In a previous incarnation, that was not all that long ago, I had the opportunity to commit to a daily meditation routine. When I changed jobs, study of the new location placed me in the proximity of an early morning Zazen meditation group that met in the early morning. I could show up at the Meditation Center for the 6:00 AM sit, park my car there and walk the remaining mile and a half to work. Even though I have been been practicing meditation for many years, this opportunity for consistency was welcome, so adapting to the new routine was welcome as well as easy. I was able to follow this process for several years, and it solidified a regular practice into my daily routine that is indescribably rich and now innate.
An interesting aspect of meditation that I’ve noticed, and I’m sure this extends to any other discipline, is that it takes consistent, long-term application for the benefits to be realized at the deeper levels of the human psyche. No doubt this is true of athletics or similar routines. There’s something about meditation that seeps in deeply when it’s applied over a variety of the personal dilemmas that inevitably surface, such as seasonal mood swings, various conflicts, physical challenges, etc. When the practice is utilized throughout a spectrum of the natural biorhythms, it becomes innate at the cellular level. Some might say that “new neural pathways” are being forged. In short, full benefits are realized by sticking with it. As Nike says, “Just do it”.
I was very consistent with the meditation routine at the Zen Center. I rarely missed a morning there. When the bell rang at 6:00 AM, I had typically already been on my cushion for 15 or more minutes. The way the schedule worked was that we sat Zazen until 6:35, then walked for 10 minutes. There was a second sit from 6:45 until 7:15 for those who wanted to stay. However, I typically left after the first sit so I could walk to work and be at my desk by 7:00 AM.
On one particular morning, I was not in very good shape or spirits for the sit. I had not slept well. Indeed, my tossing and turning were products of a previously bad day. However, undaunted, I showed up and was there for the first bell. This particular sit was extremely tormented. For some reason, thoughts consistently ran through my head that the person next to me was criticizing me, and I was “doing it wrong”. At first, in the early minutes of the sit, the thoughts weren’t terribly overwhelming. But as the session progressed, the thoughts became extremely persistent and overwhelming.
I was sure he was criticizing my breathing for being too loud. When I moved my hand slightly, I was convinced that he looked at me condescendingly. No matter what I did, which wasn’t much, I was sure he was thinking judgmentally of my ineptitude and incompetence. The way the Zendo was arranged, we sat facing the wall. Candles burned on the altar behind me, and as the shadows danced on the wall in front of me I could swear the they were in collusion with the person next to me, mounting an attack of criticism that was circling through my head like blender blades. It took every ounce of psychic effort I could muster to just sit there and not act upon the sharp and painful thoughts.
Finally, after what seemed like 35 years, which was only 35 minutes, the bell rang to indicate the end of the sit. I pushed back off my cushion and stood. As I stood, I noticed that the person next to me didn’t get up, he didn’t even move. I looked over at him. He was asleep.
There was nothing, and no one, outside of myself, that was the source of my suffering. Correspondingly, and by extension, I am equally responsible for my own happiness.