The future I live in now

When I was a young adult the ‘future’ held the promise of transformation of a better life to the one I was living. Everything was in the future: work would only happen if I could get the funding; the places I would visit when I had someone to travel with; the people I would reconnect with when I was feeling better about myself; the skills I would make the time to learn when I felt more motivated. The only problem was nothing much changed. I believed that somehow in the future I would become a better version of me,  but a version of me that had no real connection to who I was in the present or reality.

Discovering Vipassana meditation and making it part of my day to day life helped me to see the reality as it is, it also helped me realise how much my fixation with the future stopped me being in the present and making the most of it.

Applying this learning to my current life – my wife, daughter and I recently moved into a new home. It is full with boxes that need to be unpacked and walls that need to be knocked down. It is down to me and my wife to make this space our home. Simply believing the future will magically make this happen, is a reality I know now through experience does not exist. It is down to me, not circumstance, to make it into a place where happy memories can be born.

When we first moved in, my wife and I went through different phases of thinking we had made an awful mistake, that we should never have moved. As you can imagine there was little time or space to meditate, but one evening I was able to make the most of the warm weather and to go out into our beautiful (but overgrown) garden and close my eyes for almost an hour.

All the noise in my head related to everything that had to be done went quiet, as I entered the flow I recognised that my future, which once was everything, was now of little importance. It was as if all the bright lights that used illuminate its front, making it so attractive, one by one turned off.

The future I live in now is what I make of it – no big startling revelation for any of you who have done any personal development, but finally I got it !

‘…stop thinking and concentrate on the breath’ I reminded myself just before my wife came and joined me in our new garden.

 

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A lovely hug

Even before Joely or JJ, my daughter, was born nearly two years ago, I struggled with  prioritising making two hours available for meditation every day. But most days, first thing before the day had begun, I would make sure I got onto my mat for an hour. In addition, blessed to be living in a neighborhood with an active Vipassana community, I was able to regularly sit with others; and for five important years, annually I sat or served on a ten day course. In short it was a big part of my life.

My experience of becoming a parent has been that everything that I once held sacred and essential to being me just fell away, and in its place became the need and desire to use every spare shred of energy and second of time on being there for my family.

Recently, I was able to meditate properly for the first time since JJ was born. Thanks to the Dhamma Shed which has begun to host monthly one day Vipassana courses, I was able to meditate from 9am-5:30pm, with a lovely lunch in-between. Although my time on the mat was challenging, the time flew by.

When I got home we had a Skype call with a dear friend who lives far away. As to be expected, speaking was difficult. All I wanted to do was to close my eyes and go to that place deep inside I re-discovered during my day of mediation. But something happened that has never happened before: JJ climbed onto me and held me tight, as if in an embrace for the duration of the Skype call that lasted an hour. As you can imagine all of my sensations exploded.

Since this experience, I have been trying to understand ‘it’ in the context of my difficulties in being able to prioritise my time and energy to get back to my mat and meditate regularly again.

On one level it gives validation – I could easily use this ‘story’ to justify why I should meditate rather than enjoy a beautiful sunny day with my wife and daughter.

On another level, with my understanding of equanimity, a way of being I only know of because of Vipassana, I understand that this thinking can lead to disappointment and ‘misery’ if it does not happen again. I loved JJ hugging me for a whole hour, I was able to be fully aware how wonderful it was, not only for me and my ego, but for us as a family growing together. I also understand that for me one of the big reasons I must find a way to keep up a daily practice is to help me keep a balanced mind. My goal as a parent is to love her as much when she decides to throw a pot of yogurt over me as I did when she hugged me for an hour.

Not easy, neither is Vipassana.

Deliberately NOT sitting

Today I’m deliberately NOT going to sit.  I think it will be a good idea.  I will start my daily sits again tomorrow, but today I won’t.  Why?

Well, since I’ve made this claim to myself, I’ve already started to ‘want’ to sit.  My thoughts are intent on getting my daily sits in, but I don’t want my intention to sit to become robotic. So, by intently not sitting today, I am training my mind to be more flexible and more equanimous.  I am watching my uncomfortable attitude toward missing my daily meditations.

