the lazy person’s guide to the galaxy

There may seem a contradiction between the title of this post and the lead picture.   Or perhaps not.  I look at this picture and see this steady trek across the fields, hugging the small ravine in places only to leave it for a gentler slope up the hill; a wondrous result of meeting the day which doesn’t reveal the deeper effort to not believe my thoughts.  It was our first snow shoe trek of the season; in truth, it was our first snow shoe together in years.  The day, the sunshine, the acres of crusty snow was a finger-snap, breaking through the trance of anxious misery over a continuously mentally failing mother, ailing cats, and life’s other vagaries.   The outcome of that trance has been a heaviness in the seat of both body and mind.

While the heaviness in my seat is a health consideration, I must admit the mental torpor in its cognitive manifestation is what causes me grief.  For the most part, my days are filled with assessing situations, negotiating, shifting gears, and trying to stay out of the mind of others.  It’s fast-paced, unrelenting, and not for the risk-averse.  In contrast and I don’t know if it is cause or effect, in matters of my own well being, I am far more likely to take the slothful path.  I could bring that analytic mind to bear on the conundrum of wasting the 2 hours scheduled each day, every day for 15 years to get to the gym.  There is a clear predictive equation between my nastiness factor and the sugar content of a morning snack that would benefit from my wisdom about highly processed carbohydrates.  The luxury of a meditation room attached to the general offices seems far less seductive that the mantric clicks on Facebook.

I should be clear (making an effort at arousing the analytic mind here) that it’s not about fuzzy thinking.  It’s about the unwillingness to consider the alternative to “Meh.”  Call it resistance, tentativeness, captive of past and future, it amounts to the same thing.  There is a sedating seductiveness to not rising up and taking charge of the direction of our mental life. And the consequences are as debilitating as any physical disease that comes from not dealing with the fat-ladened arteries or the bulging belly.

When we aren’t willing to rouse ourselves to stop the downward or outward spirals of self-defeating thinking or self-abuse, we  open the gateways to superstitious thinking.  If perceiving reality isn’t likely to soothe our fears, then magic will, says our deluded mind.  Unrelated events take on great significance, skies are filled with portents of success or failure, and our actions (which are our only belongings) become caricatures of rituals to keep bad things from happening.  Ironically, in the shackled mind the world becomes a scary place – a galaxy far, far scarier than the fear of taking charge of how we think.

Sloth and torpor.  Not for the mentally faint of heart.

worry & flurry

Sangha now meets on Sundays at a luxurious hour and we’re exploring the Heart Sutra for as long as it takes to comprehend one of the most incomprehensible texts in spiritual history.  And yet, it is one of the most prescriptive texts if we take our time to hold each word gently in the palm of our hand.  With time, the tangle it seems to be does unravel.

In time.

I’m learning that I have what David Whyte calls “an adulterous relationship with time.”  It’s not enough, fulfilling, generous, kind, eternal or protective.  It betrays promises that wounds will heal and dogs get their day.  It is capricious in its affections giving to others what it swore would be mine exclusively.  That, of course, gives me license to adulterate our marriage; and, like all bad marriages, I seize the right to lay blame at time’s feet for disappointing me.

The time demanded of me by the the tangle of the Heart Sutra requires that I step back into this awkward, narcissistic relationship I have with time itself, long before I can dive into the twists and turns of paradox and paradigm shifts.  I have to be willing to sit with a word, to sift it, to let the silt and the muck stir and settle.  That willingness is mediated by having a good marriage with time.

Instead, I find myself promiscuous with my attention.  As I sit in zazen, my mind wanders into worry about the kitten whom I haven’t seen this morning.  The evidence of a now-empty food bowl is insufficient.  I turn on time and accuse it of not having me at the window to coincide with the kitten at his food.  In the spaciousness of zazen which is synonymous with the spaciousness of time, I feel the tension in my legs and my back.  They are priming to rise and check outside the window in the kitchen.  Time says, zazen is marital therapy between you and me; if we’re ever going to better ourselves in the other’s presence, we must agree to hold this discourse of stillness.  So I sit and we have this gentle probing conversation about how worry energizes me into action, how that action is not discerning of what is possible, and the ways in which it renders the power of time impotent.

I relapse during walking meditation as I reach that pivotal point in the room where I could continue forward into the kitchen (and the window) or I can turn to the right and go to my cushion.    Just one quick minute.  Give me just a moment to go and check.  It doesn’t mean anything.  I’ll come back!  But we had that conversation already.  I turn right and face the brilliant sunshine pouring down on my cushion and Midas-like turning the pine floor gold.

These gossamer threads of worry and flurry are a symptom of a failing marriage with time.  They are probably the most seductive of the five hindrances because they create the illusion that we are actually accomplishing something.  In fact, they are the thieves of our intimacy with time.  Transforming that marriage, regenerating  intimacy, requires an act of courage.  It means saying no so we can say yes; saying yes so we can say no.  It means reaching into the heart of who we are and honouring our practice of fearlessness.