I have so NOT been into my zazen sitting/meditation practice lately! The sweetness has disappeared and sometimes it takes everything for me to stay with the meditation and not bolt! I simply don’t want to do it! I’m not feeling anything. It doesn’t seem like I’m getting anything out of it.
It’s precisely during times like these when I should stay with it.
Developing any kind of disciplined practice is countercultural. We live in a culture which basically says: when ya stop feeling it – move on to something else. That’s why we live in a “throw away” society, where we see much brokenness in relationships.
Whether it is in my job, my writing, my meditation practice, my relationship/s, my music practice – it’s precisely when the going gets tough, boring or unfulfilling that I should stick with it. Just because I’m not “feeling” it doesn’t mean that nothing’s happening. Just become I’m not “feeling” it doesn’t mean I should stop my practice or acts of love toward another. Something magical actually happens when we stick with it.
In the book Benedict’s Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of St. Benedict Norman Fisher, a Zen priest, married man and co-abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center for five years says this: “After going through a time when you don’t enjoy your practice (add here job, relationship, exercise etc), you learn that the tough time is always where the reward comes in.” Somehow in the process of sticking with something or someone a greater depth, fulfillment and freedom is developed within us.
So, even though I don’t wanna, . . .can I keep trudging along and discover the reward that exists on the other side of boredom?
Remember a time in your life when your passions were running amuck? Remember when you used to stay out too late, drink too much and could barely remember the name of the person or persons you had sex with the night before? Remember a time when you just ran after pleasure, any way you could get it? Perhaps you are one who has been blessed not to have gone through such a time. Or perhaps, like a lot of us, we are still tempted and, at times, run after pleasure only to find ourselves empty once again.
Passion is a good thing! But unbridled passion leads to emptiness. Part of being free is having the ability to make good choices which lead us to good places in life. Paul puts it this way. His word “flesh” I would translate as unbridled passion. “It is obvious what proceeds from the flesh: lewd conduct, impurity, idolatry, rage, envy, drunkenness, orgies, bickering . . .” (See Galatians 5: 18-25)
And believe me, I’m no prude! Been there. Done that. And still do at times! But think back to a time when your incessant search for happiness was focused purely in people, places or things began to drive you, instead of you driving it. Were you REALLY happy? I don’t find myself happy when my passion is running every which way. However, when I am focused and doing what I need to stay that way, I am much more peaceful, happy and serene. Life might not be very “exciting” but it’s good, really good!
“The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness . . .” (See Galatians 5: 18-25)
“My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; . . . but what it yielded was wild grapes.” See Isaiah 5: 1-7
Ever feel like you’ve got some wild grapes growing within you? Ever feel like there are some weeds among the wheat that are spouting up?
Lately, I have felt some wild grapes sprouting up, some weeds among the wheat. I have good intentions and then it seems my actions take me in a different direction. I know full well why the wild grapes are growing within. I have not been caring for the inner vineyard lately. I have been a bit lax in my spiritual practice, body care and my loving. I have been letting these things slip ever so slowly to the wayside. And then I wonder why I begin to feel off center, if not WAY off center!?
It is my spiritual practice, my body care and my loving that keep the inner vineyard that is my life healthy, strong and growing. Like a garden, if I don’t continually work at it, the weeds quickly begin to overtake it and the strength and beauty of the good plants begins to fade. I feel that my strength and beauty has faded of late. Sometimes I just need to force myself to do that which keeps me healthy. And when I do, I know that life will again begin to blossom, beauty will return.
Jeremiah 18: 1-6
“Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”
I love this image from Jeremiah about how we are molded. Notice too that the potter does not give up. If a piece of pottery turns out bad, the potter tries again and again until something of beauty is created.
Isn’t it true that in life we have to try again and again until what is good and beautiful emerges within us? That’s why spiritual practice is called “practice.” It’s something that we have to work at, just like loving another. And when we do work at it, mold it and shape it, something beautiful emerges. Ask anyone who works out and watches their diet. They do this to literally mold and sculpt their bodies. Our spiritual practice requires the same discipline as it molds and sculpts our character and the inner beauty which is obvious in one who is centered.
What also strikes me is that you and I ARE the potter. Through our words, our behavior and our love we literally mold the lives of others. Anyone who is a parent knows this full well.
Am I willing to be molded today? Am I still willing to change? And can I see and keep my attention focused on the beautiful work of art that I am?
Did you ever have some expectations for a day or an experience that simply just didn’t pan out?
I am writing this on the morning of a holiday in the United States. Today is Memorial Day. Yesterday evening, after working hard in the garden, I was very tired. It was only around 9:45pm when I decided to go to bed. The thought of going to bed early and waking up early on this holiday morning was very appealing to me. I looked forward to an extended time in meditation in my backyard and assumed that I would have this wonderful, peaceful experience – especially after a good night’s rest.
Well my prayer and meditation time was anything but peaceful! In the midst of this great morning of sunshine and birds singing, flowers and beauty all around me, my mind was like a car rushing here and there in the midst of rush hour traffic! My immediate reaction was to bolt. Just get up and leave! I was then reminded of spiritual “practice.” It’s called “practice” for a reason.
In order to get good at something we have to practice. Meditation is about getting good at becoming conscious of the quiet and eternal as we walk through our busy days. It is about getting good at experiencing that peaceful place even in the midst of chatter of the mind and the drama of life circumstances. Even though I didn’t feel like I was getting anything out of this exercise, my challenge was to stay with it. The more I fought this poor experience of meditation, the worse it got. Also, once I was able to simply accept that this was one of those times I was not feeling connected, I was more easily able to stay with it.
Practice is needed in the spiritual life. Practice is needed in good relating and good loving. Practice is needed in the making of a good relationship. It just doesn’t happen. We have to work at it – even when we don’t want to! AND we’re not always going to feel connected, whether it be in our prayer, with our Partner, a friend or Life itself. Our natural reaction is to bolt when we’re not feeling something, when it’s not freely flowing. Our challenge is those times is to stick with it. Although the farmer is not aware of the seed germinating in the ground, they still work at it because they know their work will bear fruit – even though they can’t see immediate results. Stick with it!
I wish I could take credit for the title of today’ post, but I can’t. This was the title of a talk given by the Dean of Students when I was a Freshman in College. Here we were, a bunch of Freshman in College bursting at the seems to be free of our parents, free of the constraints of High School and free to party hardy, just waiting to dive into every experience that our new found freedom could possibly give us! And then he gives us a talk about the tyranny of freedom and the freedom of discipline. Even if I forgot the truth of what he spoke over various times in my life, I never forgot the title – and it’s truth comes back to me again and again.
Discipline is not a dirty word. And complete freedom, with no boundaries, can lead to tyranny and lots of unfocused, dispersed energy running all over the place! Look at the children of parents who give them free reign. Look at society and the world when the common good is displaced for the comfort and convenience of a few. Look within.
Discipline is that which leads us to freedom. Look at any musician, athlete, artist, writer, parent, therapist or business person. Look at anyone who is good at what they do and chances are, behind all of that we will see hours and hours, days, weeks and years of practice honing their craft which lead them to the freedom of expression they now enjoy and from which others benefit. If I am not disciplined in body, mind and spirit, my energy is dispersed and my living unfocused. When I am disciplined in body, mind and spirit – this investment of time leads to a stream of physical and spiritual energy that is focused and a love that is outreaching.
Of course discipline can become a tyranny if it is not balanced with the freedom of relaxation and play. All work, no play makes us dull people indeed! But if we’re all play and little work, we will also find our energies dissipated and our body/spirits lifeless. Get the spiritual and physical endorphins going with a little discipline today!