Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Don't Wake the Baby

As any parent can attest, once the baby is finally asleep, doing anything that will wake that baby is best to be avoided. If you aren’t a parent, file that information away, because if you do have any contact with a baby, that little tidbit will be very useful. The slightest creaking floorboard, the cup banging into another on the shelf, even a sneeze, runs the risk of disturbing the little scream machine. That’s a first-hand observation, and one that seems to have been experienced since babies have fallen asleep.

There have been some observations and experiences that I can say are quite possibly are my own, but also not that I'm the only one ever had the experience, or made the same observation. In a universe or multiverses as numerous as the grains of sand in the Ganges, the likelihood really starts to diminish really quickly that I’m the only one with these experiences and observations thereof. There were two that might elicit yawns, perhaps the eye-roll of amazement that someone might even make the observation in the first place, let alone the experience and then the observation of what is quite possibly as mundane as it gets.

The first one goes back to the days of meditating in a basement Dharma room, sitting facing the wall. It's a given in sitting meditation we observe the breath. I was also observing how my heart beating really strongly.It wasn’t as if I could stop it from happening—the heartbeat part anyway--but I also paid attention to the heartbeat. Nothing too special there, maybe common. I’d even mess around every now and then, and try to pace my breathing around the heartbeat. That wasn’t the Great Revelation though. That was when I noticed that the inside of my eyelids were the exact same shade of grey as the wall, or my shadow on the wall, or both. I couldn’t really tell where one ended and another began. And that struck me as interesting. We’ve read about people who have these visions of bursting through walls, or at least seeing through them, having visions of the Buddha, or past lives, at least something that’s is considered remarkable. I noticed eyelids, a wall, maybe a shadow. And whatever separation seemed to exist when I sat down, literally disappeared. There was just undefined grey, sitting, heart beating, breathing, awareness. 

Eventually I was in a different Dharma room, which was a decidedly different environment. Where the first room was dark, this one was pretty bright, especially during the summer months. The first was quiet, the second was on a main road with traffic. That was fine, if for no other reason than I got to observe when I was annoyed by the traffic, and if I wasn’t, there was nothing to observe. I didn’t get epistemological about it and make observations about observations, because there wasn’t an observation to begin with, and observing that there was no observation to be observed. 

The second Great Realization involved walking meditation in that room. When I first started walking in the dark quiet meditation room, it was slow walking, with half-steps, paying attention to the pace and the space between each of us, taking some real mindfulness and concentration. In the bright noisy Dharma room, we were still slow walkers, but with heel and toe steps, with a tiny pause between the toe hitting with the foot firmly on the floor. Again, some concentration required, and added to that, carefully inhaling on one step, exhaling on the next. It was very intentional, a very deliberate method. Then at some point, no intentionality was involved, no wandering mind.There were no arguments with someone who wasn’t in the same room, no thinking about the next meal, or work, or when would the walking stop, there was just walking. One day, I noticed that I was doing it as naturally as breathing or my heart beating, but I noticed that I wasn’t using my thoughts to control the walking, I wasn’t thinking about walking or breathing or pacing. My reaction to having gone back into observer and observed was “Aaaaugh! I blew it!” 

Maybe blowing it was an overstatement. 

If you aren’t living in a monastery or temple, there is a barrage of distraction every day, and obviously not just on the cushion or when walking. It wouldn’t strike me as unreasonable that no matter how hard we try to follow the breath, some things creep in. Maybe earworm of a song that just won't go away, no matter how much you swat it like at a stubborn mosquito, the one who not only keeps landing, but who announces its presence by buzzing justthisclose to your ear. Traffic just comes and goes, much like our thoughts, although sometimes we like hanging onto the thoughts of annoyance about the car with the bum muffler stays around long after the car itself chugged away. Once, it was the pen mark on the wall that some previous meditator made on the wall to give them something to focus on, but try as I might, the eyelids just kept creeping more open, to just keep looking at the spot on the wall. I may as well have sliced off my eyelids a la Bodhidharma for all the good they were doing me!

If I’m all serene and at one with the universe(s), but leave the meditation room and act like the same jerk who walked in an hour before, then maybe I need to pay more attention to the distractions of life and observe them with the same sense of equanimity that I have while on the cushion. Going from being only superficially aware of my surroundings and moving on to noticing my surroundings, is nice. Going past that to observing without judgement, responding rather than reacting, is a step further. Noting the reaction we have to the distractions of our surroundings in another step. Going from “Okay,  I’m following my inhale, and now I’m observing my exhale” to just naturally breathing is the result of continued practice. Then maybe we get to the point where we don’t have to mind our thoughts and reactions and annoyances, getting right up to the point before we notice that it’s just happening naturally and yell, “Damn, I blew it!”

When meditating, seated or walking, the temptation is to very consciously maintain silence. At some point that silence can come without the need for conscious effort, it just happens. There doesn't need to be a Great Revelation, no matter how ordinary. When walking, we walk smoothly and softly, either through conscious effort or not. Can we take that same attitude with us in the other 23 hours spent off the cushion? If we can treat all sentient beings as infants deserving of love and compassion, if we can metaphorically conduct ourselves as if that baby deserves not to wail because of our inconsiderate action of banging the metaphorical cups together, then perhaps our own presence in this world can grant all beings the opportunity to rest peacefully. After all, the last thing we want to do is to wake the baby.