhile, at least, I could rest in warm and peaceful place. I thought, that with enough practice, over time, I'd be able to maintain this. Keep the kind of bubble around myself that I'd like to keep around my children. A place that is warm, safe and good.
Indeed, at the beginning of the journey, just touching such a place was a great blessing. Like a massage, a vacation, a good book, an invigorating workout, it was a place where the world, and life didn't enter for awhile. And this had/has its benefits. But eventually, the bell rings, whatever time has been set aside for meditation ends, and the rest of life is waiting like an eager and sizable puppy who has been neglected. It'll bowl you over if you aren't prepared. If your feet aren't solidly on the ground and your eyes open, ready to deal with the onslaught.
With persistence, and as my practice deepened, I came to realize that the point of all this was to develop a place of balance and clarity that would allow me to face that onslaught and stay on my feet. To deal with the puppy in a kindly manner. Whether it represented too many things on the do list, an illness or injury, a conflict, a sorrow, a decision I didn't want to make.
I keep index cards near the cushion where I sit daily. And on these I like to copy teachings, often cryptic, that have moved me, have brought a sharp and silvery moment of understanding. One of these is “Suffering does not go away, the one who suffers goes away.” I would not have been comforted by this as someone new to meditation, but when I encountered it a few years ago, it brought one of those “ah!” moments that define insight.
After nearly two decades of practice, my life still holds disappointments, physical pain, anger, loss, grief and yearning. I still have to get off the cushion and deal with a busy list of to-do's; a chronic illness; daily sorrows , both personal and just related to the nature of the world; and decisions that have to be made ready or not. But the self who got tied in knots about this is becoming less and less of a bully. The ego that feels resentment or self-pity or hopelessness or pressure, doesn't hold the reins all the time anymore. There's a struggle sometimes. Internal nudging and poking and pinching that isn't always comfortable. But the vast spaciousness of awareness that meditation practice opens, surprisingly, has much less room for a cranky, hard-edged ego setting itself against the world.
It's in this place of spaciousness that I am able to be present for my life. Not pushed and pulled by the need for escape and the wish for something other, I can rest in this moment whatever it holds. When I'm grounded and present, there is no need or wish to run away.