Well, I have definitely reached the point of the year where I'd like to just not do anything work-related anymore. To collapse in a blanket pile of books and mugs of coffee and throw in an occasional walk in the woods for good measure.
Which is not going to happen, obviously. And would actually be boring after a few days if it did.
Lately I've been thinking about how quickly my own ideas and feelings change, and how often they seem to run counter to what I thought I wanted only days (or even moments) ago. If Zen practice teaches you anything — and Zen practice, for the unfamiliar, chiefly consists of sitting meditation — it's that nothing stays the same for even a second. When you stop to pay attention to what's happening in the whirlwind of your mind, and then you throw in all the sounds, smells, temperature, changes in light (Zen meditation is an open eye style), and anything else that might come along as a sensory perception, it's quickly apparent that you can't actually put your finger on whatever "reality" is. It's ever-changing and defies categorization.
Which runs counter to most of what we learn in our books and the teachings of the material world. We think of things as solid, even though that alleged solidity is itself existing in a constant process of entropy.
And yet things *are* solid. I'm sitting in a chair and typing on a keyboard, and both of those things feel pretty real and unchanging to me.
All of this is on my mind because this weekend I'm going on retreat, where we'll spend hours a day in silent meditation, along with some breaks for yoga and dharma talks. The Japanese word for retreat is "sesshin," which means to unite the mind, and that’s essentially what we’ll be doing. “Burning out of thoughts by the fire of attention,” as the teacher Charlotte Joko Beck put it.
When I tell people I have a serious meditation practice, they're usually like "Oh, yeah, I should do that," and it's really begun to bum me out. I'm happy for all of us that mindfulness has become a larger part of the conversation about wellness, but I hate that meditation has become a “should.” It seems to have fallen into the category of things that are hard and dreadful, like training for marathons or drinking green juices. And that you think less of yourself for not doing.
If I could disabuse anyone of anything, that might be the first notion I go after. Meditation is amazing. You don't have to do anything! You just sit there and watch what your mind does! What's fun is that your mind is wild. The things it dredges up or conjures up or just chooses to fixate on never cease to surprise me. It’s truly a weird experience.
One of the reasons I became a dedicated meditator is that I have a mind like a steel trap. It was always pretty savage to me and it never, ever relented. For years I tried desperately to shut it up (as though that were ever a possibility) with no success, which led me to the realization that all I could really do was learn to roll with it.
And at the highest level, that’s what meditation has done for me.
I can’t help but wonder if more people would be compelled to do it as well if they could view the practice of exploring the mind (and getting to truly know oneself) as an adventure instead of a chore.
On to some other things I thought were worth sharing this week:
Just a Great Quote from a Zen Teacher About Our Inner Battles
“You have been experiencing, very deep within you, centuries of battle. You may question your own nature, whether it is essentially good, whether or not you are helpless, unable to change. Along with this questioning, there is hope, and the endless desire to live, no matter what. It is just like the centuries of battles between nations, revenge after revenge. It’s happening in your own self. The battles out there look external, but since you cannot ignore them, they cannot be separate from you. They become the inner battle of you.”
- Kobun Chino
More Accessible Alternative to Going on Retreat #1
I recently stumbled upon this 1981 ambient album by Michael Stearns while going down an internet rabbit hole about modern new age music. Here’s how it’s described on Bandcamp:
“Michael’s “epic” Serge synthesizer album, in 6 movements. The Earth as a mass of sounds held together through resonance. Everything alive, atoms, cells, the Earth’s core, oceans, plants, animals and humans, the seen and the unseen, all creating a complex orchestration… the Earth as a being of sound. The Earth within the cosmos, the cosmos a vibrating orchestration with a resonance so complex and deep we hear nothing, no-thing, and are engulfed by a vast and tender silence.”
Maybe just play this and look at the stars?
More Accessible Alternative to Going on Retreat #2
I am generally not a fan of mindfulness apps (with the exception of Insight Timer, which I use to time my sits), but I am really enjoying one called Betwixt.
It’s kind of a cross between a game and a guided meditation; very atmospheric and cool, and, dare I say it, fun.
On Grief, on Beauty, on Autumn
“Daylight loses nothing from the sun setting, just as sunrise takes nothing from the night: it’s just something beautiful turning into something else that is beautiful. This is the natural intelligence of the world, the force that turns the seasons, that carries things into our lives and then carries them out, just as it brought us here, into Autumn.”
Russell Brown is both a talented acupuncturist and a beautiful writer; his newsletter is about his practice of Chinese medicine and so much more. Highly recommended.
The November challenge we deserve.
From “A Map to the Next World” by Joy Harjo
Hope your map making goes well this weekend. Thanks for being here, as always.
p.s. Share this with someone who’d appreciate it; it would be a lot of fun to return from retreat to a bunch of new subscribers.
Thank you, Sara. And thank you for the Michael Stearns link. I am going to suggest in return the work of John Luther Adams. His pieces "Becoming Ocean," "Becoming Desert," etc. are similar explorations of landscape as sound, and quite beautiful. It is through his work that I discovered that poet John Haines, whose "October" poem I shared last month. It is such a tiny, connected world sometimes.
So grateful I opened your newsletter. What a gift! I wish I had a huge following so that I can share with others your beautiful post. Thank you.