Well, I’m here.
The boxes are unpacked, the home office and meditation shrine have been established, and the boys have identified their favorite hiding spots. This is EXACTLY what I wanted.
So why do I feel so overwhelmed???
Besides starting over in a new city, New York presents unique challenges. Everything is bigger here. The city blocks, the subway system, the boobs, the ConEdison bills. I learned that however long I think it will take me to get somewhere, add 20 minutes to that. I found out that the cabs will hit you even if you have the right of way (especially if it’s raining). I have eaten food so good it made my eyes roll back in my head and I have seen garbage heaps that rival Vermont’s Green Mountains.
When people asked me why I was moving to New York, I joked that it was to deepen my practice of meditation and compassion. Now I realize that is no joke. Since I arrived, however, re-establishing my meditation practice has felt like a battle with myself.
In Boston, I had a regular practice. Most mornings, after getting up and feeding the boys, I sat with a cup of coffee and read a few pages from a dharma-related book before sitting for 15-20 minutes.
Since I arrived in New York, I have been simply exhausted – even just after waking up in the morning. By the time I finally get out of bed, the work laptop beckons louder than the meditation cushion. Though practicing in the morning clearly allowed me to be more consistent, here I procrastinate so that some days I don’t sit until just before bed. Some days not at all.
Once I do sit, I am impatient, distracted, and discursive. Rather than returning to the breath, I make mental to-do lists and plan the minute details of my day. As troubling as this discursiveness is, though, I find some comfort in its presence, its apparent solidity.
Recently I took the first level of Shambhala training: The Art of Being Human. The program included several hours of sitting and walking meditation as well as dharma talks, group discussion, and individual interviews with seasoned practitioners. During my interview, I discussed the challenge of re-establishing a sitting practice in this new and overwhelming setting. The gentleman I spoke with suggested I try to sit for just 10 minutes a day, to continue returning to the breath whenever discursiveness sweeps me away, and to try to remember why I am doing this in the first place.
Then he said something I found very interesting: that eventually, I will replace the preference for the discursiveness with a preference for the space cultivated by meditation.
In Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Chogyam Trungpa zeroes in on this tendency to hold on to painful yet familiar ego-driven habits:
Generally, we find it very difficult to give out and surrender our raw and rugged qualities of ego. Although we may hate ourselves, at the same time we find our self-hatred a kind of occupation. In spite of the fact that we may dislike what we are and find that self-condemnation painful, still we cannot give it up completely. If we begin to give up our self-criticism, then we may feel that we are losing our occupation, as though someone were taking away our job.
Years ago, when I was still contemplating quitting drinking, a friend told me about his own experience. He had quit cold turkey after a particularly harrowing night of drinking. Then, somehow his addiction shifted from being drunk to being sober.
My own sobriety was driven by a desire for being awake over being asleep, essentially the same driver behind my meditation practice. And this simple (not so simple) shift – a different state of mind – has made my life better.