Monday, February 01, 2010

Inspiration at the Zen Center, of All Places

I called D. last Thursday to make a date for this past weekend and found she had taken a severe downturn and couldn’t get out of bed. That was startling and somewhat upsetting, as she had been up and around just four days prior.

I felt rattled for a short while, as if there were something I should do. I worried that maybe she would die before I saw her again, and then I reminded myself that there was nothing in particular to be done, and that whatever was going to happen was going to happen.

After work that evening, I went to the Zen Center and meditated in the zendo and also had dinner there prior to the first meeting of an eight-week class I’m taking, taught by Paul Haller. That first session was extremely helpful.

I tend to think that being mindful—aware of a chosen object—is something I can aspire to do and have more and more success with over time: I want to do this thing, and I remember to do it as often as possible.

However, on a day with many mindful moments, I don’t think, “I’m really a mindful person,” and on a day when there are few, I don’t think, “Well, I’m just a mindless person.” Instead, I think, “Wow, the whole day passed with hardly any mindful moments! But I can be awake in this moment, and I can try again tomorrow.”

In contrast, I assume that things like being kind or generous (i.e., things that seem to pertain to emotions) are just ways you fundamentally have to be as a person, or at least, that you have to be in a certain mood. When I fall short, I attribute it to not being in the right mood or, worse, and most of the time, I berate myself for just not being a kind person or a patient person or what have you. Besides being yet another instance of unkindness in and of itself, this hardly sets the stage for success in the future.

Something Paul said in that first class made a light bulb go on over my head: While it’s true that being in an affable or calm mood is very helpful, and while it is certainly true that if you practice harmful actions over and over, you will give every evidence of simply being that type of person, I realized that I can undertake the practices of behaving in certain ways just as I undertake the practice of noticing things.

These behaviors can simply be things I try to do as often as possible, with more or less success from day to day, regardless of mood and without taking success or failure personally.

On Friday night, I received a work-related call at 11:30 p.m., well past my bedtime, which kind of threw the whole weekend out of whack, since I then got up three hours later than planned on Saturday. I didn’t see D. this weekend, but she had perked back up and was well enough to go out with friends yesterday.
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