Wednesday, December 9, 2009

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

Part 2: Nowhere To Go

Yesterday I mentioned that Dharma Teacher Mary Orr had once opened a retreat at Spirit Rock by telling us, "For the next ten days you have nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no one to be." Today, I will continue to exploration of this teaching from my perspective of its second component.

When I am leading a class or retreat, I often begin by reminding the participants that we are not trying to get anywhere in our practice. It is always good to remember that we are not trying to reach any special states or feelings, and we are not trying to attain any particular goals. Vipassana meditation is the art of consciously arriving in each moment, and knowing that experience as fully as possible.

The truth is that we are always arriving in the present moment, whether we are conscious of it or not. The Venerable Thich Nhat Hahn has often said, "There is no coming or going, but only arriving." So if there is a goal in this practice, it is to arrive as completely as possible in the here and now.

We can directly experience this arriving through the feeling of each breath as it comes and goes; feeling the air as it gently rubs up against the inside of the nose. This kind of physical contact with a present-moment experience entices the mind to collect and gather in the present moment. In doing so, we can disengage from the thinking mind that is always pulling us into a fantasy of the future or a memory of the past.

Why would this present-moment awareness be a useful thing to cultivate? First of all, because this is the only real moment we have in which to be alive, and to know that we are alive. Another reason is that, when we are connected with the present-moment reality, and disengaged from the thoughts created by the mind, we might be able to see that these thoughts have no reality whatsoever, except as thoughts. This way, we do not feel so trapped into believing our own thoughts, and in turn, this kind of awareness can lead to a reduction of suffering.

A very dynamic and visceral way of experiencing the feeling of arriving is through walking meditation. In this practice, we are intentionally not trying to get anywhere, and we are not trying to get from "here" to "there." We walk very slowly, feeling the shifting of weight from one leg to another, then feeling the lifting of one foot, and finally the placing of that foot in front of us. We are tuned in to the initricate sensations that accompany each step in full understanding that the point of all this is to arrive "here" over and over again. In fact, each step is an expression of "here."

In your daily life, you can become more attuned to this concept of arriving in each moment. Simply remember that everywhere you go is just "here," and when you get to your imagined goal of "there," you will still only be "here." Don't worry. You'll still get somewhere, but the journey may be a bit more interesting.

Lost, by David Wagoner:
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

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