Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Nothing To Do, Nowhere To Go, No One To Be

Part 1: Nothing To Do

At the opening of a retreat in 2001, Dharma Teacher Mary Orr told us, "For the next ten days you have nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no one to be." This instruction can be useful, not just during a long retreat, but in our daily meditation practice, as well.

In our daily life, we are rarely "human beings," but more often we are "humans doing." Getting things done is what gets rewarded and honored in our culture, and multitasking is the gold standard.

In vipassana meditation, on the other hand, the first instruction in to come to rest in the body. This can cause feelings of guilt to arise. "How can I justify sitting for half an hour or more doing nothing?" Perhaps it would be helpful to understand that, according Jon Kabat-Zinn, practicing meditation "is not synonymous with doing nothing." In truth, it can be very hard work. When we meditate, we are putting into action the conscious intention of stepping out of the "automatic pilot" existence of daily life. "It reeks of paradox," Kabat-Zinn continues. "The only way you can do anything of value is to have the effort come out of non-doing and to let go of caring whether it will be of use or not. Otherwise, self-involvement and greediness can sneak in and distort your relationship to the work or the work itself."

In your meditation practice, and as much as you can in daily life, start from a place of simply "being." Try to let the work of mindfulness unfold before you rather than trying to attain some special state or feeling. As best as you can, let go of attachment to the results of the practice, and just let it be. You may find that this kind of starting point will help you to see that, first of all, this moment is complete, just as it is. Secondly, you may find that when the doing starts to happen, it will unfold and flow with a bit more ease and relaxation, even if the ending point is not what you imagined.

From a letter to a friend, by Thomas Merton:
Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.

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