The bucking

Before I entered the main sanctuary of the Buddhist monastery, I had obeyed a sign requesting that I remove my shoes. Other than that, I wasn’t sure what to do. I understood that it was okay for me to be here because the monastery hosts a public meditation hour every morning and evening. It also offers classes and interfaith roundtables and provides a home to a handful of monks and nuns.

But I’m the first here on this particular evening, so I take a seat in one of a few chairs at the back of the room. From this vantage, I can watch as people arrive, bowing even before crossing the threshold of the room and then, once they enter, bowing again toward the altar. Each selects from the stack of mats and cushions along the wall, and then arranges them on the floor before taking a seat. After several minutes, a gentle gong sounds and everyone settles down, growing so still and quiet inside that it seems to magnify the sounds from the street. Rap music spills from a passing car and a woman stands nearby chatting on her cell phone.

All I know about meditation at this point is that it’s meant to induce a tranquil state of mind. I command my thoughts to settle down, but they defy my orders and grow more active. I feel like I’m riding one of those mechanical bulls. I yell, “Slower!” and it speeds up instead. At times, I grow so deeply embedded in daydreams of my past it’s like I’m living them again—except through the filter of greater understanding, making them all the more painful. I feel guilty and upset at the angsty, angry young woman I was when I went to school here. Waves of sadness wash over me, and tears sting my eyes. At moments, it’s almost too excruciating to bear and I teeter on the verge of running from the room to find a private spot, a bathroom stall somewhere, where I can bawl my heart out.

Mercifully, the hour comes to an end with me still planted in my seat. People rise and stretch and return their cushions to the stacks. Their serene expressions seem to indicate that they’ve enjoyed a reprieve from the day’s chaos. As I stand, I feel quite the opposite. I’m relieved that the bucking has stopped and I am walking away in one piece.

Later that night, I organize the pile of books I brought and work out a flow chart of Buddhist centers I plan to visit. Any large university will have lots of places of worship nearby, but Berkeley has an inordinate number of Buddhist options. They surround campus on all sides and represent derivations of the faith from Korea, China, Japan, Tibet, and Thailand. Some, like the monastery I visited earlier this evening, offer a hybrid approach, emphasizing various aspects of different traditions. Most provide instruction sessions—orientations, classes, talks—throughout the week and I hope to attend as many of these as possible. I’ve decided to take an aggressive approach to getting peaceful.

17 thoughts on “The bucking

    • Dang Frank that was good reading – Being a tightly closed little bud myself at times (really! lol) I could really relate to the author’s words of not acknowledging thought patterns in our lives, destructive or productive…

  1. An hour? Too much to start with! Way too much. Many meditators have a beneficial practice or mantra tied to their breath so that they have something to return their focus to, because the mind will ALWAYS want to stray. Hope you weren’t put off too much!

    • Hi David, yes, that first hour was a bit overwhelming but it also showed me how in need I was of Buddhist instruction. I think also that the activity of my thinking and strength of memories was exacerbated by being back in Berkeley and not in my everyday current life.

  2. Oh Corinna – even though i know that happened in the past as you move along on this series, I just wanted to hug you (((Corinna))) and tell you its okay!!! Sometimes we are our own worst enemy – and being alone with ourselves and our thoughts can be so unnerving at times!

    and then you made me laugh out loud – “I’ve decided to take an aggressive approach to getting peaceful.” LOL

    • Corinna, I laughed out loud at your last words, too……..”an aggressive approach to getting peaceful!!!” Darn it all. I am going to get peaceful if it kills me. So “un-Buddhist,’ but, of course, you knew that when you wrote it! Looking forward to your Buddhist journey. Merrill

      • Read some reflections by today by Roger Cohen the journerlist, iwant to send them on regagarding something he said about Gandhi and Mandela “…..through deep inward journeys……which ushered them to the inner stillness, that is the very thing an agitated world finds most riveting…..”

  3. Hello Everyone.

    I was taught that meditation is focused attention, or awareness. In the beginning of your sitting you said that you heard/were aware of the sounds in the street. When your mind drifted to the deeply embedded in daydreams of your past, did you hear the sounds in the street?

    Although some people can attain tranquility while sitting in the protected environment of a sanctuary, what happens when they move into the unprotected environment of their everyday lives. Where’s the safety in that?

    Instead of experiencing tranquility in a protected environment what about experiencing joy in everyday life?

    Can a more fruitful result to our work be realized through a practice that consists of by experiencing life through our senses and practical thought? Can we observe when our mind drifts to thoughts of past or future? Thoughts that remove us from experiencing our joyful life, as it is, in this moment?

