Friday, December 21, 2007


Last night I went to see Sharon Salzberg speak at the Zendo. She’s a well-known longtime Buddhist practitioner who’s written many books, and she’s an eloquent, composed speaker - it was so interesting to hear her put thoughts together and concisely summarize questions from the audience.

She spoke about equanimity, or balance, and one of the things she said that stuck with me is, “The ability to start again is not to be sneezed at.” Each time we stray in life or practice, whether it’s getting lost in thoughts while meditating or something larger, we can always start again. We find our breath again. In fact, as Salzberg said, starting anew is the only honest response to the ever-changing world.

My practice seems to resemble the orbit of Pluto. You know how Pluto follows an elliptical orbit around the sun, passing relatively close and then spinning out into the deep reaches of space before circling back? Sometimes I feel close to my practice, seem to inhabit it deeply for weeks at a time. And sometimes it feels almost alien to me - I stop sitting and get busy and caught up in life - and then I miss it and begin circling back.

Since the end of October, just before I went to Italy, my practice has seemed remote. I’ve been to the Zendo several times since then, but it’s been hard for me to really inhabit the sitting, to be really present. Traveling, the holidays, some major changes in my office, a busier social schedule - all have given me reason to feel scattered, and have carried me away.

I’m not going to the year-end sesshin, either. Frankly, I’m tired, and it just seems too far away, too difficult and too expensive. Maybe I’m wimping out, but I plan to chill and retreat into my own personal quiet for a while. I hope to do that after Christmas - sit daily, here at home, and once again come back toward the warmth of the sun from starry black space.

(Photo: Lost mitten, SoHo, Dec. 2007)


Anonymous said...

You really raised an interesting thought, Steve.

I think that most (all?) spiritual paths recognize that we can all start anew today.

Unfortunately some traditions demand that the chance to renew ourselves be served with a big dollop of guilt. Others, do not.

To me all I can ever do is to acknowledge that I did not live as I would like to and move on. Can't change the past, can't guarantee the future, now is all I have.

I hope this makes some sense.

Anonymous said...

Of course you know this, but
you don't have to spend money/plan.. to practice-- I envy you your zendo at times though-- but it probably isn't for me.

I do wish I went to hear more speakers of the Salzberg sort, but I find that for me anyway, my father was right-- he preferred to practice in a solitary way and then to practice living with others. I never understood what he was talking about- at the time---but he was a fabulous guy that everyone wanted to be around, so he radiated something--

I didn't know Pluto did that, now I feel a kinship with Pluto.

Anonymous said...

Steve, your own personal quiet seems like a pretty good place to be.

Anonymous said...

You're a lot of things, Steve, but "wimp" is NOT one of them. All practices, everything - in fact - waxes and wanes.

I love Sharon Salzburg. She was one of the best teachers I studied with. She's so honest, how does she do it? She, Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron and YOU are my favorite Buddhists evah!

Happy return of the light! May 2008 be a great year for you. Much love.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. *Great* shot -- I love the hard specular light on the iron, contrasted with the diffuse light on the mitten. Poor little lost mitten on the hard black metal.

I was talking with a meditation researcher the other day, who teaches people to sit and studies the effects on mood. He said some of his subjects were more "compliant" with the research protocl than others, and that the most compliant had the best results. I told him my own practice is in a non-compliant period, too, but I hope to sesshin will help me rejoin the protocol.

What did the Buddhist say to the other Buddhist? "I'm not sitting enough."

I've gone in & out of practice so many fucking times, I'm sick of being apologetic, to myself or anyone else. To begin again, *really*, requires non-guilt. Otherwise we're still stuck. It helps to know that most of us don't practice as diligently as we hoped, most of the time. Let's just start again.