Sunday, May 5, 2013

Habits of Mind

I'm back from my week at Dhamma Torana, where I labored contentedly under the Spring sun while green things poked out of the earth; I conversed, reflected and compared glimpses of a shared path with a diverse group of brilliant fellow travelers; and I meditated through three 1-hour sits per day.

It was tiring, refreshing, inspiring, challenging, puzzling, comforting, and in some ways, confronting. I didn't take up meditation as a means of gaining enlightenment - not big "E" enlightenment, anyway. I just wanted to hone a personal care tool. But yes, I did hope for more light, more clarity about the puzzling aspects of my own self. Believing, as I do, that life is pure gift, and that body, mind and spirit are the tools we are given at birth with which to explore this vast creation, I struggle sometimes over why these very tools - this body, this mind, this spirit - can be so unmanageable. How have I allowed my body to become so polluted and flabby? How is it that I apply my mind so lazily, and waste its powers on fantasies and willful quests that I know have little value? And how is it I keep my spirit so tamed and obstructed by ego and fear? Any light shed on these oh so human mysteries would be welcome, wouldn't they?

Did any grand answers emerge? No...but plenty of clues, indications, directions. For one, there was a package of related themes that seemed to pop up in every other interaction with my fellows. Spontaneity, improvisation, being in the moment, flowing freely with...whatever. This came up again and again. It's not surprising that it did; the Vipassana meditation technique is all about being present, and about maintaining equanimity and balance toward whatever comes. But it was inspiring to hear how so many others incorporate these qualities into daily pursuits, work and life priorities.

The insight that stands out most came on in these few hours since ending my meditation week. It has to do with habits, and how much they apparently shape my sense of self. For six days I did without meat, coffee, television, my computer and phone, news of the world, major league sports, and probably a couple of dozen other things. I hadn't missed most of these things, and I actually felt more whole and healthy from doing without. So it was interesting watching myself slip back into comfortable ways, despite the signals from my newly sensitized inner self that they weren't necessarily so comfortable.

For example, I stopped for a large coffee during the 2 hour ride home. I attribute a small headache on the morning of my second day at the centre to withdrawal from my usually robust caffein intake, but hadn't missed it at all since. And riding home, I felt neither the need nor a craving for coffee. But I wanted one all the same. And even when I felt a slightly unpleasant buzz coming on after a few sips, I kept at it. It was almost as though I was re-acclimating to something that was a part of me. Which in a sense, it is. Over the last couple of days there've been similar reconnections to television, wine and meat. On one hand, I've aware of having survived comfortably without them, and of potentially huge benefits to extending the abstinence. But on the other hand is a kind of comfort. And I don't think it's the comfort of the particular item so much, as the comfort of not taking on a change that could have substantial rippling effects. I've already committed to uping my meditation to a solid hour per day. Do I want to risk an inadvertant flirtation with vegetarianism too? With doing without the TV?

I'm looking at the huge psychological inertia involved in personal change. Yes, there are all these ways we label, define and name ourselves. And to varying degrees, these tags take on significance as icons, or even decoys, of and from the personal and mysterious truths they mask. That there are these joined decoys and depths I know for certain, because of the sensitizing experience of all this meditation. It's a curious notion for which I was completely unprepared when I packed up for the week. And now, change is at the door, knocking hard, and I'll have to decide whether I'm prepared to admit this gift-bearing but so troublesome guest.

1 comment:

  1. Kirby... great summary of the challenges of change.
    We worked together at the Dhamma Centre in May. Its taken this long for me to read your blog. Wonderfully honest and entertaining! Thanks for sharing the link in an email and your perspective. JvE