I’ve been listening to some talks that Pema Chodron gave in her abbey in Nova Scotia during a retreat some years back. She mentions how many of us go though our lives with a kind of haunted quality, never truly present. Because we never allow ourselves to fully experience the depths of our sorrow, we are never truly able to experience the potential for our greatest joy. We are haunted by our aversions and cravings. We hurry toward the things we want, and we run from what we dislike. We equate happiness with getting what we want, and suffering with being deprived of what we want. Always desiring something different from what is, we never fully experience this moment, and like disembodied ghosts we lose touch with reality.
So much of what Pema says resonates with me. I can see my own haunted ways of living my life–running to get to my yoga class, exceeding the speed limit, becoming stressed out en route, wandering how I can get myself into that peaceful, centered head space needed to assist people in reaching their own peace. I feel resentment toward the driver who is on his cell phone, who doesn’t notice the light has turned green. I’ve given myself plenty of time to get to the studio, so why do I feel this urge to get around the slower moving cars, to get from A to B more quickly?
I repeatedly see myself being impatient with my kids. My not yet two year old son, spoon in hand, slops yogurt all over his face, the table, his bib; my hand itches to clean him up, to just feed him the yogurt, although I know he has to learn how to feed himself somehow, and learning can be messy. My daughter is jumpy from skipping her nap yet again. As the evening wears on, she gets even jumpier. She knocks into things, slips, spills things, doesn’t listen when I ask her to wash her hands, won’t hold still so that I can help her brush her teeth. The whole time, I thinking about how much I want to be on my cushion, enjoying a moment to myself in meditation. Haunted by what I’m wanting, not fully present to this little being who is acting from her own cravings and aversions. I guess we’re all haunted.
As I become more and more aware that this haunted quality does not have to define me and my existence forever, as I come to realize that change is possible, that I have many options, I look for ways in this moment to practice being present, to reclaim my life energy, to gather my attention. Not simply accepting the concept of being present on some abstract mental level, but really practicing present moment awareness, with all of my faculties, now.
I meditate two times every day to bring myself back to this place of being. I thought it would be so hard to establish a practice and stick with it, to show up day after day after day. But after nearly 900 days, I find that the showing up is easy. It’s the choosing to stay that is hard. When I sit down on my cushion, full of hope that I can find stillness and focus, and then I discover that I’m so tired that all I want to do is nod off, it takes great will to keep sitting there, bringing my mind back again and again to the passage I’m silently repeating. The inner critic takes on a sultry, seductive tone and says, “Sleep would feel great right now. There’s no point in your doing this, you’re not proving anything to anyone, and you’re certainly not going to find enlightenment any time soon, so why not cut your meditation short and just go to bed?”
I’ll tell you why, it’s because I don’t want to be haunted right now. I don’t want to be haunted by the idea of sleeping, or haunted by the disappointment that would come if I skipped my meditation. I don’t want to be haunted by the vision of the person I want to be, when I awaken to my true nature and abide in that nature, so that I may be of benefit to those around me.
It’s time for me to meditate now. I’m tired. I’ll most likely feel really drowsy the entire time. I’ll probably fidget quite a bit to stay awake, and I’ll probably lose focus many times in the thirty minutes I’ve set aside for this practice. My bed will be calling to me, my body will feel uncomfortable, my mind will be assailed by many thoughts, images, hopes, fears, memories, goals, projects, desires. I’ll think about giving up many times, because I am so doggone tired.
I’ll sit up a little taller. I’ll shake all my tired thoughts off. I’ll try again.
Oh well, I’ll tell myself, I might be tired, but at least I won’t be haunted.