I think this is fun.  I would add helpful to that list, but that’s part of the reason why I’m not sitting.  I think sitting today is going to help me.  Thinking that it’s going to do anything for the ‘me’ I’m referring to, is just not true.  So, by skipping my sits today, on purpose, I am playing with the idea that meditation will help me get over things in my life.  I’m giving that idea no credit to being true.  If I were to give in and sit, now that I’ve made this intent on not sitting, I would be meditating for the wrong reason.

This is fun.  It’s playing with the practice and checking in on a moment to moment level regardless of getting the sits in.  Oddly, because of this act of not sitting today, I think my sits will be new and refreshed and less robotic tomorrow.  That’s back to thinking they will help me again.  Perhaps they will just be as fun.  I’ll see when it’s there.  Without any preconceived ideas about what it will do for me, I will sit… tomorrow.

Understand what you’re doing

It took me a while to understand what I was doing.  Then, it came to me.  What I was doing was understanding what I was doing.  For a while, I was in the process of learning what to do.  This was with my life, in a sense, but also more focused on the pursuit of learning how to draw and paint as a professional artist.

I am not a professional artist, yet.  I have now understood what I was looking at all this time.  I think this is what Vipassana is.  It is not changing what you are doing, necessarily, but seeing that change take place.  Seeing the happening happen.  I think this translates into most things that anyone would like to learn.  It needs to be seen, so that you can understand what to do, to know what to do.

I went to a dance course this last summer.  At the end of the course, the instructor said, “Now you know what you don’t know.”  Vipassana brings you into the unknown with each sit and with all the attention on your body.  Who knows what sensation will come next?  Not I!  It’s unknown, which is why it is rewarding and also why it is tough.

When you can see a path to journey, you can take that path.  It took me a while to see the path I wanted to take with my drawing and painting.  I had to listen to a lot of talks and practice a lot before I understood what I could do with it, or what didn’t serve me in learning it.  This is where I am now with that and that my understanding of this will change more, but I’m with that change now.  I’m beginning my journey, with my own guidance, into the unknown.  I have a stronger ‘seeing’ or understanding of what it is I need to understand.  It’s just as one sits their first Vipassana course.  Often, it takes you to a new level of seeing.  I think there is no way that it won’t, as long as you’re practicing properly.  The proper practice is the seeing, and that is the changing.

Sitting in Movement

Every Monday night I go to a movement class.  The movement can be anything.  It can be stillness, like sitting cross-legged and still, or wild movements that spread wide and fast around the room.  It’s called Mandhala Sacred Movement, and the way to go about it is to be still and check in with how your body wants to move.

I think that this type of exercise is very nice with how it relates with Vipassana daily sits.  I have some friends, both Vipassana-goers and not, who don’t like the movement class.  On the Vipassana side, they don’t want to mix it up with the practice of sitting.  On the other side, they don’t understand what it means to move how your body wants to move.

What I get out of the dance is an investigation into my depth.  Usually I am applying Vipassana while moving, whether quickly or in stillness.  Vipassana is one of the best tools for investigating oneself, and I think those who don’t have this tool would have more trouble to investigate while moving.  It is different then Vipassana, because you’re allowed to move and encouraged to listen to how your body wants to do that.  I can see why that would cause some to avoid it, as it differs from sitting without physical movement.

The benefit of this class, for me, is that it gives me a little leeway.  It’s more of a push and pull game with my craving and aversion and chattering mind, then a game of sitting still and watching.  I am always watching and listening to myself in this movement class.  I can move if it feels right, yet I am seeing if I am moving based on some conditioning or if it is a freeing movement in itself.  It is an act of listening and learning.

I think one gets a lot out of being very still for no matter what arises.  That is a deeper way to develop equanimity and this calmness.  Yet, just leaving the space for anything to happen, with the attention to whatever comes, is also an act of equanimity and of change.  I sat on the floor mid-dance last night and a thought came.  It stated, “It’s silly you still think it doesn’t change.”  There, amidst my movement, was the clearest viewing of how everything changes and how the ‘I’ is always expecting what it knows.  Sometimes something like this can be a new way of seeing how we sit, or how to use our sits in another way.

