Finally, after weeks of trying to get into meditation again, a breakthrough!
I’ve been sitting only randomly, not being very consistent in anything, trying to focus on one of the lojong slogans each day to keep my daily life stuff from slipping too far, but all the demons that plague the meditator have been active! A few weeks ago, I did begin doing weekly yoga class again, since my wife resumed teaching the class, and that seems to have helped some, but the host of problems has continued.
I suppose that sleepiness has been my hardest problem to deal with. I think it’s part of the way depression works – at the risk of making it seem I actually think demons exist, it feels like something is trying to prevent me from accessing this thing which could really help with the depression! So I fall asleep while trying to meditate.
Of course, there are other difficulties that are fairly common to meditation, such as mental chatter and finding excuses not to sit. All of them have been taking their turn at thwarting my efforts.
But Wednesday I had a very powerful and liberating meditation.
As I mentioned, I have been practicing Vipassana for the last few years, and I also volunteer to help with registering students for the 10-day meditation courses and other work at the Vipassana Center nearby. Until recently, I was there several times a month helping with various tasks.
Part of the difficulty I have had with my practice recently stems from developing a lot of doubt – not the Great Doubt of Zen, which is a positive thing, but sort of a petty, peevish little doubt about the legitimacy of my practice and whether I would ever be able to make the progress I’d like to in a practice that comes from a fairly strict ascetic tradition. This created an undercurrent of negativity that interfered with not only my meditation practice but my willingness to continue with the service I’ve been giving for the past few years.
Then just last week, I noticed myself feeling a tiny bit more positive – maybe the things I’ve been doing, the commitment to blog about it, whatever, has helped some. The tiny opening made me decide I could go out to the Center for my usual registration role on Wednesday afternoon, so I set it up.
As normal, when coming to the Center for service, I made plans to do an hour meditation after arriving. The teachers for the course were doing a meditation that involves a recorded sutra recitation, so they said I could join them for that. The recitation is a very intense and moving one which I had only heard parts of before, and I went into it happy to have the experience.
I was sleepy off and on in the middle of the meditation, but then somewhere near the end I think I went into a very deep meditation. Of course, I wasn’t aware of being in that state as it was happening, but because of what happened next, I realized I was.
There were no precursor thoughts, no context of thinking in which to put what happened, but suddenly my eyes popped open and I was very intensely aware of a single sentence: My life is a garden in the desert.
Okay, so it doesn’t sound earth-shaking or maybe not even particularly insightful. But it came to me with a power and intensity that I can’t begin to describe. As I sat there, a bit stunned, wondering where this came from – this kind of thing doesn’t happen to me generally, in fact, it’s never happened before – tears began to stream down my face as the deeper significance of the sentence began to grow in my mind.
Again, I can’t begin to explain all the fullness of the meaning as it came to me, as most of it was non-verbal, but the short version is that I realized that my negativity was really stupid. I realized that I was really stupid to not appreciate how wonderful my life is, how wonderful and precious every moment is. At some point I just asked myself, what am I doing?!?
Since then, I have felt a tremendous release and clarity about things, and I realize – not just intellectually, but in my body – that the depression was creating all those negative thoughts and ideas.
And I think I’m back.
Really does sound like you are back John. I’ve been re-reading some of your older posts and remembering why I started following this blog in the first place. You have been on a fascinating journey. Would love to have the password for your book.
Thanks Maryanne… I’m enjoying our correspondence, and I think it’s helped and inspired me greatly to know we’re kinda on the same path here… I’m happy you want to look at the book… the password is just ‘johnsbook’- it’s a bit intense maybe, with the war and all, so don’t feel obligated to read it if it’s not your cup of tea! But glad you’re interested!
Hello John, great reading this story and your coming back to such a deep meditation. The garden in the desert seems to have been just the vibe you needed at that moment, and it is a beautiful image! I had those sleepy moments at my 10 day retreat as well, and the teacher (and Goenka) says it means that your mind does not want to meditate… Now, back home, I hardly have those moments any more… Thank you for your writings!