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A Zafu Too Far: When It Just Seems Impossible to Get Our Tush on the Cush

July 15, 2012

I’m sure you can relate to the scenario: the early-morning time that seemed perfect for meditation practice rolls around exceedingly early for some reason and you are lying there in your cozy bed in your flannel jammies while a virtual tennis match goes on in your head:

“Get up and meditate, it’s 5:30!”

“I don’t want too, I’m too tired today.”

“You committed to this practice. Get up!”

“I’ll meditate tonight after work.”

“You always say that and you never do it. Get up and get your butt on the zafu!”

“Five more minutes . . . “

“Seriously? You don’t expect me to fall for that one again, do you?”

If (or when) you DO get up and practice, you are glad you did and might even feel a bit smug about having overcome the inner dialogue to do what you knew was best for you.

If (or when) you DON’T get up and practice, you know that guilt-soaked aftermath of self-recriminations and self-loathing that suffuses your day and activates those old habits of mind and judgmental thoughts about your worth as a human and your ability as a meditator. Suffice it to say it ain’t pretty.

So what to do when something else beckons, more tempting than formal practice?

While I’m tempted to say “notice the temptation as one of the hindrances of meditation practice (desire, anger, sloth/torpor, restlessness and doubt) and simply allow it to be another arising in your field of awareness and see it as such,” assuming that that will lead you, ultimately to practice. But sometimes (nearly always) that isn’t so easy. But then again, who said this was going to be easy?

I’d like to suggest that if simply noticing the arising of these hindrances doesn’t lead to change in your practice, you might consider noticing that the inner ping-pong match that goes on in our heads is between a desire to practice from deep within us and our brain and intellect, which quite often does not have our own best interests at heart. Think about it: can you really trust your brain to take good care of you? As the comedian Emo Phillips once said, “I used to think my brain was the most important organ in the body. And then I realized which organ was telling me that.”

“I used to think my brain was the most important organ in the body. And then I realized which organ was telling me that.”

I recommend noticing not that loudmouthed brain of ours, but that deep yearning inside that got you up at 5:30 in the first place, that has touched the depths of mindfulness practice now and then in the past, and fuels a desire for change and ease in your life. See if you can sit with that inner wellspring of equanimity and health that sustains you much of the time, even when you aren’t aware of it fully.

And, call me crazy, consider practicing right where you are for a bit! I know it’s unconventional but if you’re going to be busy watching your mental activity unfold moment by moment about whether or not you should get up and meditate, why don’t you meditate right there and see what happens? Nobody said the cushion was magic, and what is a bed but a really big cushion anyway? Drop into your breath, let your thoughts unfold as they will anyway, and log some meditation time to boot! It’s not a compromise or an alternative to formal seated meditation, but why waste valuable moments you will never get back debating whether or not to meditate when you can meditate WHILE you debate?

For some reason, the words of Mary Oliver come to mind, from her poem Wild Geese from her book Dream Work. The whole poem is absolutely profound and beautiful, so I will include it here, but will highlight the pieces I see as relevant to this “tush on the cush” issue:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Perhaps, letting “the soft animal of your body love what it loves” means the space in your warm bed for a few moments, and know that mindfulness practice happens everywhere when we open up to it, and bring a little kindness to the self-judgment that beats us up and seems to hold us back from finding our way to our formal seat in meditation. Self-compassion in those moments of self-doubt and debate can go a long way toward making the decision to sit an easier one. What do you think? Is this a slippery slope toward no formal practice?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2012 7:51 am

    My online colleague Brad Hunter posted a wonderful response to this post on LinkedIn, that he gave me permission to share. Such a wonderful example of the restoring of perspective that can come with reflection and practice:
    “… just completed a little on-line ‘retreat’ with Bhikkhu Bodhi. The theme was the Four Protective Meditations. Interesting that the reflection on the impermanent and impersonal nature of the parts of the body and the reflection on death are considered ‘protective’ : ) But they do help to inspire us to get our tush on the cush! A number of years ago in a sangha I belonged to we would commit for several weeks or months of more intensive practice. I recall one morning waking before the alarm and just wanting to pull the sheet over my head. Then I had an image that one day someone else would be pulling the sheet over my head. I got up and sat….”

    Thanks Brad!

  2. Nancie R permalink
    July 16, 2012 1:03 pm

    Thank you so much Steve, I Really appreciate your new blog and the topics you chose. Very helpful! Nancie, your student in Quebec

  3. July 16, 2012 10:43 pm

    I hear you about meditating. To just go there and sit. Just keep up the effort. Much about this in my novel This Moment Is My Home. Sharing my own experiences of meditation is the main reasons I wrote the novel.

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