Blowing the mind with dangerous fire

I was once addicted to marijuana.  It started as a recreational activity which I did with friends.  It inspired me with visions that I could use in my art and ideas that I thought were very unique and astounding while I was high.  Sometimes these ideas helped me when I sobered up to have a new understanding of an aspect of my life.  Most of the time, however, the ideas that I wanted to apply after I had had them, were impractical.  Also, at this time, I was hardly in the state of applying what I learned to life.

As it happens, I started to crave the visions I saw.  I wanted to have more ideas. Consequently, I smoked more and I ended up having many thoughts about thoughts.  The way I’ve described it to friends of mine is that when you are high, you think you are smart.  You think you are coming up with some great thing that is ‘blowing your mind’ and then it usually comes back around to being amazing just because you’re high.  Or the idea looks novel, but it is thinking about thought, and paralyzes the thinker into a roller coaster that is not anywhere near truth or a Dhamma-like change.  It is a battle that you consistently lose, because it is based on craving and aversion.  It may seem like genuine inspiration, but it lacks substance.

This, of course, is my personal experience.  It has nothing to do with anyone else and what they’ve gotten or get from the use of cannabis or any other thing like it.  I used it for recreational use and got addicted.  I was addicted to the craving and aversion, and the plant was my gateway to get there quicker.  It lead me straight onto the chain of ignorance and of chasing sensations.  This was before I had practiced Vipassana, and naturally Vipassana is what began my observing of it and understanding that it was not beneficial to me anymore.  It was also my strength to leave it behind and overcome the ‘need’ for it.

For about a year, it took over my life.  I smoked daily.  I got depressed and anti-social, and generally unintelligent and unresponsive.  I simply wanted to hide away and smoke. It was really difficult to come to terms with the fact that I tortured myself like this.  It was a dead life.  I had to forgive my actions and find peace with which was, in one sense, a wasted year.  In the other sense, it’s a year that propelled me onto the path of Dhamma with determination and a ‘smack to the face’ that it was absolutely the right path for me.

Presently, I don’t do any and I don’t think they are needed at all.  I still sometimes have the idea come up that I would like to go smoke, but the moment the idea comes, it’s gone.  I see how destructive and useless it would be to do, and simply move on.  It’s not a ‘thing’ that sticks anymore.  I see it and that’s all.  These ‘drugs’ have a use, but when taken with an unclear mind, their use is easily misunderstood.  I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone who hasn’t done Vipassana.  And to anyone who has, I also wouldn’t.

A metaphor: The elephant (our mind) isn’t trained to jump through the hoop.  We sit to train it.  Taking a substance is like setting the hoop on fire and pushing the elephant through.  The trained mind will see the fire and be able to avoid it with a concentrated jump and the wisdom to see the danger.  I pushed through the fire, with no wisdom.  In hindsight, I see what I did and why it hurts.  That had a purpose in my life, but it isn’t the way I would suggest.

Between Things

Marilyn and Steve snuck up behind me on the boardwalk where I’d been trying to still my fiery brain with the sound of rippling water. I’d seen them here before. They scan the landscape through binoculars for blue herons, and wallow in wonder with every glimpse of one. I wanted to wallow in wonder, too.

Blue herons, they say, prefer to hunt at twilight, often with one foot in the water and one on land, staying still for long stretches of time while waiting for the perfect strike. Blue herons, in other words, are creatures of liminality.

After they’d entertained some of my elementary questions about the birds, Marilyn and Steve offered to lead me to an unobstructed view of the sunset, achievable from some abandoned train track bridge just a short walk away. They struck me as worth following. So that’s what I did, followed familiar strangers onto an old bridge at dusk: neither here nor there, day nor night, but somewhere in between. We, too, are creatures of liminality.

Sitting in stillness, paradoxically, exposes a constant and subtle flux at the heart of experience. Much like standing on a bridge at sunset, though, we can practice welcoming and even appreciating liminality—not for certainty in a world of dichotomies, but for clarity in an experience that can’t be contained by them. There’s a kind of clarity found only in moments of suspension, I think, and however rare and fleeting our awareness of these moments may be, I’m reminded by Marilyn and Steve to keep scanning, to keep rejoicing in every glimpse.