Monday, October 3, 2011

Zen & Meditation & Eat Pray Love

I have a bit of a pattern to my days now, though I hesitate to write it down, because I feel like every time I assert something lately, it's doomed to change the next day. But I will chance telling you all anyway ;) 

I wake up, take my son downstairs and wait for the bus, come back up to my apartment, make some coffee and read and meditate. Well, sort of meditate. Usually I sit quietly and listen to music and try to focus on sensory input and still my wandering mind. I watch trees out the window. At my old apartment I watched the birds in delighted fascination. But I tried it 'for real' this morning, with the whole sitting quietly for a set period, just focusing on breathing. I don't know what to think of it yet. But I liked what the teacher last Sunday at the Zen center said: that this is an experiment, something we are trying out as a way to be present in our lives. He repeated part of a poem by Dogen several times: "to study zen is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be connected to all things." I like that.
So I go write in the afternoons, take care of my son on alternate days after school, and spend most evenings reading. And lately my evenings have been spent reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love. I thought this book sounded silly when it came out and became so popular. Sure, I thought, rolling my eyes, some chick going around the world to find herself and talk about some spacy God-hybrid (you know, all the religions mixed into one), complete with having heart-warming stories that sum up nicely at the end of each chapter and make everyone who reads it feel good.

But then, I watched Gilbert on a You-Tube video, and you know what, she seemed pretty great--down to earth and compassionate. And then I looked up a bit about her book and realized: a woman who hits a crisis, goes through a divorce, and talks about meditation? I need to read this book ASAP.

So I picked it up last week and am reading slowly through it. I like it. Some moments are just perfectly captured, even transcendent. I've cried several times while reading. Gilbert is very likeable, even if some of her stories do have that too-familiar 'testimony' feel--you know, that art of crafting stories out of one's daily life more according to the lines of narrative punch than actual reality, where there's always a lesson to be learned, some clear out-come to be gleaned (a good testimony even follows the narrative arc: conflict, rising action, climax!, resolution). And when Gilbert asks questions of god, she gets (or as she says, some part of herself provides), answers. Like answers answers. In words. Which always disturbs me a bit, because it was stories like this that were so confusing when I was very religious for a full decade, and so desperately hoping to hear an answer from God.

Here's the thing--I may take up meditation, I may try out participating in the community at this or another Zen center, but I am not looking for enlightenment, I'm not looking for an intense spiritual experience, and I'm certainly not looking for God.

But I would like to be a little bit less bewildered feeling all the time. I would like some peace. And I have seen the way that this lifestyle engenders compassion. That's what I would like to see organically grow in myself: peace and compassion. If there's a long history that says this kind of meditation can bring that, then I will try it out, and try it genuinely. I can do self-discipline. I face resistance and overcome it with writing fairly regularly, I think it will not be entirely foreign to sit everyday and try to focus my breathing and let go of the monkey thoughts.

We'll see. Like the teacher said, it's an experiment.

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