Thursday, June 16, 2011

On lovely spiritual practices

Green Woman Taking a Photograph
When I most don't want to practice, I need it most. I am not where an older woman I knew was - seeing meditation as a lovely time of the day.  Wow, I thought.  Really? But then she told me what she did in meditation: imagined that out of the top of her head there flowed a lovely golden fountain.  Hmmm.  I guess if that's what I did - used meditation specifically to float in a warm bath of bliss - I might find it real pretty too.

A lot of things go under the general title of "meditation."  I came to know that this woman's long-time  meditation had not given her insight into her envy and the meanness disguised as good intentions. What you might call Golden Fountain meditation is not for insight or befriending yourself - it's for relaxing, floating, having a lovely time. Sort of gentle mental massage, which, like massage of the body feels good but does nothing to help you learn kindness and discipline and wisdom, to untangle the stress of your life. How different is it from having a nice glass of wine to forget your cares?

As I get it, Buddhist meditation is in part about becoming close friends with yourself.  You can call it insight. Sitting with yourself, not sitting to get away from yourself.  Whole self: pain, anger, unwelcome desires, getting with your various shadows - I mean in the Jungian sense - that within you that you try hard not to look at.

Here's a poem I remember from the only book I owned as a child. When I was five or six years old I found it fascinating; it dealt with something intimate and mysterious in my own life. Now I understand the shadow cast by my own body in the prosaic terms of modern science.  Too bad.

My Shadow
by Robert Louis Stevenson

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow--
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes goes so little that there's none of him at all.

He hasn't got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close behind me, he's a coward you can see;
I'd think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the Sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.


  1. Thank you. I agree that integrating the shadow is a core aspect of Buddhist practice - giving up the propensity to attach to suffering - yet this probably cannot be done directly. To do so one needs a refuge. Gassho.

  2. What a lovely post, and a lovely poem. x P