For a variety of reasons, I have been irregular at best in my attendance at sangha these past few months. The hour's sit on a Sunday morning provides me with a unique opportunity to find refuge from the otherwise fast pace of life, to slow down, breathe, and reflect on all those things that cause me stress and pain.
It's easy to forget the part we play in the creation of our own lives. For those of us fortunate enough to be spared the dire effects of poverty and disease, tyranny and violence, the suffering we experience is largely of our own making. Not the pain. That's inescapable. Our suffering, though, results from our attachment to the pain, our inability to let it go.
There's one question I know to be helpful when I find myself attached to any source of pain: what's the payoff? What am I getting out of the refusal to let go? Often, the first response is, Nothing. I'd do anything to escape it. But if I manage to dig a little deeper, down below the surface, I often find that there is indeed a reward--though usually a perverse one--that I derive from my obstinacy.
The reward may be as simple as a fine excuse from taking responsibility for my life. If I can lay the blame for my suffering at someone else's door, I can "enjoy" it for as long as I care to. If, on the other hand, I recognize it to be my own, there's work to do--and perhaps work of a kind I do not care to do!
I have come to understand meditation not merely as an opportunity to find peace and serenity, but as an opportunity to do that inner work. It's sometimes a struggle, often messy and confusing. But if I manage to get the work done, the payoff is more rewarding by far than the payoff that I get from holding on to that pain.
I find that sitting for a half hour, as I do (almost!) every day, is sometimes insufficient to arrive at that place of inner stillness and concentration that is conducive to this work. Which is why the Sunday sit, a full hour, surrounded by the energy of my fellow sitters, provides me with such an important opportunity.