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giving my head a rest

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Waking up this morning I note unease and worry. Turning inward, I see the swirling mud Hogen talked about in yesterday’s post — ‘my’ chaos at this very moment — and the immediate reaction of wishing it would go away.

Thoughts enter and leave my awareness: this back pain, not as devastating as I’d expected (based on last year’s disabling pain). Just then the radio comes on with a story from Yamada, a fishing town in northeastern Japan. Two women sit in the lobby of a posh hotel, next to an artificial cherry tree and a pond filled with koi. In their late 70s, they say they’re not sure of whether to return to the town where they’ve lived all their lives. “We’re having a great time here, but we really love Yamada and we want to go back,” one of them says. Her friend agrees. “We would be very sad if Yamada disappears. We could never leave Yamada.” That town no longer exists – swept away by the tsunami, the reporter explains.

Resolutely I direct my awareness away from thoughts. Welcome everything, I often tell my meditation group. Yes welcome, to mean acknowledge, but don’t dwell. Notice confusion, notice discouragement, notice despair. Realize these as vocabulary attached to phenomena. They’re only as “real” as the mud as it swirls, made of tiny particles which, collectively, obstruct clear seeing. “The words only direct our attention to what is more intimate than words,” Hogen wrote yesterday.

We naturally meet crises with an intense aliveness, a compelling demand from deep inside us to look at what is real. It may present as anxiety, or numbness, anger, deep depression, or curiosity, but whatever our experience our attention is caught. It is our deepest life saying, “pay attention!”

I get out of bed to physically exit the cocoon of dreams and subconscious anxiety. I hobble to a nearby chair, noting traces of pain near my spine and hips, to sit upright. Directing my awareness to the next inhale, awareness shifts away from worrying. Giving my head a rest – what a concept. The essence of practice, Hogen calls it: refuge. Always available, difficult to imagine amid the muddy confusion, yet only a breath away.

images: Yamada, Vincent Yu/AP (top);


One response »

  1. giving my head a rest describes perfectly what I sometimes find in meditation; sometimes I enter a space where I am simply a bellows, and my thinking is somewhat diminished and happening “up there,” but “I” am down here in the empty space of the bellows. so restful.


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