Why Did I Start Sitting?

Difficult to say. Or at least difficult to answer accurately and without resorting to some coherent but concocted historical story.

What did encourage me to pick up those books about meditation and Buddhism? Perhaps it was a sense of mystique, of otherness. Maybe what drew me in wasn't a true idea of meditation or Buddhist endeavor, but popular Western misconceptions of it. And at some point, when I read accounts of enlightenment experiences and the brilliance of such moments, I know I was enraptured by the thought of that.
But now it's well after I came to zen and zazen. And although I cannot speak for the evolution of my ideas, I can say that what currently motivates me to sit is different than whatever my initial motivations might have been. And I'll explain later, because writing that last clause really makes me want to go sit!
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Monday Mornings

Well, that was the view from my drive down to Bloomington on Monday morning. It was about eight o’clock in the morning, it had probably stopped raining just hours before, and it was not quite cold but the lingering damp put on a fairly convincing act of being chilly.<div>
</div><div> But I was content, for whatever reason, and was savoring a day that seemed beautiful to me, again, for whatever reason. It might even have been enhanced by a little schadenfreude, knowing that while most others were glumly anticipating the day, I was humming with happiness. Perhaps it was the colors that made the drive wonderful. Gray, I’ve always liked, but Monday’s gray wasn’t the heavy gray of summer or the crisp gray of winter. It was reflected in the muted tans of bare harvested fields, and in the golden cornstalks that were beginning to lose their luster. The fiery leaves had mostly fallen from the trees and browned in defeat, coating grass that was still green in many places, but in other places fading. And then the inevitable bleak, endless asphalt running by underneath. If I had to personify the day, I’d call it pensive. And maybe it was, because it was the penultimate day of seasonal death. On its final walk to the gallows, if the cliche ever holds true. Immortal in its the realization of its impermanence.</div><div>
</div><div> And long gone it’s been too, it’s Thursday and the whole week’s weather has sucked! Sucked, of course, meant here as a non-pejorative term.</div><div>
</div><div>Interestingly, while looking up the spelling of schadenfreude, Wikipedia gave me its lexical brothers and sisters, which I plot here for your enjoyment:</div><div>
</div><table border="1"><tbody><tr><td>Stimulus\Response</td><td>Positive Feeling</td><td>Negative Feeling</td></tr><tr><td>Another’s Happiness</td><td>Mudita
(Sanskrit, happiness in another’s good fortune)
(unhappiness in another’s good fortune)</td></tr><tr><td>Another’s Misery</td><td>Schadenfreude
(German, happiness in another’s misfortune)
(unhappiness in another’s misfortune)
<div>You know, I’m not really sure about that last one, there must be a better word in some language. It strikes me that empathy and compassion don’t necessarily entail unhappiness, it seems more like emotional “understanding” or “harmonization.” But perhaps that’s enough.</div>

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Aesthetic Chills

I don't know when, exactly, I started collecting zen writings. I know my dad had some, and I know that I bought much more than a handful of books my senior spring in college, but the point when that knotty zen became an inextricable part of my life is uncertain.

<div> </div><div> But by the end of college I’d come to this conclusion: there was no other genre of works which gave me aesthetic chills with such unsettling frequency as all things zen. Be it meditation instructions, stories, art, or poetry, it was was nearly impossible to read or see these things and not breathe a sigh of relief or release a concentrated pulse of some unnamed emotion. It’s as if fire is touched off inside your brain, and chases down axons and synapses to the end of every digit and back again, and leaves embers glowing in the passing. That lingering buzz is the realization that some small part of the beauty of the world has been fixed right there and in so perfect a manner that you are overwhelmed by the enormity of such an impossible thing, even if just for fleeting moments. </div>

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First Encounters

<div>This was my very first contact with zazen. Or at least what would eventually set me on the path to finding zazen. It was one of my father’s books, although I don’t recall precisely what it was that compelled me to pick it off the shelf and read it. Had I read something in a fantasy novel? Seen something on television? The memory is lost to me. I don’t remember if it was fourth or fifth grade either. I do remember holding it in my room in our Tacoma house. Second floor, I always remember my room as being shadier, cooler, and therefore slightly bluer than my sister’s room right across the hall. So the orange book stood out in my hands.

I don’t remember meditating, although I’m sure I tried it. And I don’t remember what I thought of the exercise, or however intermittently I’d tried it for the next few years. I don’t even remember much about what the book said! Although I do remember a sense to reacting to some of the mystical elements in it (the author practices in the Tibetan tradition), although I don’t know if I’d attached any negative emphasis on it at that point.</div><div>
</div><div>It sure is difficult, trying to understand who you were so many years ago without tripping over any hindsight bias. You start out searching for someone, and end up with a vague and ambiguous figure who leaves more questions than answers.</div><div>
</div><div>I also read Siddhartha, at some point. And I know my dad had the Tao of Pooh, although I don’t think I ever finished that, I don’t think it grabbed my interest at all. I think I would like to look through this book again, though.</div>

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