mad in pursuit journal

DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS, AT THE intersection OF enlightened and bedimmed


As I was walking up the stair—
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today—
I wish that man would go away.

I enjoy thinking about religion more than I've ever enjoyed practicing it. (Are you supposed to "enjoy" it? That wasn't a chapter in the catechism.) So I would have made a better theology teacher than a priest. I can ponder some obscure point like a Jesuit, then I realize the answer makes no difference.

But I have been doing my zazen — my 20 minutes of meditation — nearly every day for about 3 weeks now. I wind up doing it at my 3 o'clock lull or before bed. It isn't practicing religion per se, even though contemplatives of all faiths do meditate.

I've always thought of meditation as letting my mind travel down interesting avenues — like getting a problem to solve, then going for a walk to let the solutions surface.

But zazen-style meditation requires you brush all your thoughts away. Just breathe. Just count your breaths, 1 to 10, 1 to 10, if you're a beginner. Just still your mind. Focus on NO thoughts. Reminds me of a little poem my father and I loved:

As I was walking up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
I wish that man would go away.
[Hughes Mearns, "Antigonish"]

Is it doing me any good, this gazing into the carpet, this sitting cross-legged till my hips ache? I can't say that it's opened the floodgates of creativity. It's still really HARD for me to STOP THINKING. Maybe I'm a little wary of having the whole universe open up to me all at once.

But I have to admit that the immediate benefit is a great sense of wellbeing — a kind of a stupid "what, me worry?" glow. Add a glass of wine and I'm perfect. [continue with more formal Zen study>>>]