Friday, August 7, 2015


This morning in meditation I cut myself loose from the anchor that has held me in place for, what?, these past fifteen and more years.  I realize that its familiarity has been a crutch and a comfort through long periods of time, giving me "something to do" as I sat.  The "something" was a scan of the body, done in quite a variety of ways but always following one of several patterns I had learned.  It saw me through those moments in meditation when the mind chooses to wander, when thoughts, feelings, sensations come along to distract...

This morning I took what felt like a big risk.  I tried doing nothing.  It felt like launching myself out into space.  It was at once exhilarating and, honestly, quite frightening.

I was pointed in this direction by the book I mentioned in a recent entry, Ken McLeod's soon-to-be-published  A Trackless Path.  (I have a review copy).  The reading is slow, made difficult not by any turgidity in the prose--indeed, Ken's writing is remarkably limpid--but by my mind, which insists on trying to "understand" something whose very point is to reject the kind understanding I'm trying to do!  I'm particularly driven to understand in this way by my having undertaken to write a review, which commitment leads me to feel an obligation to master a text whose thesis is in fact the very opposite of the intellectual effort I need to make!

A paradox, then.  And a dizzying one.  The book is filled with them.  As with everything Buddhist, it seems, it's exceedingly simple--but incredibly hard.

But back to that meditation.  It was an extraordinary experience, trying not to "try" to do nothing.  Cutting loose from all the familiar, comfortable patterns and launching myself into nothing but an awareness of the experience of each passing moment.  The word comes to me: vertiginous.  A fine word.  The feeling of having nothing to hold on to, nothing to steady myself, no sense of direction, no north, south, east or west, up or down, side to side...

It took a good few minutes just to settle down.  I have heard and read the term "groundless" on many occasions in the past--having read, now, a good few books about Buddhist teaching and practice--but I have never before experienced it in quite such a dramatic way as this morning.  But I think--there I go!--I think I did catch a glimpse, this morning, of groundlessness.  Of looking into nothing and seeing nothing, of simple, effortless being, and of the profound pleasure associated with that experience.  Just a glimpse.

One thing I noticed.  I seemed to slip past what has become, over time, the ease of the body scan, into a more profound observation of the body--at once intimate and distant.  I noticed, with some surprise, how thoroughly it is pervaded with tension--which I had been aware of only partially before, here and there, as I proceeded through the scan.  Today, it seemed racked, everywhere, with pain.  Thinking to relieve myself of some of it, I brought my attention to the shoulders and the neck, where the tension seems greatest, and tried, first, to breathe it away as I have done in the past.  Then, realizing that the effort only compounded the pain, I tried instead doing nothing, watching it, opening up to it, allowing it to be.

I have a long way to go with this pain.  I have lived with it for years, the neck pain becoming so severe, of late, that I took it to the pain management clinic at Kaiser--and came away with pills!  What I do know is that I myself created the tension, over the years, that led gradually, ineluctably, to the pain; and that to "heal" it, I will do well to keep watching it, opening up to it, allowing it to be.

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