"Don’t just do something, sit there!"
One of the things we learn to do in meditation is to “just sit there.” In Japanese Zen, they call this Shikan Taza – just sitting. To our Western culture this seems to be tantamount to just sitting on your butt, doing nothing – a highly dubious activity - seen as lazy and unproductive even self centered navel gazing. But something happens when we “just sit.” Our awareness begins to open up, we begin to pull back from our impulses, our feelings and our stories about ourselves and the world and to be able to see what is going on both inside of us and outside of us with new clarity. We are less and less run by our original programming. We experience increased freedom and clarity and we bang into other people less often because we are not so wrapped up in the fog of our own preoccupations.
One way that we can help this process along is to notice when we begin to effort in our sitting. By this I mean any effort to bat a thought or feeling away rather than to just see it and let it go. Or a stiffening of the body as we resist some experience we are having. Or the thoughts that seem to have a life of their own which we either get entranced with or start to fight. All of this puts us back in the realm of doing and fixing and unneeded suffering.
I used to be a champion efforter. I didn’t know how to do any kind of concentrative activity without tensing up my shoulders and pursing my mouth. Yoga has been such a good additional practice for me because it works with the body and releasing tension in it.When you adopt a pose in yoga the instructor will often remind you to release your jaw, your shoulders, etc. Ooops! As I was writing this I noticed I was tensing up my shoulders! But I noticed. And that is what it takes. Patient moment by moment noticing and letting go. This is what meditation is: no big deal, no big plans for great enlightenment. Just moment after moment being with what is rather than resisting what we fear and hanging on to what we want.