    Instead of limiting ourselves to an hour in a protected space, can we make our practice 24/7 in whatever space we are in? Can we let life as it is be the fodder that provides the path to joy?

    • Hey Sam, I think bringing that kind of “present moment” mind set from a concentrated period of time to the rest of one’s life would be the ultimate goal. I think practicing returning when distractions pull you way is perhaps how we get closer to realizing that goal because it’s such a tricky task. I’m curious to what Buddhists readers might have to say about this…As for the ambient sounds during my first meditation session, I continued to be aware of them though, magically, they seemed to quiet down a bit.

  4. I “teach” meditation in short sequences of 15 minutes. I usually ask everyone to welcome the sounds they hear and bring them into the meditation….the clock ticking….people’s voices….traffic on the street….birds singing…whatever it is. Its all Life and they are the sounds of life. People usually tell me how surprised they are that after a few minutes they don’t hear any of it and simply go deeper into wherever they had arrived. Of course, it’s nice, too, when you can be in a place of almost complete silence. But meditation can happen anywhere and at any time during just about any activity. Mine usually start with concentrating on my breathing…in an out….and once the outside sounds have been integrated I usually arrive in a place of soft darkness and then suddenly as like an opening of a camera’s shutter lens I clearly see, within, a beautiful clear blue sky and a ground of very green grass extending to the horizon. It doesn’t last long but it kind of is a pathway to whatever else comes. What comes is never about the past or the future but very much about the present and brings with it some interesting insight into my life.
    There are many types of meditation. Some fundametalist groups consider it demonism. I have never found it to be so no matter what type of meditation I’ve been involved with. It always gives me a sense of calm and release.

  5. We talked in the previous post about the connection between faiths. The connection I see here is the meditation–listening, trying to be quiet–Christians do the same during prayer, focusing on the spiritual part of reality. The difference as you describe it here is that nothing was said afterward as a comment or guide or interaction among the people who were there. It was a corporate meditation in the sense that all were there, but more in individual terms. Each person had their own private engagement with the spiritual.

    In my church, meditation or prayer takes place when we confess our sins with first a corporate reading and then individually in silence for a minute (which can be really long, by the way!). Afterwards, the pastor talks about the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ, which is assured for those who have come to God in honesty. So Corinna, when you were overwhelmed with guilt and upset over how you had been in years past, as you offered that to God (silently, of course) you would have been assured that He heard you and washed all that away through Christ. The assurance would have been given to you with evidence from God’s Word.

    Buddhism, it seems, is more non-specific. As I said before, I am not sure who Buddha is–man or god? A principle of behavior or a person? I will rely on you to guide me, Corinna. So while the spiritual world is connected with and valued by both Buddhists and Christians, the focus or end point is quite different.


    P.S. Frank said, “Some fundamentalist groups consider it demonism.” I would like for him to explain that statement.

    • Hi Corinna, Ginger, and Frank….Happy New Year, btw…
      Frank, I was taught similar things as a new Christian. In 1972, we went to a Bible school in Wisconsin, which was then considered part of the “Bible belt”…very fundamentalist and separatistic. TM (transcendental meditation) was all the rage back then, and as I recall, was the focus of much of the anti-meditation teaching by fundamentalists. I think you, Ginger, captured a real truth in what you said about prayer as a sort of meditation. Most of my early teaching on prayer was that it was a very focused thinking exercise, and so very far from meditation. I’ve come to realize over the years that, as a child of God, I don’t have to fear any kind of demonic influence just because I exclude conscious thought. My Father protects me.
      And, yes, Corinna, I laughed out loud (albeit silently!) at your desire to aggressively pursue peacefulness! I draw a distinction between peacefulness and peace, though not sure if there’s any border there. One is likely the outer manifestation of the inner. 🙂

  6. They weave together scriptures that speak of being taken over by demons in ones thinking or in one’s body. They point to scriptures like 2 Cor. 11:14 where Paul speaks of Satan transforming himself into an angel of light. and Jeremiah 17:9 showing the heart to be deceitful….and many other scriptures. Of course they believe that they have the necessary “truth” of the word to keep themselves out of harms way by Satan. If you stray from their interpretation of what that “truth” is and go to a different type of meditation you are allowing the possibility for demons to get control. Having been taught that idea for many years I was a little fearful the first time I attended a meditation that was not of fundamentalist orientation. The group sat for almost an hour in the silence. A part of me prayed that I would not come under demonic influence. Towards the end of the hour I felt a flush of warmth come through my body and a voice whispered gently into my ear saying: “You are loved.” It felt very good. Some would say I had a audible hallucination. Perhaps I did but it felt warm and good and certainly not like I was under demonic attack. It has never happened again but I remember that from then on I was unafraid of meditation.

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