sit. stay. then walk the dogs

Posted by on Feb 5, 2011 in Buddhism, Mircea Eliade, Philosophy | No Comments

A request from the audience! To discuss meditation a bit more, particularly my comment about meditating while walking my dogs. A disclaimer! Meditation is not my forte, I am in no way a teacher of it, and let’s just say you get what you pay for here. A gift! From a dear friend this week, who opened my eyes to religious historian Mircea Eliade’s distinction between sacred and profane time, which will really help us here today.

Most traditions and teachers tell us that to bring meditation into our lives, sitting meditation is generally the most effective way to start. The ritual of simply picking one spot on this earth to return to each day seems the experiential equivalent of the deep breath we all must and do take before beginning anything of both challenge and worth. Soon enough, what we gain with that simple practice can be folded into so many other ritual patterns in our lives, but if you are asking me, I encourage you to begin at the beginning. Dedicate yourself to one full year of sitting in one place at about the same time each day. But do not stress! If you usually aim for 10am, but a chaotic day doesn’t give you a chance until 10pm, sit down then. If you miss a day, try again. And, while many books will say that you “need” to meditate for at least 30 minutes to garner the benefits, I am a statistical sample of one demonstrating that an average of 10 to 15 minutes of calm, practiced on average 5 days a week, still accumulates serious benefit. My opinion? Avoid books on meditation for this same first year. We Westerners do not need the goals and targets, much less any whiff of comparative guilt. We’re too good at those things already!

When I sit down, and thoughts come – and of course they do – my goal is to imagine them not as My Thoughts but more as clouds of thinking. I imagine these clouds not as words verbalizing in my head, but as objects clustering in my head, and I figure they’ll certainly be there when I get back to them, so why not just leave them in an amorphous pile for awhile? Then, I just practice being sort of suspended in awareness and hearing silence beyond and around all of those words. Believe it or not, eyes half-open is often more recommended than eyes closed in meditation. I practice shifting from looking at a spot or at things in general to looking through them with no particular focus on anything, like that sensation we get when we stare into space or “space out.” Oh, and by the way, I sit on a bench. My back cannot handle sitting cross-legged on the floor. Do whatcha gotta do! Just do it ritually.

I had to describe all of that to get back to the dogs, and to Mircea Eliade. Basically, this philosopher described sacred time as circular and profane time as linear. In our modern and non-spiritualized lives, we perceive time as a line. We are born at one point and we march along it to… what? A bunch of points, and then the point of death. Needless to say, such a material conception of our existence begs the question, “What’s the point?” It’s just hard to ascribe meaning to that path. It even inspires bumper stickers like, “Life’s A Bitch And Then You Die.” Ugh.

Sacred Time is a sense of the cyclical, a sense of being in and invested in patterns that not only repeat, but are larger than our own lives, that are eternal. That, therefore, connect us to all life. As simple as a personal tea ceremony each morning or as particular as the many festivals in the many religions that call their faithful to practice the same devotions each year, time-anchored rituals are critical for our souls to feel like souls, to really feel the sacred that we intuitively sense “out there.” Any ritual in our lives, when performed with both a gentle reverence and a dedication to it daily, weekly,  or whatever is appropriate, will work. Welcome to your on-ramps to the Divine. And, just please note that you will have better acceleration on said ramps if your foundational ramp is simply breathing meditatively for a few minutes each day.

Within a year of practicing meditation, I was able to bring a revivifying awareness to simple tasks we more typically try to get through, like making a cup of tea or walking my dogs. The dogs and I have only two paths we take, safe ones where I can walk with eyes nearly half-closed, looking out to only the ground of my next few steps. I take no watch, no cell phone, no sense of beckoning time. I walk at the same pace every day. I breathe at that same pace. Whatever work is nipping at my heels, I leave on a leash at the front door, give it one pat on the head and tell it, “I’ll be right back!” My dogs’ names are my only mantras, and I almost sing them here and there. Sure, if a car is coming I focus for a minute. If someone says Hi, I smile back. These are great opportunities to feel an undercurrent of sacred breath in the profane quotidian. Then, just Back To The Earth Before Me. Back To Two Feet. Two Dogs. One Morning. All Mornings. Mornings Before My Life, And Beyond. Just Being Here, This Morning. Whether “I” am Here or not.

Happy Trails!