Tuesday, September 7, 2010

No comparison

Do not concern yourself with anything going on around you. Nor should you be concerned with anything going on inside yourself. Focus fully on the method and do not make external or internal comparisons.
Sheng Yen
In this talk Chan Master Sheng Yen was focusing on how to sit in meditation with a group, especially during a retreat.  The sentence I have italicized made me think, though I also know what it was to be concerned about others, especially on my first retreats.  

I suppose wandering eyes alleviated the stunning boredom of my first retreat.  I watched the head student, John - how could he sit so still for so long?  My attention went to my own inadequacy, then to my serious back pain, then to the guy who had flouted the rule of dress ("Nothing with writing on it") and was wearing a tee-shirt that said Kiawah on it.  What was wrong with him? I must have read that word a hundred times in the course of walking meditation on that lo-o-ong first weekend.  Kiawah, whatever that was, was wildly distracting.  I read the rules and killed myself trying to follow them, so why wasn't he like that?  Was he a student of Zen or not?  Why was he allowed to get away with it?  John should say something to him. Why was I so critical?  Why did I always follow the rules?  And so on.  Elaborately.

On some level I knew I should restrain this comparison to John and Kiawah.  But I did not know that I should (and could) also let pass the rich universe of reactions that was going on inside me.  My sensations, my pain, my self-criticism, my boredom, my strong desire to leave.  

And I did not yet have a good grip on the method.  No one had told me to count my breaths to ten and start over, a strategy some teachers think is essential for the first fifty years of practice.  I thought I should "follow my breath" but I was new to this, and not very good at noticing when my mind strayed.  Jack Kornfield compares this early phase of meditation to training a puppy dog to use the paper, gently but firmly.  My mind was more like a litter of kittens.  It is useless to try to herd cats.

But all this stuff is not confined to meditation.  It goes on constantly in everyday life, doesn't it?  External comparison.  We look at ourselves in a mirror and compare our nice, soft bodies to the airbrushed bodies of anorexic models and movie stars.  "Fat," we think.  Or we envy someone else's promotion or big house or hot car.  Internal comparisons and self-analysis.  Why do I this and Why don't I that. 

The method in meditation is one thing; the method in the kitchen or at your desk or in your car is quite another: just be aware.  Just do what you're doing.  Maybe a Nike tee-shirt it would help.  You could always wear it on retreat.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jeanne,

    This was a great post. I can relate to it. I think many people could.