How-Tos

This morning’s Daily Dharma was about simpler meditation instruction.  He says

My problem with detailed meditation instructions is that by their very nature, instructions imply there are good ways and bad ways to do something. They say, this is what you should be doing, this is right, this is wrong. Instructions set up goals, just like in “real” life.

Problem is, there are good and bad, or, less judgmentally, practical and impractical, or as the instructor for the meditation series I just did says, skillful and unskillful, ways to do things.  Today in exercise class, one of the instructors drifted back to me and said “Oh, good, you straightened your wrists.  You need to keep them straight.”  And I had had a conversation Sunday about the various things one can do to one’s tendons, most of which involve repetitive motions while not keeping one’s wrists straight.

It seems to me that telling someone to just sit quietly and pay attention in order to meditate is as likely to be successful as my botanic drawing instructor bringing in an orchid and saying “Just draw what you see.”  Well, yes, the key to meditation is to just see what really is, and the key to drawing is to draw what you really see and not what your brain has built out of it.  But in either case, there are lots of steps, and techniques that others have figured out.  We could all start from scratch, but it could take while to discover everything.  And meanwhile, we may get tendonitis.

On the other hand, I think what the writer on meditation was saying was also true.  We can get bogged down in the rules and the detail, doing things by rote, especially if we do not discover for ourselves, or do not have explained, the reasons for sitting with our backs straight, working with our wrists straight, keeping our eyes closed so we are not distracted or slightly open so we don’t fall asleep.

2 thoughts on “How-Tos

  1. The instruction to draw “just what you see” or meditate by simply “paying attention” can be putting the cart before the horse. In anatomy classes, our professors at art school always used to say to us painters that we had to learn all the anatomy really well first, then forget it to really draw. The emphasis though was on learning the technique first. That said, it’s very very hard, maybe even harder to “unlearn.” I think I worked just as hard at unlearning the anatomy in order to truly see as I did learning it. I’ve never tried to do it the opposite way, to try to approach a subject without any structure or technique and start from my own subjective experience. Maybe this is what self-taught practitioners do . . . and it’s probably worth a try if you’re lucky enough to truly be an empty vessel.

  2. I am currently reading “Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World” by Mary Pipher. It is a wonderful book by an amazing woman. I know I am going to end up buying this book when it comes out in paperback despite my decision to stop purchasing books that I probably won’t reread. It will be a kind of talisman for me and a reminder along with all the John Kabat-Zinn, etc. on my book shelves and, more to the point, a real description of the struggle to see and be and honor my spirit.

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