Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Last night, a group I was leading was settling into a sitting meditation. One of the members was experimenting with using a rectangular yoga bolster on top of a round meditation cushion (zafu). What she ended up with, however, was something akin to a teeter-totter, off of which she gently toppled in a fit of laughter. The joy was contagious, and soon the rest of us were laughing as well.

This childlike quality can serve us very well in our meditation practice, and in our daily life. In spiritual pursuits, however, there is often a dour, humorless attitude. While I believe that introspective practices should be taken seriously, there is also plenty of room for laughter. On long, silent retreats, we look forward to dharma talks by certain teachers because we know they will be funny. Wes Nisker comes to mind in this regard. I still chuckle when I remember his talk on the Hindrances where he said that the terms sloth and torpor "always sound like a low-priced law firm."

Treating the experience of meditation with a playful, childlike attitude evokes a sense of wonder and awe, which are attitudes that are very important in this practice. Beginner's mind, the ability to see everything that arises as if for the first time, is the hallmark of this kind of playful attitude.

So when you come to the cushion, add a little smile to your practice. We're not trying to deny the possible presence of sadness or other difficult emotions, we are merely softening ourselves up a bit, and cultivating the kind of attitude that helps us see more clearly - and lightheartedly - all of the heavy, adult situations that arise during our practice, and in daily life as well.


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