But what are we learning in meditation? …what it is to be human. Or more simply: how to be… in the end we aren’t learning, or growing, we are simply doing practice.
The main function of a meditation center is to be a place of meditative training. In this sense, the center is a focus for a path toward awakening – toward “realization,” and the embodying of that realization in every moment of life.
But Zen is not just a path to realization; it’s also a path of realization. In this sense, the center has a role to play as a place that sustains the life of all things. We practice, and our practice includes the flourishing of all things. Our practice is a joining in, a coming together, of the flourishing of all things. We welcome, sustain and support the well-being of all creatures, beings, phenomena, of all created and compounded things.
On the one hand, the center can be viewed through the analogy of a hospital – a place for the healing of an affliction, an ailment, a delusion – the delusion of the separated self. It’s a liberation-factory. On the other hand, the center is simply here to serve all beings. It’s a gift to beings, and our practice is likewise a gift, one that has no purpose yet is an offering to all creation, as well as an offering of all creation.
It is a wonderful thing to have a practice center to which we are affiliated, and a source of gratitude that people have brought it into existence and sustained it over the years.
Sometimes our meditation is clear, peaceful, quiet, fulfilling. Other times there’s a lot of chatter on the inner radio, and we may feel frustrated, disappointed, like we “lost” our capacity for it, and so on. But if meditation were simply a skill to be learned and then practiced, we might not be learning much about being human through it. It might simply be another accomplishment for our selves to be pleased about.
If we were learning the piano, by contrast, the times our fingers couldn’t seem to do what we asked of them might be frustrating, but we probably wouldn’t devalue those times, nor tell ourselves there was no point in doing the practice just then, in fact henceforth we’d only practice when it’s nice and goes the way we want. It would be obvious to us that that couldn’t be the right way to progress in our piano-playing.
Yet often in meditation training we may carry an idea that our practice only “counts” when we’re having a clear, peaceful, enjoyable time – as if, precisely, meditation is a skill to be mastered in a certain way, rather than an arena, a context, an openness, for learning and growth and expansion. Is it possible that the hard times are actually the ones where we learn and grow the most?
But what are we learning in meditation? Perhaps it’s how to be human. Or: what it is to be human. Or more simply: how to be. Or better yet: in the end we aren’t learning, or growing, we are simply doing practice.
There is a mechanical or technique-based side to meditation for sure. But we are also complex multi-dimensional beings. One sitting period we’re completely unable to keep our minds on our breath, and get more and more exasperated trying to do so. The next, we remember some news we recently heard, of an old friend who has been diagnosed with cancer, for example, and who is responding by going into cancer centers and offering what help he can to others struggling with a similar condition. Our hearts open. We feel sorrow and tenderness and something else, an intimation of something larger than ourselves. All of a sudden our minds are clear. We could follow our breaths till doomsday. The breath itself is suddenly tender and beautiful. We are grateful for the breath, for this life, for our practice.
Is the second period good, and the first bad? Is one more “enlightened” and the other more “deluded”? That would precisely be an “unenlightened” view. As one master said…
Enlightenment is when the difference between the enlightened state and the unenlightened state has disappeared.
Instead we could try letting all judgment go, and simply sit, without assessment or measuring, with no intention other than to practice sitting, come hell or high water.
Message from Henry is taken from our October 6 Newsletter.
Image Credit: Sibling Hug Love, by Rosa Bellino, used with her permission