Tonight I meditated for another 15 minutes. I think that's my upper limit right now ... I need to build up my meditation stamina.
Some people think meditating must be easy -- after all, you're just staring at a wall, right? -- but it's actually very challenging. Our minds are so busy all the time, thinking about this, that, and the other ... it's actually quite difficult to try to clear your mind and just be still. It gets easier with practice, but right now it's pretty darn tough for me.
I didn't really sit zazen (as I understand zazen), because I used a mantra to help me keep my mind clear. It's a variation on one of Thich Nhat Hanh's mantras:
Breathing in, I'm aware that I'm breathing inObviously, it's timed with your breathing. It helps me to draw my mind back to the present moment of stillness, instead of starting to fret about the noisy neighbors, or wonder what time Shannon will get home from the gym, or worry that one of the cats will come and try to sit on my lap and disturb me, or consider what to have for dinner, or debate with myself about how long I should try to meditate, or whatever. Every time my mind started to wander, I would bring it back with the mantra, just focusing on my breath and nothing else.
Breathing out, I'm aware that I'm breathing out
I'm just glad to be meditating again. When I'm meditating regularly, it brings me a lot of benefits, including just a general calmness and happiness. It definitely reduces my amount of anxiety, because anxiety is all about the future, and meditating is all about staying in the present. If I'm meditating regularly, I don't get so caught up in what-ifs and yes-buts. I see the world around me more clearly and with less fear.
Buddhism is interesting to me in so many ways. Buddhism, as I have studied it, says that both hope and fear are traps ... because they are both about the future. Both keep us from finding our true happiness, because happiness can only be found and experienced in the present moment. Relying on hope or fear -- focusing exclusively on the future rather than the present -- cannot bring happiness. I, personally, find this to be true for me.
I think Buddhism is largely misunderstood in Western culture, even now that Zen Buddhism (in particular) has become fairly popular in the U.S. I know that it seems -- upon first glance -- a very pessimistic philosophy. I thought that myself when I first encountered it. I preferred Taoism because of Buddhism's focus on the concept of pain. I didn't understand, then, that Buddhism's focus isn't on pain so much as it is on the alleviation of suffering. It's a path to not suffering in all the ways we suffer every day, whether that is something as small as getting angry when cut off on the freeway or as large as grieving for a dead loved one.
I'm still definitely a Tao-leaning Buddhist, and I have particular schools of Buddhist thought that I prefer over others. I'm not a big fan of zen (the Japanese school). I particularly like the writings of the Dalai Lama (who is Tibetan) and Thich Nhat Hanh (who is Vietnamese). I also have experience with the Korean zen tradition, through a sangha (Buddhist community or temple) I've visited a few times here in Berkeley. Unfortunately, almost all of the local Buddhist sanghas are in the zen tradition. I wish there was more of a variety from which to choose, since I would prefer to practice with a sangha whose philosophy was more similar to my own. As it is, I mostly just end up looking for teachers who speak to me on some basic level, people who seem to think like I think (or want to think), whether they're zen or not.
I know I'm rambling. It's just nice to have the emotional and mental strength to be bringing this spiritual practice back into my life. I've missed it deeply.