Buddhism and the Meditation Itchy-Scratchies: Peace of Mind, Peace of body…

img_2116You know the routine: position cushion on the floor, position butt on the cushion, position body on the butt spine straight crack shoulders eyes closed breath focus nose focus navel focus nothing nothing breathing breathing breath breath in out in out breathe breathe hmmmm… hmmmm… breath… hmmmm… hmmmm… Donald Trump….. hmmmm… moron… hmmm… breath… hmmm… Mormon… hmmm… Buddho… hmmm… ice cream… yummm… hmmm… Buddho… hmmm… salsa… hmmmm… afrocubism… hmmmm… Pablo Picasso… hmmmm…  Matisse… hmmm… mind wandering… hmmm… wandering… hmmm…  Buddho… hmmm… breath… hmmm…

When I first started meditating in northern Thailand my mother-in-law would ask me, “Have you calmed your mind yet?”

Calm my mind? I’m still trying to calm my body…”

Or something like that, I’d typically respond, to general laughter and nods of agreement, voice trailing off into the mists of miscalculated trust and misplaced idealism, mine not hers, towards life not meditation, which I always knew was something good but not easy, to find the rewards if not the picture perfect pose, to find something in nothingness, to find fullness in emptiness, to experience internal movements by means of external silence…

And that’s the hard part, isn’t it, to find calmness, in either mind or body? But the two are intimately related, of course, and it’s not too far-fetched to think that if you can find calmness and stillness in one, well, then maybe you just might find it in the other, also…

And for freshmen and sophomores, positive role models are helpful, so when one tires of reading about what meditation is supposed to be like, maybe it’d be helpful just to watch a ‘meditation master’, right? Why, but, of course. I mean: how can you actually describe meditation, actually put it into actual words? But alas and alack, if it’s hard enough to know the hearts of men—and women—then God knows it’s damn nigh impossible to know the minds, BUT…

You can know the bodies, their movements and motions, that is, the rhythms, the dances, the jerkings and the swayings, the flinches and the fidgets, AND you can know the stillness of meditation, too, IF you can actually find it, and that’s a pretty big IF. Westerners are the worst, that I’ve seen, Americans and Europeans no difference. First they stack up two or three cushions on the floor, so that by the time they’re ready to actually sit it looks more like a throne in the pleasure dome than a meditation room at the monastery, OR…

Maybe even sit in an actual chair, which looks pretty lame, unless you’ve got knee damage, in which case you’re definitely better off in the chair, since it doesn’t make a dime’s worth of difference in terms of the actual meditation or the benefits to be accrued thereby, and anyone who says otherwise is probably misinformed…

And then there will always be a few from the yoga class who are locked into some exotic pose, imploring the gods for something or other, notwithstanding the fact that Buddhism has no gods, not really, that’s Hindu stuff, but as long as you don’t stand on your head, then you’ll probably pass for Buddhist…

And after all, it’s a little hard to imagine a linebacker in a full lotus position, either, though that’s the gold standard for meditation postures, even if half-lotus is still quite respectable, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with simply sitting cross-legged, unless you have some physical issues preventing it, since it certainly defines your position and your activity…

Which should be absolutely zero at this point—zip, zilch, nada, niente. But that’s not so easy. The typical Westerner will flinch and fidget and scratch that itch, until it’s red swollen bruised and barren, because that’s what happens when you let it run your life for you—and it will, itchy scratchy poison ivy…

Mark my word, that itch that you want to scratch, and that constantly detracts from your meditation experience, will NOT go away the second you scratch it, it will simply reappear somewhere else on your body—mark my word. It’s almost as if there is a disembodied itch there somewhere that is using us as a medium, vessel and vector for its madness…

And if Westerners are the worst at fidgeting and flinching and shape-shifting and heavy-lifting, of arms and legs and other assorted all-too-often-overweight appendages, other nationalities are not always much better, including native Asians, native in the sense that they invented the practice, including monks from the dozen some-odd (some very odd!) countries that I currently sit in meditation with on a daily basis…

But this is where Thais excel, doing nothing, and doing it well, so fitting for my swan-song era here way down south near the Malay border where the military and the monastery trade bitter roles and sweet rolls as cultures intermingle according to what the exigent circumstances demand of them, but the sangha loses nothing in the trade, perfectly willing to sit motionless unflinching almost unbreathing for hours at the time, except for the impossibility of such when such is the main focus of activity, i.e. insight meditation, focused on the breath…

That is the final measure of meditation, sitting perfectly still, thoroughly calculable and measurable and even remedial to some extent, thank God, even without the gods. And if you can’t do that, then you’re simply doing something wrong, so better make some changes in your life, if not your practice. And I’ve gotten better, a scarce half year ago I the typical farang lucky to sit a half hour, and far less unflinching…

But now I’m far improved in body, if not mind, because, after all, how can you calculate what goes on in the mind without dissecting it and destroying the very thing that you’re trying to protect and cultivate? At the very least I no longer, “Think, therefore I am,” and that’s a big improvement, as soon as that nagging itch goes away…