I have never considered myself an activist. I wouldn’t know where to start. I know that we are in a time in which action is necessary and important, if only to show that we are awake – or wish to be – and that caring humans are not so last century. I think that showing support – or lack thereof – by how and where we spend our money is a method to induce change. I think that in addition to taking care of each other and making decisions aligned with the good, a daily spiritual practice is of the utmost importance.
Spiritual practice can be a lonely business. It’s not that you need company or that it’s something anyone can do with you, though we can practice together. There’s the cushion at the zendo where we sat around a big square while a sweet nun made the bell to sing, signalling the start of silent practice. We closed our eyes and though it was a room full of people, the work we did was solitary.
After a period of sitting in this square the bell would sing again and we would turn one hundred and eighty degrees to face the white wall behind us. The bell sings and we sit for about half an hour. Still together, still alone.
Satsang is “a sacred gathering” if you ask Google. It’s the folks with whom you study and practice. You ask, “My hip felt pins and needles when we did that pigeon, how was yours?”
“Pins and needles, yeah. Mine too.” Might be a response from a member of your satsang.
“It’s been hard getting to the cushion lately.” Someone might say and there is someone with an answer or, in the least, words of encouragement like, “I experience that too.” So at least you know you’re not alone.
I recently misplaced the kitchen timer I use in my meditation station. I remembered back before iphones were a thing there were the ipod shuffles. The studio owner where I studied in the single digits of the twenty-first century used one of these things for a meditation timer. She would poke at the sleek glassy screen and cue up a bell that would chime us into and out of the timed meditation practice at the end of yoga class.
I remember that five minutes felt interminable, if we went for ten I was crawling out of my skin. Not too many yoga classes that I have been to conclude with a seated practice. If I am honest, I will admit that I don’t include it in classes I teach because of how tense folks can get in that five minutes. It is daunting, dear Reader, to see the abject dismay on a dozen faces who are not in the mood to sit quietly. I can hear their noisy minds, “I didn’t sign up for this! I came for a yoga practice! Why in the hell are we meditating?”
One night while I was looking at my meditation space and feeling quite sick and tired of myself and my nightly fits of resistance, not unlike those early years of sitting at the end of a yoga class, I remembered that meditation timer from those years ago. I pull out the ‘ole sliver of glass that passes for a telephone and find the app without much difficulty; Insight Meditation Timer.
I’m usually late to discovering the things that have been cool for a decade, so I will not be insulted if you think I’m ridiculous for starting to use this thing last week. I sat down and set the timer. I resolve to one of the first practices I brought home from a weekend immersion with Swami; sit for eleven minutes practicing ujjaii pranayama and look for the spaces between thoughts.
A digital bell sings. I close my eyes, rest my hands lightly on my knees and focus on that sacred movement of breath. The stillness rises and falls like waves. There is a moment when I can see a gap in thinking coming closer to me, it washes across my brow then lets in thoughts of what color I should have colored that dragonfly’s wing in the coloring book I got for Christmas. This is how it goes.
The bell chimes neatly and I hold the space another moment longer. I find that this practice fortifies discipline; not to jump right up when the meditation is over but remain for another five breaths. Creak the eyes open and ride the practice out into the space of daily existence. My Teacher calls this the wake of meditation.
When I regard the phone’s reflective surface the Insight Meditation Timer adds an element to my practice I hadn’t really noticed I was missing; companions. The screen shows that 2,365 people just meditated with me, or 3,477 people meditated with me from around the world. Over 5,000 sat in meditation with me last night.
Germany, Australia, Ohio, New York, New Zealand and Florida where I sit in a dimly lit room. I find the number of people meditating in the middle of the night absolutely staggering and inspiring (though it might not be the middle of the night where they are).
Since I began using this meditation timer the daily news has not gotten any better. The upheavals and divisive rhetoric have not diminished over the last couple of weeks. I will admit, dear Reader, I have been afraid and at the same time deeply discouraged. The challenges grow and I fall into despairing for our wretched and wonderful world. I temporarily forgot, because I was not able to see, the daily efforts on behalf of the good happening all around me.
I believe there are more people than not pursuing the spiritual path and practices, but these people are not on television, they are not sensational or very public. But this is a pervasive practice wherein one little lamp can quietly touch its flame to a wick nearby. I think of this when practice is at the bottom of the to-do list at the end of a mighty long day. When it isn’t simply practice, but an effort on behalf of the good, motivation changes and inspiration arises! Though we might practice in our small corner of the world there are a million plus lamps lighting the darkness one breath at a time.
That thought kinda makes you want to go meditate right now, doesn’t it?