Daily Practice (written 2002)
It’s early and still dark outside. A soft snow is falling. My children are yet asleep. This time of day it can seem, no matter how tired I am or what concerns I took with me to my bed, that all things are possible, and that all is right with the world. It is a time outside of time in that schedules and deadlines have not yet begun to pull, the sun has not begun its journey across the sky reminding us of the passing hours, the phone doesn’t ring.
Sometimes I sleep well and other times it may have been a restless and interrupted night, but this factor seems insignificant in the stillness of the early morning before dawn. And this, to me, is an apt metaphor for the peace and gift of no-time that meditation brings.
Sometimes when I sit, I am almost pulled to my cushion with longing. I will take even five or ten minutes if that is all I have, feeling a need draw me. Other times, it is only discipline and memory that cause me to interrupt my day and take time for formal practice. But when I have settled and begin to breathe, it becomes my own dark and silent early morning, my place out of time. And this is so, no matter the quality of that day’s practice.
There are times when I am so tired that sleepiness overcomes me, perhaps once, perhaps more often as I sit. And the counting of breaths is like the childhood counting of sleep and my head droops. Yet I practice. Coming to awareness a moment later, perhaps even minutes later, I sit tall and begin again.
Sometimes my mind is so restless, I fairly twitch with the effort of remaining still, letting my mind follow for awhile each bodily sensation that distracts me…an itchy foot, a twinge in my thigh, pressure on my ankles, tickling of my nose, tightness in my shoulders, an ache in my knees. Ah! It seems impossible that I can stay with the breath. But I remember a reminder from my many teachers ( in the books I read) that anything can be the object of awareness, and so I let each sensation in turn stand in for the breath and little by little I find myself centering.
When the cycles of the furnace, the barking of the dog, the bubble and drip of the aquarium dominate my attention, I use these as well for awhile and then return to the breath. And I have found that the suggestion to count my thoughts on days when these seem too persistent to resist, works to distract me from the content and soon I am able to shift back to my breath.
And so, finally rising from my cushion, whether it be 10, 30 or 60 minutes later, it is like rising before the dawn of a new day, the windows still dark, the world not yet impinging. Time has stopped and all things are possible. It is not that weariness and worry, appointments and deadlines are erased, but that I find in sitting a view that gives all this its proper perspective and importance, for all things pass quickly away.