“Sitting is a strange process. In the beginning, it’s hard to grasp what it’s all about. Later on, it doesn’t get much easier. The only thing that’s clear is “just do it.” Whether the sitting is “good” or “bad,” just do it. You never get any better at it. Not really. But this whole idea of “getting better” is part of the problem, the endless self-improvement and self-manipulation game. We don’t sit to get better. We sit to be with life as it is.” (Source unknown)
I find this a useful quotation to reflect upon. In a culture that seems to hold self-improvement as a near requirement it is difficult to see meditation as anything other than a self–improvement project, a way of getting better at “this” or being more of “that”. It therefore feels strange to know meditation as simply being about letting go of the entire getting disposition. To experience meditation as simply being open to what is now arising within us, to “life as it is” seems to take endless practice. Very strange. Perhaps the word “practice” doesn’t help here as it seems to engender an evaluative “how am I doing?” mentality. Maybe we should rename our meditation time. Any offers?
Contributed by Mike
by Clive James
Hard to believe now that I once was free
From the pills in heaps, blood tests, X-rays and scans.
No pipes or tubes. At perfect liberty,
I stained my diary with travel plans.
The ticket paid for at the other end,
I packed a hold-all and went anywhere
They asked me. One on whom you could depend
To show up, I would cross the world by air
And come down neatly in some crowded hall.
I stood for a full hour to give my spiel.
Here, I might talk back to a nuisance call,
And that’s my flight of eloquence. Unreal:
But those years in the clear, how real were they,
When all the sirens in the signing queue
Who clutched their hearts at what I had to say
Were just dreams, even when the dream came true?
I called it health but never stopped to think
It might have been a kind of weightlessness,
That footloose feeling always on the brink
Of breakdown: the false freedom of excess.
Rarely at home in those days, I’m home now,
Where few will look at me with shining eyes.
Perhaps none ever did, and that was how
The fantasy of young strength that now dies
Expressed itself. The face that smiled at mine
Out of the looking glass was seeing things.
Today I am restored by my decline
And by the harsh awakening it brings.
I was born weak and always have been weak.
I came home and was taken into care.
A cot-case, but at long last I can speak:
I am here now, who was hardly even there.
From Sentenced to Life, Picador, 2015, p. 4
UWE Bristol sponsored a guest lecture entitled ‘Facing up to White Privilege’ on Monday 3 September 2018.
The speaker was Dr Judy Ryde, psychotherapist, trainer and supervisor. In her talk, Dr Ryde outlined the history of white, or Northern European, domination, through slavery and colonisation to the present day. She highlighted how the invention of ‘political correctness’ created a more welcoming landscape by teaching people to censor racist language in public settings; however, she shared her view that this largely pushed unconscious and conscious racist beliefs out of sight for a while. The recent rise in hate crimes and right-wing politicians seems to support this. In her view, ‘it was like putting out a fire that is still burning underneath.’
She then went on to highlight some of the ways in which white people continue to benefit from past and present white domination. For example, did you know that most National Trust properties were built from the compensation awarded to families involved in the slave trade, when slavery was abolished? She also described the privilege of being ‘just normal’, of the supremacy of the English language, and of the globalisation of white sport, and she argued that ‘the degradation of the planet is the worst feature of white domination.’
She concluded her talk by suggesting some possible processes of facing up to white privilege, both within the individual and as a nation. For example, reparations could be made by re-naming the global ‘aid’ budget as the ‘reparations’ budget, and taking this more seriously, as a means of repaying nations and communities that we have exploited. She also suggested starting a fund for disadvantaged youth, paid for from wealthy families that directly benefited from the slave trade. And she suggested that the National Trust use their properties as teaching sites regarding colonisation, imperialism and slavery, to bring this history alive and share it more widely.
Let’s hope some of her suggestions are taken up soon!
Contributed by Christine
“Just as when a carpenter or carpenter’s apprentice sees the marks of his fingers or thumb on the handle of his adze but does not know, ‘Today my adze handle wore down this much, or yesterday it wore down that much, or the day before yesterday it wore down this much,’ still he knows it is worn through when it is worn through. In the same way, when a monk dwells devoting himself to development, he does not know, ‘Today my effluents* wore down this much, or yesterday they wore down that much, or the day before yesterday they wore down this much,’ still he knows they are worn through when they are worn through.”
(Nava Sutta SN 22.101translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)
I have found that these words from the Buddha are useful to remember when you feel that you are getting nowhere with your meditation. An adze is a tool with a wooden handle used by carpenters to hollow out wood. With constant daily use the handle would imperceptibly be worn down. The worn down appearance would only be noticeable after years of use. Likewise with daily meditation. The immediate effects may not be noticeable from day to day, or month to month. Perhaps it is only when we look back after much diligent practice that we recognise its transformative power. So we can remember the simile of the adze handle, trust in the process and let go of the wanting for speedy effects.
*Effluents is a translation of the Pali word asavas and is variously translated as defilements, taints, toxins, pollutants, outflows or effluents. It refers to all the unskilful thoughts and actions that flow out of us. In the Nava Sutta and elsewhere the Buddha describes the goal of the path as the ending of the effluents.
Contributed by Mike
Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.
Chinese Zen master Wu Men
To have an unclouded mind and to see a little more deeply into life is perhaps what Insight meditation is all about. Bristol Insight exists to support us in the endeavour to see with a greater clarity and to respond to life with a deeper appreciation.