Some time ago, I was considering attending a morning meditation. I knew that the local Zen center had an early morning sit at 6 AM. I’d been on the periphery of their proceedings for a while, but had never committed to actually going to the morning session. I could easily make excuses for not going: it wasn’t convenient, I could more easily sit by myself at home, I didn’t know the routines, etc. I was actually pretty stagnant in my practice, and growing frustrated with it. I finally got tired of my own mental sludge, so one morning I went.
My first impression was of the teacher, who seemed to be relaxed as he sat. Even more, he appeared to be at ease with his posture. The environment was conducive to meditation. The altar had candles, the cushions were arranged neatly, and the people who were already there welcomed me with few words and open hearts. I took a place, and faced the wall as was the practice in this tradition.
The bell rang three times at precisely 6 AM. Since this was my first time at this particular event, I didn’t know what to expect. More importantly, I didn’t have any expectations. The teacher then planted a seed for our consideration, which was his way. He said “The purpose of meditation is to accept yourself fully, exactly as you are.”
At that moment I felt myself swell with tension. I immediately recognized it as anger. It was interesting that I had been sitting there since before the bell rang, and my thoughts were relatively clear. I envisioned the anger that washed through me as making myself become much bigger, in the way Brutus seems to grow large when overwhelming Popeye. I also saw myself, in the large version, reach over and grab the teacher by the neck and let him know: “I CAME DOWN HERE TO GET AWAY FROM THAT PERSON.”
But that was all he said. It was a simple statement, without judgment or condemnation. There wasn’t any encouragement to it, either. It was a simple statement for consideration, a seed of contemplation.
Needless to say, I had more than enough to meditate upon. How could he have known so aptly my state of mind? Why did I have to face that part of myself today, when what I needed most was a break from the war within myself? What exactly is involved in accepting myself exactly as I am? And is acceptance of myself truly the purpose of meditation? I thought meditation was something special. I thought there was some technique or process, perhaps a trick, to find peace. If all of the above is true, then acceptance would have to be that process, or trick. But that kind of acceptance is so often unacceptable.
Needless to say, I managed to sit silently through this reaction. This wasn’t my first time “on the cushion”. In fact, I managed to sit for the next 35 minutes without moving. The place was tranquil in the stillness of the morning. All the others who were there somehow managed to sit silently as well. However, the thoughts and emotions within me raged and tugged in all directions. One might say that I was dragging a lot of baggage around with myself. I was far from “accepting myself exactly as I am.”
I managed to endure through the sit that morning. When I walked out of the center, I felt a wave of peacefulness that I didn’t walk in with. I even went back. I made a habit of going. Somehow, I had accepted myself, exactly as I was, for 35 minutes. It felt good.