The Experience of Sitting
What is the experience if sitting? Well, a simple , matter-of-fact description might say that as we sit we're aware of thoughts in mind, the breathe in our belly, and pain in our legs. But we all also carry around a more or less idealized picture of how we want to experience sitting. Nobody wants pain in their legs, and we all harbor some idea that we should be able to completely empty our minds of distracting thoughts. But the fact is, pain and thought will always be with us. It is true that after we been sitting for some time, our legs will get more limber, and our minds do quiet down, but my left knee almost always hurts when I first bend it into a half-lotus, and by the end of an all day sitting, my knees are hurting just the way yours are. It may be possible to meditate in such a way that we essentially go into trance and become oblivious to bodily pain, and to completely empty the mind for extended periods of time, but because our daily lives are inevitably filled with pain, both physical and emotional pain, and our ordinary mind generates an endless stream of thought, that kind of meditation may offer little help in dealing with our everyday lives, when we can't go into a trance to escape our problems. What we are trying to practice here is not to try to escape from our thoughts, but simply by labeling them, over and over, to see them as thoughts, and not get caught u in their content. And we don't try to overcome pain, rather we watch our reactions to it, how we think we should be reacting or enduring it, our fear, our avoidance, or our macho pride.
The Zen Center in San Diego is in a house on a suburban street, right next to its neighbors' houses, many of whom can get quite noisy just when all the zen students are settling down for a nice quiet hour of zazen. I remember one sesshin when some neighborhood teenagers set up their band on the lawn directly across the street and proceeded to play at top volume well into the night, first while were trying to sit, and then when we were all trying to get some sleep. Over the years, people used to suggest to Joko that the Zen Center find a quieter location out in the country, but she's always refused. The point of practice is to come to terms with all the noise, inside and outside, not try to find some special quiet place where we can hide.
Now none of this means that we can simply sit here and daydream. When we sit, we sit to be fully present to this moment, but when we allow ourselves to daydream, or focus exclusively on our pain, we're ignoring most of what's really happening, and instead focussing on our own little self-centered corner of the universe. We are not here to struggle with pain, or struggle with our thoughts. When we settle down into the experience of our body and our breath, we let our pain just be pain, and our thoughts just be thoughts. We try to stay as fully aware as we can of just who we are, just what this moment is, and in this way, we just sit.