Saturday, February 21, 2009

Creature comforts

I am grateful to an (even) older friend who laughed off the idea of camping with "I like my creature comforts." It gave me permission to contemplate how very much I like them too, and anyone will tell you, I am not a good camper.

A little lazy googling tells me this term has been around since about 1650, when even the wealthy didn't even have the most comforting comforts, central heating and flush toilets. Yet even then, anyone could appreciate how a good bed or a nice hot bath eased and comforted the body.

I must say, I have never been attracted to pain the way some people seem to be. I do have to admit to a sense of triumph in surviving long days of sitting crosslegged on the floor at Zen retreats, back when I could do that. (Even then I observed that the teacher wasn't sitting there with us all day long.) And I gained from the experience, as you are meant to, becoming familiar with pain, losing my fear of it, able to watch it rise and subside and stop calling it "pain."

But I started out to write about my new cushion. Not a zafu this time (the round cushion you sit on in proper Zen). No, it is a rectangular foam-and-gel orthotic cushion, commonly used these days in wheelchairs to prevent pressure sores. It is part of my response to the arthritis in my left hip, which seemed to be made worse by sitting in my favorite chair. It is a good chair, but old, and the seat has been compressed with age.

The cushion came UPS two days ago, so I have spent two evenings using it. This morning as I got up I noted that I did not have pain in the hip. So I carried the cushion over to the straight-backed chair I use now for meditation and tried it there. Well. I soon realized I was enjoying my meditation.

That's something I've been thinking about for a while, since I came across Suzuki's statement, "If you're not enjoying your meditation, you're doing something wrong." Well then, I was doing something wrong all those years. It was not hard to guess what it was. I was enduring something I thought was good for me. Which it was. I secretly believed it was supposed to be uncomfortable, the way church pews are, to get your attention.

But things are usually simpler than you think. It now seems obvious that inducing a flareup of arthritis is not really a good thing.

Well, it's one more example, not that I need any, of how we cling to our habits. You find that out when you decide to quit smoking. It's less obvious when it comes to the little things, the unimportant everyday things you do on your way to Somewhere Else, that lotus land that is actually right here. (Or, as the photo shows, in Milwaukee.)

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