At the beginning of every practice session, I spend a few moments sitting quietly. I stop all obvious movement and orient my wandering attention in a single direction. I’m not too forceful with this. I don’t define that single direction too precisely. Nor do I demand too much fidelity in this regard. All of which means there’s a fair bit of drifting during this span. I do keep coming back to that loose focus again and again, however: to sitting quietly.
In doing this, I hope to relax the speed and aggression I bring into meditation practice. It’s so easy for me to rush from the kitchen to the cushion, to sit down and engage the practice like another in a long line of ‘to do’ lists. It’s so easy to import this state of mind, this way of living. Sitting – check. Spine upright – check. Hands resting – check. Finding the breath – check. Session complete – check and next.
Sitting quietly loosens this a little. It’s like careful fingers working a series of shoulder knots. Sure I’m doing something, but there’s less to this ‘something-ness’ than is typical in my life. Than is, to be honest, typical in my practice. I’m just sitting here. I’m feeling and seeing, hearing and sensing. And, as has already been acknowledged, I am drifting from time to time. At which point I return to sitting quietly. Again.
This approach has had some interesting effects beyond the above. I’ve started doing something similar at the end each session, for example. Returning to sitting quietly toward the end of practice time allows me to notice the experience – my sense of self – differs from what was encountered only minutes earlier. It grants me a taste of egolessness, in other words. Those few moments let me touch the fluid and ever-changing ‘I’ in a direct and no big deal kind of way.
These moments also ready me to re-engage my so-called ordinary life. During the few minutes of this second quietude, practice and everyday living intermingle. Like two strands of smoke winding about one another, they mix and influence and affect one another. They merge to a certain extent. As a result, when I rise to get on with the day, I’m not so much leaving the work behind as allowing it to come with me, letting it carry me forward.
In a related vein, sitting quietly also reminds me how seamlessly this work can ease into my everyday moment to moment. When I’m busy making dinner, for instance, or sitting through a work meeting, it seems a bit much to observe the tension in my big toe or breathe into the lower belly. But sitting quietly – standing quietly in the case of dinner prep – this I can do. For just a few seconds, I feel and sense and see and hear and wander my way back yet again. Sitting quietly. Or, in certain instances, standing quietly.
Maybe this isn’t the most profound of practices. Maybe sitting quietly does not offer the truest path to enlightenment. But then maybe it is and maybe it does. For me, it’s a simple and accessible way back to presence in life. To right here. To right now. To this.