These days I spend about an hour in a daily sitting meditation practice. There are other times during the day when I meditate, but these are shorter and much less ‘formal.’ I may be out walking, listening to music and looking at nature, just enjoying myself and at some point I notice that I’m not thinking. That’s when it dawns that this has been a practice…the entire time. My mind hasn’t participated in the walk at all. It is as if I left it at home with my wallet. When I say ‘my mind,’ I don’t mean that I don’t have a thought like, “Come on Joey, you have sniffed that plant long enough.” I just mean that I am not lost in thoughts about what has already happened or what might happen in the next moment, or even later in the day. Those types of thoughts are absent. This lack of thinking is what makes the entire walk so incredibly pleasant. Other times during the day, when eating something, I will just close my eyes and completely merge with the taste of the food. Not only is my mind quiet, but my taste buds create a gustatory cacophony when I allow for it. It is simply a matter of letting the sensory experience unfold naturally and not allow the thinking mind veil what is always available.
This morning’s practice was an interesting investigation of a strange bodily movement that seems to be arising lately. For some reason, during practice only, my right hand and occasionally the left, seem to tremble completely out of my conscious control. It is like my body is trying to shake something off. It is a tiny tremble and has an energetic quality to it that is slightly uncomfortable, but not exactly bothersome. Often, I will just hold the offending hand with the other and it settles down and becomes still.
But today I decided that if this trembling wanted to arise I was just going to allow it and see what happened. I began the practice with my palms opened up on my thighs, not my normal posture, as if to say, “If you want to be here for the entire hour, I’m okay with that.” Sure enough, after a few minutes, the right thumb began shaking like a leaf. Occasionally, it spread to other fingers, and once in a while to the other thumb. I just stayed as still as I could and kept allowing whatever this energy was to flow as it seemed to need to.
It came in waves. The tremble would begin as a pressure built up within the substance of the hand, and then I would just relax the hand as best as I could and watch what happened. Each time the hand relaxed a tiny bit, the trembling would ease. Then, it would arise again, and the whole process would start again. It felt like something was being washed clean from the hand, like the agitation cycle on the washing machine.
Because it was a shaking, the image of a leaf trembling in the wind appeared in my mind, and with it I understood that my awareness of shaking was like the trunk of a large tree, a giant sequoia, from which the leaf emanated. The trunk of the tree, my awareness, was the unmoving, completely still viewpoint that was allowing the trembling to continue and not trying to stop it.
Eventually, this embodying of the tree trunk somehow enabled the hands to settle. Bit by bit, the spasms of contraction subsided and there was absolute calm. The whole body was relaxed and I had learned the lesson that the hands wanted me to hear.
This is why I practice. A metaphor came to me in the calmness.
You know when your hair dryer has been plugged in the wall for months, and after using it daily, waving the thing around your head over and over, the cord becomes a tightly coiled, wound-up mess that seems to have a life of its own? Each time you use it is an upper body workout because the tension in the cord keeps pulling the dryer away from your head. And when you look, you see that the cord has completely tangled itself into multiple loops that have coiled around each other. What do you do when this happens?
I have learned to unplug the hair dryer and hang it upside down, holding the plug in one hand high above my head to let the cord release the tension, the hair dryer spinning dizzy circles below. After a while, the spinning slows, the pendulum swing of the dryer begins to minimize, and the cord has magically grown about a foot longer.
Practice for me is like unplugging the hair dryer from the wall. By sitting and ‘unplugging’ from life for an hour, all of the tension that has built up in my body can release, as my hand has taught me.
But more importantly than this, by unplugging from my mind, I am gently released from all of the stories my mind uses to capture my attention. The regrets about what has happened in the past are unwound and let go. The judgements my mind loves to entertain me with are slowly but firmly allowed to sway and twirl all they want, until they dissipate and are gone, leaving peace and quiet in their wake. The worries and anxiety about what might happen in some imaginary future are seen for what they are, pointless twisting and turning of the metaphorical cord that runs through my life and seems to hold it together. All of this mind ‘stuff’ is allowed to unfurl, and as this happens, a beautiful serenity emerges.
The funny thing is that these stories have been the thing that has defined ‘me.’ The stories of my life: who hurt me, who I hurt, what I suck at, what I am okay at, what I know, what I don’t know, how this body works, how it doesn’t work, what I have accomplished, who I have effected, who I love, who loves me…all of it. All of these thoughts have coiled themselves over and over into a thing called Julie. But the coils are not really a thing. They can all be released just like those in the hair dryer cord. When all thought and stories are gone, when all identity is gone, what remains is beyond description. But it is definitely the reason that I practice.