“A single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
– Henry David Thoreau
We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.
– Francois de la Rochefoucauld, in The Goldfinch
Without a word from Vasudeva, the speaker felt that the ferryman took in his words, silent, open, waiting, missing none, impatient for non, neither praising nor blaming, but only listening, Siddhartha felt what happiness it is to unburden himself to such a listener, to sink his own life into this listener’s hart, his own seeking his own suffering.Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse, translated by Joachim Neugroschel
What father, what teacher could shield him from living his own life, soiling himself with life, burdening himself with guilt, drinking the bitter drink himself, finding this path himself? Do you really believe, dear friend, that anyone at all is spared this path?Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, translated by Joachim Neugroschel
(excerpt from discussion between Siddhartha and Vasudeva, the Ferryman, about Siddhartha’s son)
Siddhartha: How can I put him in that world? Will he not become haughty, will he not surrender to pleasure and power, will he not repeat all his father’s mistakes, will he not perhaps lose himself entirely in samsara?
Vasudeva: Do you really believe you committed your follies to spare your son? And can you shield your son against Sahara? How? …
V: Could his father’s piety, his teachers’ admonitions, his own knowing, his own seeking save his? What father, what teacher could shield him from living his own life, soiling himself with life, burdening himself with guilt, drinking the bitter drink himself, finding this path himself? Do you really believe, dear friend, that anyone at all is spared this path? Perhaps your little son because you love him, because you would like to spare hi pain and sorrow and disillusion? But even if you died for him ten times per, you could not take away even the tiniest bit of his destiny.
A lump, gray, nondescript
But in my vision it is glorious
i lay my simple tool
On the gripping surface
Scrape away one sliver
And a third
The lump changes only imperceptibly
i aim the tool to remove the excesses
Bit by bit
To reveal the form
Enveloped within the clay
There is no short cut to its birth
Each bit removed
One by one
No use to celebrate after each
Or look forward to promised success
There is none
i can only
Be here now.
Then, a feature is unearthed
From what remains
i stop to admire what became clear
Only with the loss of what was unnecessary
i do not own its intricate glory
i am the instrument
i welcome the pause
And raise my tool again
A simple reminder from my son’s classroom to not mimic what you see around you. Identify, appreciate and leverage your unique gifts.
In most areas of our life, we follow the American cultural norm that more is better. A vacation lasting 7 days is better than one lasting 3 days. Winning a $5 lottery ticket is not as good as winning the jackpot. Even in the realm of the arts, writing a haiku poem of 17 syllables does not garner as much social acclaim as publishing a novel. And in my discussions with people who are building a meditation practice, we believe that 1 hour of meditation is more beneficial than 1 minute.
However, this is not how things are valued in meditation. Meditation is about acceptance, and so if you meditate for one minute, that just is. If you meditate for one hour, that just is. There is no purpose in comparing the relative value of the two meditation sessions.
But in our culture, we are trained to evaluate nearly everything we do. We push ourselves to climb the imaginary ladder to receive the higher salary, to buy the larger home, and even to have a greater number of Instagram followers… Similarly, with meditation, many of us may push ourselves to ‘succeed’ in meditation, but there is no governing body of meditation to define success. Absent a set of defined criteria, many of us look to the duration of a session to be a concrete way to judge the value of our meditation.
The meditation app Insight Timer has a feature called “detailed charts and stats”. A user can click into it to review metrics including minutes per day, average session duration, longest session duration and several others. I believe they included these because statistics can be strong motivators for many of us to set and track towards a goal, and to challenge ourselves to do more.
However, what I found interesting is that on the main profile page, the most visible statistic displayed is number of consecutive days with at least one session of meditation. It seems that if we need a measurable statistic to keep us focused on building a practice, this would be one to pay attention to. Choosing to meditate each day of the month, even for a 1 minute session, will have greater benefit than doing a 30 day session on one day and doing nothing for the rest of the month. Returning to meditation day after day builds a habit, and that is the power of a meditation practice.
Periodically I relapse to judging the duration of my practice. When I notice that I am holding that judgment, I loosen my grip on it, and gently tell myself that at least I made the time to sit on my mat, despite the fullness of my work, family and community activities. When I consider this new thought, my jaw tends to relax, and I can take a smoother breath. My body loosens and settles to the here and now, even if just for a few moments until the next thought arrives in my mind.
So, the lesson for me has been this- whether my practice is 5 minutes or an hour, I am more present just by letting go of the thought that a longer meditation would be better. And being present is indeed the point.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
– Mary Oliver, from Wild Geese
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
― Lao Tzu