Sitting still (with Peter Levitt)

zazen meditation

bird-383245_640There’s a path from me to You
I’m constantly looking for
So I try to keep clear and still
As water does with the moon.


This past weekend I had the great joy of sitting still with thirty other friends from Gravity. We practiced zazen (just sitting) and walking meditation, and learned about non-separation from the great Zen teacher, poet, and translator Peter Levitt.  We each had the opportunity to sit down for a discussion with Peter one on one, so that we could ask him questions about our meditation practice and any obstacles we are struggling with.

We know sitting meditation is good for us, but still we resist…

Most of us shared similar issues. Our lives are crazy busy and taking time out to just sit and breathe feels self-indulgent and not as important as dealing with phone calls, emails, or messages on facebook. When we do have a moment to breathe we sometimes feel a resistance to sitting on the cushion, something irrational and un-nameable. We know that meditation does wonders for our concentration, our mood, our outlook and our sense of compassion. We know it’s good for us, and still we resist. The call of the snooze button is louder than our call to awakening.

Stop expecting things to be different from what they are…

Peter was generous with his time and his answers. First, he was clear that we just have to do it anyway, whether we like it or hate it. We have to trust that what feels like the desert is actually full of life and stop expecting things to be different from what they are. Second, he pointed out that the part of us that clings to habit doesn’t like meditation. The part that is caught up in egotism and separation and the story of me really doesn’t like it much when we get real.  If we’re not careful we might have to change :).

Do you need to keep going?

Finally he asked me to reflect on who benefits when I’m practicing? I thought about it and replied that I do, and my friends and family, and my students, and my community.  And then he asked, “Who benefits if you pack it in and give up?” And then the list included multinationals, polluters, war-mongers, racists, bullies and every other force that promotes hatred, greed, and delusion.

“So do you think you need to keep going?” He said.

Hmmm. Good point, I said.

“Self-improvement” can take us further away from what is beautiful and boundless…

So now I’m reconsidering the importance of getting down on the cushion and starting with the delusion in my own heart and mind; especially the part that is feeling pulled back to shopping, or facebook, or creating barriers between “us and them,” or wanting to be successful, or worry-free, or irresponsible. The gravitational pull of culture is hard to see and harder to resist. We all crave security, safety, comfort, control, influence, and recognition. We’re all caught up in a process of “self-improvement” that takes us further and further away from what is beautiful and boundless.

This weekend was a reminder to be okay with just being.  Recognizing that we live in a world of duality (us vs. them, good vs. bad, economy vs. environment) that we need to function in, while realizing that at the same time none of these divisions exist in the way we think we do.  Even when “I” don’t feel like practicing, there is something much bigger and much more beautiful that needs tending to. I was making it about me, when it really has nothing to do with me at all. Or rather, I’ve been thinking about myself in a small and narrow way, instead of the me that contains and is held by everything.

Trying to keep clear and still…



How do you keep yourself motivated? What brings you back when your motivation is lagging? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Zen teacher and poet Peter Levitt

Thanks to Leslee Bowen (you know why)

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Yoga and meditation teacher, writer, reader, cat-momma, environmental warrior, friend


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