Tag Archives: Seattle Insight Meditation Society

Middle of the Night

It’s the middle of the night. This happens. I’m awake when everyone else  in the house is asleep, except the cat who slept all day and now wants to hang out.

I’ve been thinking about the teachings in my meditation class this past Monday. Buddhism starts with the concept of suffering. From courses I’d taken in college I knew about the Buddhist concept of The Four Noble Truths: The nature of life is suffering. Our desire for pleasure and our aversion to pain create more suffering. Relinquishing craving reduces suffering. And the way to the cessation of suffering is The Noble Eightfold Path.

Essentially, we suffer because life is impermanent and imperfect. We try to seek pleasure and avoid pain and the more we do this, the more we suffer. The answer is to stop doing this. And the Buddha figured out how.

But there is a difference between philosophical knowing and experience, my teacher said. If we think about following the breath we are being philosophical. If we can really follow the breath, we are experiencing a moment of mindfulness which will increase our awareness. “This is an on-the-job training of how to work with suffering,” he said. “We have to consciously know what our pain is.”

He referred back to the comments made by students at the first class about wanting to quiet the mind, calm a busy life, deal with our inability to pay attention to the present moment. This is the suffering. Our dissatisfaction with everyday life is the suffering the Buddha was talking about. Oh. I have that.

This is the way Buddhism works. It doesn’t work by trying to pray yourself out of a situation. It works by looking at the causes of our pain and the ways we can remove those causes…We keep trying to jack up the volume of life, but underneath it is the deep sorrow. Turn down the volume and deal with the sorrow. How bad is it? You realize, I can deal with it. This capacity holds the whole key to making life harmonious.

It’s not all bad. Just as we avoid the unpleasant in our mind, we miss being aware of much that is pleasant. The more simple you are with each sensation, he said, the more beauty you will be aware of.

Don’t Miss a Step

Last night I went to the first of a six-week class on mindfulness meditation. It is taught by Rodney Smith, the founding and guiding teacher of the Seattle Insight Meditation Society (SIMS). It was interesting to see that over a hundred people showed up for the class. I guess I’m not the only one who is searching for something.

Early on, Rodney asked the students to comment on what we hoped to get out of meditation. One person said he wanted to feel more peaceful, another said she hoped it would quiet her mind. I wanted to say that I hoped it would help me get into the present. To feel like I’m experiencing each moment and appreciating that this is my life. These are my children. This is the sound of their voices. This is what it’s like to cut a carrot. I want to notice it all.

He taught us a basic sitting meditation and we practiced that for a short while. It involves sitting upright, either in a chair or on a cushion on the floor, closing your eyes, and trying to keep your mind focused on the sensation of your breath. Nothing more, just paying attention to the breath. Thoughts arise and your mind wanders away, over and over you bring it back to the breath.

Thich Nhat Hanh says this: “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”

Rodney also taught us how to do walking meditation, in which you pay close attention to the sensation of taking each step. Picture a large empty room filled with people taking very slow steps. It felt a little weird, but also interesting to see how focused you can become. “Don’t miss a step,” he would say occasionally. You are training your mind to pay attention.

For homework, he asked us to sit in meditation for 30 minutes every day and to do one “marker.” A marker is a daily activity that you do routinely, without thinking about it, that now you will try to do with complete mindfulness. He suggested teeth brushing. Here’s Thich Nhat Hanh:

Chopping wood is meditation. Carrying water is meditation. Be mindful 24 hours a day, not just during the one hour you may allot for formal meditation or reading scripture and reciting prayers. Each act must be carried out in mindfulness. Each act is a rite, a ceremony. Raising your cup of tea to your mouth is a rite. Does the word ‘rite’ seem too solemn? I use that word in order to jolt you into the realization of the life-and-death matter of awareness.

So this is the beginning. The path I am choosing to follow, at least for now. Thirty minutes of sitting meditation each day. Mindful teeth brushing. Maybe mindfulness will spread into other parts of my day. And we will see.

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