Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Perfectly Neutral Day in the Zendo

I’ve quit writing down all my dreams again because I hate to waste all that paper, knowing I’ll never look at most of it again, and also to save the time in the morning, but I’ve had a few lucid dreams since then—which I do write down—so I think keeping a dream journal is not essential for lucid dreaming, though many will swear it is.

I can’t recall ever having a non-lucid dream where I flew without a plane, and in just two lucid dreams, I’ve managed to do so, but just off the ground, puttering slowly along, so it was quite a fine night when I dreamed, non-lucidly, of going on a special mission with Angelina Jolie on the slenderest of sticklike flying apparati, way up high in the air. It made me think of Harry Potter and quidditch: flying brooms.

In the very next dream that night, I was lucid, again sailing slowly along just off the ground, and I thought, “I probably can’t get any higher than this. But you know what? I could try!” So I sort of arched my (dream) back and sailed way up high in the air! I could see a high school down below, and an expanse of silvery blue water glittering in the sun. (Hmm, maybe I saw a “high” school because I was high in the air.)

I’ve had three lucid dreams in September so far, all brief. I have much to learn about stabilizing and prolonging lucidity, but I think I’m getting the hang of inducing it. The most recent lucid dream was my 25th.

This is my current method: When I’m going to sleep at night, and when I’m awake during the night, on an in-breath I visualize a sight from a recent dream and on the out-breath I think, “I’m dreaming.” Over the course of the next in-breath and out-breath, I say a metta phrase. “May I be happy” is as good as any. Then I do the first thing again, and so forth, alternating. At all times, I feel my body and focus on relaxing it. And if I find I’m getting more wired instead of sleepier, I quit the visualizing part.

I lose very little sleep doing this, and what I do during the day to encourage lucid dreams is almost nothing at this point. Now and then, I say to myself, “I’m dreaming,” and consider if it could be true. I know the day is going to come when I’m awake, say “I’m dreaming,” and discover I’m in fact asleep. That’ll be weird, man.

I did finally go ahead with a letter to my next-door neighbors about smoking in the common area, but I didn’t include my newest neighbor, who absolutely does not appear to be smoking there. The neighbor who has long sent his friends out back to smoke is still doing that, ditto the person who lives below him as of about a year ago, and they are the ones I wrote to.

I’ve gone out there however many times over the years and in the mildest possible manner have asked the smoker to maybe smoke out front, and he or she has generally been extremely nice about it. I kept thinking that eventually my neighbor would conclude he should send his friends elsewhere to smoke, after the tenth one came back inside and said, “Your neighbor just asked me not to smoke there,” but it never happened, and now that it actually is illegal, I felt reasonably comfortable about going on the record.

I put my name and address on the letters, and have not heard anything back, which is fine. I’m not prepared to take it much farther because I don’t want to feel uneasy or besieged in my own apartment. It would be great if smoking out there never happened again, but merely less would also be fine, so I think my efforts here are done.

This week Tom turned 50, so I took him out for a birthday dinner at The Old Clam House, on Bayshore, which he had always wanted to try. We were seated in the bar area and it was extremely loud, but Tom loved his seafood dish, and my pasta was good, too. Their décor centers around license plates, football, and motorized vehicles. We had a pleasant evening.

In February of this year, I did a one-day sit at the San Francisco Zen Center which was extremely difficult. I was very physically uncomfortable, and I also let myself get off onto a distressing and sorrowful train of thought that became self-perpetuating and caused feelings of aversion toward this and that. I spent much of the day in tears and/or mild irritation. Mostly tears.

The first day of any period of intensive practice is bound to be rough, but if you can hang in there, once you settle in, there turns out to be more to it than misery. But with a one-day sit, all there is is that hard first day, so I vowed never, ever to do another one-day sit at the Zen Center.

But after the two retreats at Spirit Rock, it occurred to me that I might enjoy a day of sitting, so I signed up for the one-day sit this past Saturday, entirely forgetting that I was on call for work. (I was able to arrange a trade.)

On Friday evening, I went for oryoki training at the Zen Center and stayed for dinner. I was in bed by 9 p.m., which meant I would get just seven and a half hours of sleep, which meant my neighbors were outside chatting every now and then until about 3 a.m., which meant I actually got mighty little sleep.

Weirdly, the next day I felt completely haggard, but not sleepy per se. While I now and then sleep soundly through an entire period of sitting in the meditation hall at Spirit Rock, I cannot imagine sleeping in the zendo. It just doesn’t seem like the place.

I had very little discursive thought, and practiced metta all day. Sometimes metta can arouse very pleasant feelings, but it didn’t on Saturday. Perhaps the general challenge of sitting all day in the zendo is exactly counterbalanced by the pleasure of practicing metta, resulting in an almost perfectly neutral experience.

I think it also helped that I know more people there now, so I feel more that I'm sitting in a friendly group. Also, as Paul Haller correctly said in his talk that day, few people could sit like that all day on their own, so I'm conscious that I'm sitting to support the people around me, and that they are likewise supporting my practice.

I slept in today and went to Rainbow and cooked up a pot of lentils, brown rice and fresh tomatoes.
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