When new people arrive at Wind-in-Grass, occasionally they arrive without any experience in meditation. Sometimes they arrive without any idea where to start and ask for direction. Which is hard for me. Because I can tell them what I do, but I can't say for sure if that works for me because it works, or because I did other things as a foundation before.
I think about this a lot. I take very seriously my vow to save all beings, and for me, running Wind-in-Grass is how I embody that. At least in part. I want to figure out hot to boil down a practice which proceeds and exceeds thought into instructions, but its not easy. Largely I do my best and hope people decide to do their best in which case I know the practice will carry them. But here is an attempt:
Our practice, my practice, is about listening and hearing. More precisely when I sit on a meditation cushion, or when I do the things I consider my meditation practice, what I am doing is actively building my ability to listen to more aspects of my life, and to listen more regularly, and at deeper levels. While it might sound like the same thing, what I also find is that its an important part of what I do while meditating to actively build the courage, tolerance, and willingness to hear and accept what comes back and to do that without judgment where I can. Much of the positive feedback from this comes from experience.
Maybe this sounds underwhelming to you. Its changed my life and improved the lives of our group members. I find I enjoy life more. I savor more and more of the events and enjoy them more deeply- sunsets, sunrises, good cigars, walks, talks with friends, arguments with colleagues, walks home, drives to the beach. etc. I find miss less of it, because I am paying attention and this makes my life feel longer. Previously I would rush through the unpleasant, or had such an underdeveloped ability to hear clearly what people were saying and what I was feeling that I misinterpreted or glossed over important things. I find that I know a lot more about me, and that I like those things, or at least find them forgivable. This makes me appreciate things in people I previously thought of as flaws. So I guess I am more tolerant. I get angry less, and when I do, its not confused pointless anger that hurts. It flares up, and then burns away quickly. Sometimes anger is a completely reasonable response to an experience. I hesitate to say I am wiser, but I am more confident in my decision making. Somehow accepting the unknowability of things makes it easier for the right decision to just step forward. This leads to less agitation and better decision making.
So, how do I do this? I guess I just start by paying attention to something. It has been argued you can use anything. When I started sitting, I used my breath as that reference point. I spent hours watching it come and go, and counting these breaths. I don't know that I would recommend this. On one hand, it built up my ability to focus, i.e. paying attention, but it also seemed to reinforce that I should be excluding things I didn't want to deal with. That happiness was a result of avoiding the unpleasant. I got better a that avoidance, and I don't do this anymore. So now, I just see what I notice. I start anywhere. Life usually chooses for me. Sometimes it is a joint ache. Sometimes, its a thought. Sometimes an emotion. Sometimes its whatever I see in front of me. Sometimes it is noticing how I don't want to meditate. And I trust that that is a fine point of entry. And I just notice it. And if I am bored, then I notice that. And when my mind strays, I notice that. And if I am pissed it wandered off, I notice that. This goes on and on. I got better at it.
The other side is allowing it in. There is this ability to listen for, or to something. It means I am looking for something, but results in me often missing what I was there. Like that test where you are asked to count how many times the white and black shirt players pass a ball and miss the Gorilla. I don't want to miss the gorilla. This requires that as I can tolerate it, I am honest about what I am seeing or hearing or experiencing. This is a big deal, and it doesn't happen over night. I practiced it and I got better at it. Over time, there was less and less shame, less and less ignoring, less and less clinging to what I wanted to be true. More gorillas.
We use koans at PZI. They are helpful stories. I don't think they are magic in and of themselves. They have simply proved useful to a lot of people who have done this before me. So they are good reference points. They are also vetted for their ability to shortcut that awareness process, to help us see the important things. So I sit with them. What that means is that from time to time I remember I am working on a koan. When I do, I will try and see what bit I remember of that stands out to me. Then I usually ask why this resonates with me- what this might be in my life right now.
That's pretty much it. I am sorry if you want me to tell you there is a magic slogan that makes everything better. There isn't. There is no silver bullet to happiness. Its work, and sometimes hard work. But like training for a bike ride, there are tips and methods that are more effective than others. This one is 2,500 years old, and it worked for a whole s&*^ ton of people, so, well, think about that.
Do I pray to Buddha? No. Do I chant mantras? No. Do I do guided visualization? Sometimes, but even then I am trying to bring more awareness to it. I light incense from time to time because I like lighting things on fire. Same goes for candles. I do bow. I like it. I can't say way, but it makes a moment special.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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