I have been meditating daily for many years and have found considerable peace in my life. Most of the major things that I used to crave are no longer a concern. I have effectively turned my will and my life over to the care of my true Buddha nature, as you suggest in your 12 steps post.
Yet on an almost a daily basis, as soon as I’m off the cushion, my mind takes over and pulls me into its web of fear and anxiety, anger and negativity, whatever. This usually involve small, relatively inconsequential things, yet they cause me to be unsettled. Regardless what I vow to do throughout the day to stay present, etc. while in my meditation, it’s gone, I am not aware when I am off the cushion.
What do I do?
Trying to Be Present
Dear Trying to Be Present,
This is one of the most common problems we have in walking the path. As you know from my posts, I would include myself in that number. Recently I had an experience that may be helpful to you.
When I travel, especially by plane, there are many things that I get nervous about, things that could go wrong, and I get easily agitated when things don’t go smoothly. The first part of a recent trip was no different. Lots of teachable moments, but I wasn’t present at the time.
During a meditation on the morning of my return trip, I once again questioned how I can be more present throughout the day. I knew I needed to approach the day as a spiritual challenge. Focusing on your breathing doesn’t really help, because one can’t focus on your breathing all the time; one is too easily distracted by all the things you are dealing with. Stopping periodically helps, but that only gets one so far.
But I thought what about just having as my constant mantra, “it’s just the way it is,” and thus being open to receiving all the each present moment has to offer, embracing each moment, and finding happiness in each moment.
Before my meditation, my ego thinking-mind was already thinking about all the things to be nervous about. After my meditation, the difference in my state of mind was immediately palpable. I was present, aware of all that the present moment offered and felt at peace and happy. Throughout the day, that state of mind continued ... being aware that things were just the way they were and thus being able to be aware of the beauty of the evening sky, small architectural details, the people around me ... whether at the departure airport or on return dealing with the unbelievably complicated process of getting transportation to the off-site lot to where my car was parked.
My traveling companion was amazed at how I just floated through the system and took everything as it came. He said it was like traveling with a different person. It was very empowering.
The next morning at home, however, I quickly became aware that my mind was up to its old tricks. And I realized that in this space of comfort, my home, I was spiritually lazy.
I was reminded that regardless of my comfort, each day needs to be approached as a spiritual challenge. Every moment needs to be approach with the perspective that it’s just the way it is and being open to receiving all that that moment has to offer, embracing the moment, and finding happiness in that moment.
Not being enlightened, I have tried various methods to increase my awareness during the day which have worked to at least some extent. Or at least for some period of time till I became lazy or distracted and fell into the trap of my mind.
We will see how this new practice works as the days and the weeks pass. At least it is clear to me from my last travel experience that not only do I have a choice, but that if I approach it in the right way it will truly make a radical difference to how I experience the moment and the day. I do have the practical choice to be present, aware of the emptiness of all five skandhas, at one with all things, and experience all things directly, with dispassion, free of labels, free of the intervention of my ego thinking-mind, thus being open to receiving all the the present moment offers and be at peace and find happiness in the moment.
I had an empowering experience. It is up to me to be disciplined in walking the path and applying its teachings every moment of every day. It is possible. As they say in 12 step programs, “the program works if you work it.” But one does need to work it, implement your spiritual choices, every moment of every day. If not, your ego-thinking mind will seize the opening and take control.