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What Are We So Afraid Of?

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

Meditation softens resistance to what is.

Photo by author

This morning, I got a whiff of what’s behind my problem with ‘what is’.

I went hunting for a good image at adobestock to illustrate an article I’m writing about meditation. In the search field, I typed “meditation,” then “zen,” then “consciousness”; and each time I was met with perfection. Every grain of sand in place. Little bonsai trees. A still pond, no ripples.

And then clarity struck. These images show me where I’m not. They pulsate from a million miles away, beckoning. I look at them, and I want…that. They give me something to shoot for, and I feel the aspirational pull toward peace, toward oneness, toward awakening. That’s the problem.

The problem is that very pull. The goal. The reaching. As though awakening weren’t already here. As though I didn’t already have it all, right here in my Subaru, stuck behind someone trying to turn left in heavy traffic at an intersection with no light.

The pull posits a “spiritual” state of being in that Subaru. A superhuman calm. A divine love emanating golden light. That’s not awakening. That’s posturing. That’s pretending.

True awakening is me feeling my weight on the driver’s seat, my hands on the steering wheel, its texture, its temperature. It’s me noticing impatience, frustration, and how it balls up in the body, how it knots the neck muscles. It’s me noticing that I feel victimized by this moment, and tuning into how that shows up in my shoulders. In my belly. In my feet.

Charlotte Joko Beck’s book, Ordinary Wonder: Zen Life and Practice, says this about such a moment:

“The secret to experiencing the whole of life is just to be whatever we are experiencing. Say we manage for a few minutes to feel whatever we feel as opposed to running from it, thinking about it, analyzing it, taking a pill, getting drunk, or whatever we do so we don’t have to feel it. If we can truly rest with it, be friendly and curious with that pain, we can begin to transform. When we live with a thought on top of everything, the pain is held tight. It can’t move. It can’t do a thing. It just sits there and drives you crazy.”

So these days, my practice is moving from mantras and breathing techniques to just sitting there. Being with what is. Bored. Sleepy. Proud. Self-pitying. Strong. Sleepy. Bored. Committed. Sleepy. Distracted. Really, really wanting to open YouTube and look for blooper reels from The Office. Sleepy. So sleepy.

It doesn’t look like the zen garden I thought would be mine with enough practice. It looks like a dirty puddle in a broken sidewalk. Garbage in the grass. Meditation is the sky that’s there for all of it — the bonsais and the bullshit. It’s the heart that welcomes everything.

The more I can willingly feel my many desires for relief from [fill in the blank], the less I am held hostage by them. The less compelled I am to act on them.

Freedom comes one second, one thought, one feeling at a time. We inch into it, into the moment at hand, the one right now, the one with the secret to everything, our only moment ever.

May all beings be free of suffering and the cause of suffering. May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness. May all beings never be separate from joy that knows no sorrow. May all beings dwell in equanimity, free from attachment and hatred.


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