The Undisciplined Mind

Tonight I attended my first zazen sitting in at least three months, likely closer to four or five. I can give you a host of excuses for why I couldn’t attend: I was out of the country, the drive uptown was hell on gas, life got in the way, but considering the practice of zazen requires no more than a floor, a blank wall, and silence – I really had no valid reason to abandon my practice.

A gentleman in our group this evening (I’ll call him the Professor because it sounds wise and full of mysterious knowledge) spoke in our post-sit discussion about the “monkey mind.” I swear that despite the fact the Professor and I had never met before, he was speaking directly to the raging ape that was thrashing against the bars of my conscience for the entirety of our zazen session. The beast was especially wrought given that I’d fooled him into believing I’d forsaken my attempts to drive him from my head.

For those of you who have been following along with my rants for these past six months, you may find that I relish my neuroses. My temper often places me in precarious positions to which a heap of drama typically ensues. My indecision and hesitancy to dive into personal relationships (both platonic and romantic) provides ample fuel for the furnace which fires my engine of self-pity. And last but not least, my combination of self-regard and self-deprecation make for a fascinating dichotomy where on one hand I esteem my achievements while on the other I criticize my success for crippling my development in others areas of life.

Every mentor, semi-medical professional, and lecture from my parents has held the common theme that I need to temper my attitude and gain respect for authority. Over time I realized I needed to find a spiritual outlet — a way to purge my soul which didn’t consist of upchucking my every insecurity into the obliging but reluctant ear of my closest friends.

My family was never the “church-every-Sunday” sort, but I frequented several houses of the Lord over my years. While the underlying messages touched me, the bureaucracy did not. I couldn’t warm to the idea of my devotion being quantified by how much money I tithed, or whether I confessed my sins to another mere mortal.

I had however, always been fascinated by Asian culture, and specifically with the concept of Buddhism. Finally about a year ago I stopped talking about becoming Buddhist and started reading the material. The texts on Zen Buddhism and meditation along with the Taoist writings really resonated with me. I knew that what they taught – how to live in the here and now – is exactly what I needed to help temper my spirit. About 6-8 months ago, I actually attended a sitting.

To say my life changed in one evening would be overdramatic, but there was something about sitting with a group that gave me the strength to work towards creating a real balance in my life. After a few weeks those closest to me said they could notice a real difference, a sense of calmness in my manner that hadn’t been there before.

You would think positive feedback would have reinforced a commitment to my practice, but in fact it was quite the opposite. For so many years I had worn my temper and my passion like a cloak of security. It was a part of me – something my friends and family had come to expect. It was almost a test in fact. If someone new to my life still hung around after experiencing one of my intense mood swings, then I knew they were a rock – someone who wouldn’t bail, and wouldn’t abandon me the first time things got a little rough. I preferred rocks to the frivolous types who were more hot air than substance.

Without my test how would I know if someone was reliable? If they would really care for me through both the good and the bad? If I was always calm and pleasant, how would I ever know who I could trust — who actually cared for me completely – flaws and all?

So I found excuses not to practice. Work was too intense. My weekends were my only free time without commitments. “I’ll go next week” I said, and then next week would come and go. And so I digressed, back to the emotional extremes and occasional outbursts. I knew my practice was good for me, but it was easier to revert to old habits – comforting even.

In moments of honesty I recognize that in order to be happy I absolutely must attain a balance. I need to find a way to be in the present, else my life will continue to be enjoyed in retrospect. Often I find myself replaying scenes in my head because I fumbled through them the first time ‘round. I’m either too busy thinking about my next line, or to consumed with planning the upcoming week to pay attention to the opportunities immediately before me.

And so, I must tame the beast which rages in my head – encouraging me to react without caution. I must sit each day, and with my group each week, and find a way to discipline my completely and utterly undisciplined mind.


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