What's the Practice?

I was exhausted. I’d made it through several high intensity weeks and now it seemed the bill had come due. I couldn’t concentrate. It was a struggle keeping my eyes open. My body ached and every few minutes another yawn stretched into the room. All I could think with any clarity was, ‘I am so tired.’

So it was that I found myself standing before my meditation cushion. It was just past one but I had given up on work. All morning I tried to get something done to no avail. Now, having had lunch, I thought about meditating instead. I stood there thinking for a long time.

My hesitation concerned a sense of push pulsing through my body. From toe to head, it seemed every cell was inflamed in some way, swollen - I soon realized - with the idea I had to meditate in that moment. Weariness did not matter. If I was not going to work, I had to meditate right now. The aggression in some of these words was shocking - “had to” and “right now”. I sat down on the couch to explore this.

‘What’s the practice?’ was the question that arose. And with this, an image that could have come from any of the introductory classes I’ve taught over the years. Early in these, I present a thesis statement for our time together, a pith summation of meditation that all our discussions and practice sessions will centre upon. I actually write this on the board. “Meditation connects us with our lives,” is how this is usually phrased. “Meditation connects us with our lives.”

Sitting on that couch, placing these words at the centre of my experience that afternoon was illuminating. What I was doing was not in alignment with that central intent of connection. I was instead trying to enlist my daily practice session as a means of overriding, of disconnecting from overwhelming fatigue. This was the inflammation I was feeling: an aggressive push against weariness. I had to meditate right now because I really didn’t like how tired I was.

‘So what’s the practice?’ I wondered. As is often the case, the answer was pretty simple. I got up off the couch, arranged my meditation materials, and lay down. Letting my attention rest on the breath streaming through every pore, I allowed a lot of room for fatigue to register as well. The struggle, the ache, the warming heaviness. All of it.

Soon I pulled a nearby blanket over my body.

Not much later, I had fallen asleep.

- Neil