Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why Sit?

Periodically I ask myself, why sit?

If I told someone I sit and face a wall for 35 minutes they would call the men in white suits to take me away. It is crazy.

Of course I am doing little harm compared with some other vocations and avocations. Especially if I don’t think about what useful work I might do during that time. My wife goes out and pulls weeds. Or reads a book. She actually was in a sitting group at one time, but now is anti both sitting and exercising. “Too much to do,” she says.

I decided to quit qigong on Sundays so that I could sit, but then decided at the last moment to go to another qigong class. The funny thing was that the new class involved a 45-minute standing meditation. It was breathtaking to be moving so slowly and intentionally.

Am my feelings a fair test about whether this or that is a beneficial activity? If so, perhaps a drug cocktail might be the better.

The poem (“What the Window Washers Did” by Margaret Hasse) talked about two window washers on either side of a window, squirting on Windex and then wiping the glass clean until the dirt disappeared. Somehow I thought of sitting when I heard that. No, I don't think the poet had that in mind, but we take from a poem something unique depending on who we are and what are our needs at a given moment.

I walk around steeped in three poisons: greed, hate, and delusion. In the busyness of life, I don't see that. I act and respond like an automaton. I am never able to watch the movie of my life because I am often somewhere else, either thinking about the next action, or lamenting about the last.

So I sit to polish the glass. It is dirty on both sides: the inside and the outside. Maybe it is like compassion. I feel for another. But it is much harder is to feel as another is feeling. To step outside of my stories and into someone else's shoes, and to see how they are suffering.

My neighbor says he's not suffering. Suffering is a bad misunderstand word. Wordsworth wrote, “Getting and spending we lay waste our powers. Little we know of nature that is ours.” That is the suffering I am talking about (some say “dukkha”). I look out a window and see that the glass is dirty and I believe that if I were just to clean one side it would be enough.

That is a delusion. But how could I know that there is dirt on both sides of the glass until I clean one side? How can I let the sunlight in to bath my life with joy? What kind of work can allow me to be both on the inside and the outside, polishing the glass until it disappears and there is no separation between the other and me?

If there were an easier way, I'm sure I would have heard about it. Continually the glass gets dirty. And, if I want to see clearly, I need to polish both sides. I need to sit. And I thank the sun for waiting patiently to be my guest.

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