For some reason, I’ve been thinking about the arc of my practice and wanted to get down an abbreviated version of the journey.
First learning about meditation from a friend, discovering meditation & buddhism in school, reading Alan Watts and Ram Dass books– sitting meditation is something that was exotic, something I wanted to try. It was an activity that had a defined start and end point, easily delineated. Continuing to explore sitting, I began to find some of it’s wonders — first, monkey mind, then the ability to ‘return’ to the breath, then at some point a taste of quiet mind, some metta practice maybe, or mantra practice. Zen books introduced me to concepts such as “neti-neti”, as well as the classic “Mu” koan. These led me to explore my mind as it’s own object — beyond the content of the thoughts themselves. Other techniques allowed for deep concentration experiences, or energy flow experiences I didn’t even know were possible. Walking practice — a powerful tool to focus the mind on the present moment sensations and movements during retreats. Retreats allow long, intense periods of meditation which brought new depths and more profound insights. At some point I began to see that the whole thing was about finding and landing in the present moment — and that discovery seemed like the point of it all — until I saw that being present moment-to-moment as often as possible didn’t free me from suffering. Diving more deeply into literature, I re-discovered the traditional concepts of impermanence, and no-self; clinging, craving, mental formations, fetters and effluents! I began preferring Theravada literature to the stories and academic works of Zen because the Theravada stuff focuses on the practical aspects of practicing and the tangible concepts that lead to insight and freedom. Studying these concepts after sitting for many years, they take on a deeper meaning. We can understand the words and relationships from our experiential base and they penetrate us more deeply and guide our practice directly. Reading and practicing concentration techniques, such as the jhanas and four foundations of mindfulness brings a palpable sense of progress on the path. Returning to the simple formula of the Four Noble Truths and reflecting on dukkha, clinging, cessation and liberation has a powerful pull, putting practice into such a large perspective — truly transcending the scope and scale of one’s typical ‘life’. Formal sitting, and reading the dharma, become the ‘treats’ of the day.. the piece that’s looked forward to, and the remainder of the day is flooded with as much awareness and mindfulness as possible.
The journey is still unfolding. I have been fascinated by the changing nature of meditation practice.