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Lions Roar : May 2017
Although there are many different types of Buddhist medita- tion, most of them are primarily concerned with bringing your attention into the present, noticing how your inner and outer worlds are interdependent, and experiencing the subtleties of this mental and physical experience. People ask, “How do I know if my meditation is working?” One way to think about it is that meditation itself is teaching you meditation. This means that the alignment of your attention in the present moment with awareness, the study of the interaction between your inner and outer worlds, is teaching you how to be with what is. Meditation itself is showing you how you can be fully present for and respond to what is actually happening in your life, whether it is blissful, painful, or boring. It is also showing you what happens when you get off-track and how to get back to the present. For example, I began to notice that I was asking myself a lot of questions during meditation: “Is the period of medita- tion over yet?” “Is it time to stand up?” “Did the person who is responsible for timing the meditation fall asleep?” These ques- tions persisted for some time, particularly if I was feeling pain during the sit. It was funny when I realized that these were useless ques- tions. If I was committed to sitting until the bell rang, which I was, then there was no point in asking whether it was time to stop or not. If the bell hadn’t rung, it wasn’t time yet, even if the bell was late. Meditation taught me that those questions were just a distraction from the present moment of sitting, which is already complete. Meditation was teaching me meditation. When you look at it that way, the definition of meditation itself will give you some idea of what “working” means. If you have a fresh experience of the interactive nature of body and mind, then your meditation is working. When you are able to focus your mind on the present while you are sitting, and you are able to do that off the cushion as well, then your meditation is working. And if you notice that your attention has wandered, it means you are already bringing your attention into the moment, and your meditation is working. That said, I really want to caution you against judging the condition of your practice. Asking whether your meditation is “working,” and measuring it with some yardstick, will only cause you suffering and lead to more distraction. Know that each moment is completely resolved. Learn to be satisfied with the effort you have made so far, and then apply your- self completely in this moment. KONIN CARDENAS is a Soto Zen priest, and guiding teacher at Empty Hand Zen Cen- ter in New Rochelle, New York, and Ekan Zen Study Center, a virtual practice center. When I was twenty-one and on a Buddhist studies program in India, I ordained temporarily with two Burmese nuns. In the Theravada tradition, monks and nuns cannot eat after noon, so around 5 p.m. every day the nuns would gather to drink lemon tea and talk about the dharma. At that point in my life, I was jazzed about enlightenment and the end of suffering. I spoke passionately and intellectually about my experiences of noticing impermanence during medi- tation. After I shared some such heady, proud insights, one of the nuns smiled. “When I first ordained as a nun,” she said, “I was always hop- ing to get enlightened. But now, after forty years of practice, nothing has happened!” Then she burst out laughing, overflowing with joy. “Nothing happens!” The other nun joined in gleefully. “Nothing happens! Noth- ing happens!” And they continued to laugh good-naturedly about this. Ten years later, I often reflect on this moment as I take stock of my meditation practice. Because, like they predicted, “nothing has happened.” In other words, there’s been no huge enlightenment moment, no complete end of suffering, and I’m still my same grumpy, opinionated self. Yet my life is filled with more joy, more spaciousness, and more wisdom than ten years ago. I also take myself less seriously. There’s a saying that meditation is “good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end.” Meditation is always valuable, no matter what your level. It’s useful to understand how the practice changes over time, so that we have appropriate expectations. How Do I Know If My Meditation Is Working? The very definition of meditation will give you the answer, says Zen teacher KONIN CARDENAS. Will Meditating Change My Life? Nothing happens, says GESSHIN GREENWOOD. That changes everything. VASCHELLEANDRÉDIVINEPHOTOGRAPHY LION’S ROAR | MAY 2017 62