Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Wisdom of Failing at Meditation

 
 

Sitting without Success or Failure

Oct 2, 2021


Petunia

Petunia

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I wrote a jocular letter to friends about a time in meditation.


Meditation went great midday - kept falling asleep and dreaming. Finally, went into a deep sleep; woke up all slumped over. Well, showing up is success. I used to tell my students, "If you go to sleep, your body is saying, 'I need rest,' so accept it." Of course, when persons start snoring during silence, that's a whole different matter.

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We sit silently as humans, with all that means, and sometimes we may sink into la-la land. I wrote the last sentence above of snoring, recalling a friend who fell asleep and commenced snoring in a meditation workshop I was leading. We were all sitting in silence. I struggled not to begin laughing out loud. Some Quaker friends told of a woman in a weekly Meeting of silence falling asleep often. This dear one would start snoring out loud. The worshippers were gracious in accepting her humanness.

There are antidotes to sleepiness in meditation. I have written of that at this site. These will work, provided one is not markedly needing sleep. In that case, if sleep occurs, one need not feel badly about it. We will not address the antidotes today. However, any meditation teacher needs to address this, for sooner or later, we find ourselves struggling to stay awake, and meditation is about awareness, not slumber.

So, I ask, "Can we fail at meditation?" Relatively, yes. We work with those failures to better our practice. We, for example, do not want to excuse a habit of falling asleep during silence. Meditation is a skill we learn to succeed at, like other skills we learn. Yet, beyond failure, there is no failure. Then, showing up is a success, so it is more than a success. Still, to actualize this experience, we must work through failing and succeeding and exhaust that antithesis.

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A student of Suzuki Roshi's, a publisher of Beat poetry, saw his teacher of a year and a half in a private interview. He said that he couldn't continue, that every time he sat zazen [sitting meditation] he started to cry. "I can't take it," he said. "I'm leaving. I can't be here anymore."

Suzuki didnít tell him to stay. He merely said, "You try and you try and you fail, and then you go deeper."

*Shunryu Suzuki. Zen Is Right Here. Ed. David Chadwick.

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The wisdom of meditation arises most in failing at it. At first, you begin to meditate to find success at it. You can not succeed. When you think you have, failure deflates the pride in success.

You do not want to fail, yet there is no possibility of failure. There is no possibility of success, either. You sit like this year after year.

This posture of equanimity translates to life. You are no longer interested in being a success. Still, what needs to be done, is done.

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*© Brian K. Wilcox, 2021

*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book consists of poems based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.

 

Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Wisdom of Failing at Meditation

©Brian Wilcox 2021