Saturday, September 29, 2012

internal discipline: not a routine matter

Every day I brush my teeth twice. I've done this for at least 50 years, not able to account for the first 8 in which I bet I only brushed in the morning since dental hygiene didn't have the ubiquitous commercial value it has since accrued. In a way, teeth brushing is part of the routine of my days no matter where I am, or what is on my schedule, both of which fluctuate regularly.  I'm present when I'm brushing, noticing what's going on, but for the most part I'm just getting it done before heading off into the day or off to bed.  This is not a matter of internal discipline, but of external routine put into place for my dental health and sense of wellbeing... I am not a hermit after all, and my mouth has a part in my social behavior.

Meditation is not the same as brushing teeth, though I've had lots of people give advice to set a specific time of day and to routinize the behavior of taking the seat of mindfulness.  I know others for whom this is a way of life, but for me at this stage anyway, the routinizing of time of day isn't happening. Surely I could schedule meditation like tooth brushing and just get it done, but it isn't in my life as a daily obligation.

Meditation is, for me, an exquisite exercise in internal discipline, a matter of choice. I do not sit in order to say, "check, done that." I do not sit in order to see how long I can sit today as opposed to how long I sat yesterday or last week or last month. There is no measure for me, no goal, no established procedure.  There is no amount of sitting that gets me where I have to go.  Many might argue that mine is not a discipline at all, being so open ended, so haphazard. Separating routine from discipline seems to be part of my practice.

Unpredictability, curiosity and the swinging pendulum of joy and sorrow all drive my practice into its daily form. Taking the time when it presents itself, and organizing my days so that that time does present itself are tandem skill sets that are always in development. Failure in either of these is deeply felt and motivates me more. Like bringing yoga off the mat, this brings meditation off the cushion for me.

My practice is fueled by unpredictability, curiosity and that swinging pendulum. It is not a book that I pick up and find my bookmark and begin from where I left off.  All I ever have is this very moment. My tight left quadriceps might rule the world one morning, or my reactivity to the daily news, or the catching of my breath in my mid lungs, or the expansion of my energy beyond my skin. There is no way to predict the multiplex of movies that will be running in my mind, or the syncopated rhythms of the world around me. I have no interest in avoiding those elements, but rather seek it all out of a deep curiosity for the entirety of being present.

I am not attempting to psychoanalyze myself for 30 minutes,  to placate my emotions for 20 minutes, neutralize my political leanings in 10 minutes, nor solve my schedule conflicts in 5 minutes of silent sitting.  I never hold still in my seat; awareness of my breath moves me, continuously reminding me that I am alive in this very moment.

Developing this level of internal discipline is a great challenge, but that is what calls me to my practice. I don't expect to be a better person, or even a calmer person, as I have set aside these along with other expectations as my practice develops. My most cherished moments are the ones with no expectations and no boundaries, no interpretations of what arises, no way to leave off and bookmark it.  Success for me in this expenditure of time and energy is, I suppose, how I continue living my life fueled by just this unpredictability, curiosity and my own swinging on the pendulum of joy and sorrow. Meditation has intensified my awareness, eliminating many lines I had thought were boundary lines, as they either vanished into the mist, or emerged as entirely different structural elements.

My little local yoga studio, Shambhala Yoga & Dance Center, in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, (where I lead a 20 minute meditation from 5-5:20pm on Tuesdays before teaching a beginners yoga class) is planning to embark on its first meditation intensive experience. Several of us who teach at the Center are considering this and preparing ourselves to help structure and support a month of days of meditation practice among our fellow teachers and students. This preparation has me looking at my own practice from a more structural point of view, and thinking about how to share this ever-beginning again practice with others.  I am grateful for the spotlight on this in my own life, and am interested to see what turns up!

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