The first thing that crossed my mind this morning was, "Why the hell are my legs so stiff?" I've been running or riding my bike in the mornings for the past several months, but never have my legs felt as riga mortis-stricken as they did today. Combine that with the fact that I hadn't eaten in seventeen hours and was curled up next to my dog on the cold, dusty floor and you have the makings of a fine Friday morning. But honestly, I feel good. I think it's innocent anticipation more than anything else.
Last night after writing, I meditated and did my bows. Meditation is something that I've read about in countless news articles, pamphlets and self-help books, but had never really given it a shot. Why would I? Positive-thought gurus and coaches tend to push the practice as a means of expelling negatives thoughts from the mind. (I've never bought into that though. They're simply selling books and making people blindly willing to accept mediocrity.) All I hope is that businessmen like Joel Osteen --the man who successfully divorced himself and his Houston-based church from Christianity-- don't try to steal something like Buddhist meditation.
There's so much literature about how to meditate and the more I read, the more confusing it got. The whole process could have become quite stressful, but I sorted through the fluff and hit the major points. I think. All I need to do is focus on my body; mind; content and feelings. Being the casual yoga practitioner that I am, I already had the body and mind business down. In fact, once I got started it wasn't even hard to sort out my feelings or the ominous threat of boredom and the hankering in my mind to stand up and eat. No, the hard part was content.
My wife was working and my dog was weirded-out enough by my chanting that he decided to be the spectator on this one. That's pretty rare. I plopped down on an oversized couch pillow, crossed my chicken legs and locked my fingers. For a moment I sat there --in the dark-- and thought to myself, "Man, I must look silly", but soon my eyes had closed and I had began my first meditation attempt. And yes, it was an attempt.
It was hard. It's hard to filter your mind at the end of the day. But you don't have to take my word for it. Try it for yourself.
Cross your legs.
Lock your fingers.
And now, let it go. Don't think about your breathing or your positioning. Just let it go.
You see? Wasn't that easy? Of course it wasn't! That advice is garbage. No one can just let it go and it's even harder to sit in the same cross-legged position for an extended period of time. Still, I had to try, so I closed my eyes again. The first five-minutes or so were full of images from my work day: screaming kids; idiotic co-workers and Power Point slides. But more than anything, it was my overriding concern that I wasn't meditating correctly that kept distracting me.
However, after several more minutes of fighting-off those "earthly thoughts", your mind does seem to drift a bit. The content changes from reality to the subconscious and somehow you enter a dream-like state where you're alert and awake, but your mind has detached itself from your surroundings.
There is not a "right amount of time" for meditation. The extreme person inside wanted to do it for thirty minutes or even longer, but after a solid fifteen minutes, I snapped out of it and couldn't return to the trance. I was a little bummed out, but I will say that sitting there, in the darkened silence of the evening with my eyes closed, the rest of world really did seem to slip away. It was a good experience and I'm looking forward to trying it again.
After my mini-meditation, it was time for the bowing. Following Korean Buddhist tradition, I have to bow 108 times in a row each and every day. I'm doing this to repent and rid myself of earthly desires (but between you and me, I couldn't stop thinking that after all this bowing, I'd probably look pretty sweet in a Speedo by the end of the month).
There's a particular way to bow, too.
1. Do "HabJang" in front of the statue and make a big bow.
2. Join your hands flat together and bend your knees.
3. Put your left hand on the ground and then place your right hand on the ground
4. Flip your hands upside down, raise your head, and then stand up on your feet.
5. Join your hands flat together and in front of your chest.
I spiced mine up a little by adding chants to the bowing. Thirty-five minutes and 108 bows later, I wouldn't say that I was totally free of all earthly desires, but I was pretty damn tired and wanted to lay in my earthly bed. I didn't though. And, of course, today I'm having a hard time walking up and down the stairs, but I'll stay devoted.
I guess the trickiest part is time management. Today, for instance, I was up by 5:00am for prayer, followed by work from 6:30am until 11:40am. I met my wife for a delicious lunch of cold noodles, cabbage, eggs, onions and red peppers which --after listing it-- sounds pretty repulsive, but it's mixed well. Or I've been in Korea for too long.
I finished lunch BEFORE noon and then headed to the elementary school. Perhaps choosing Buddhism first was a wise choice because these little guys really test my patience. At work, I often have to remind myself of the fourth precept -abstaining from wrong speech: telling lies, deceiving others, manipulating others, using hurtful words.
As a foreign English teacher, dealing with difficult Korean children can be quite trying. Since corporal punishment still remains acceptable in Korean schools, most students have been raised fearing physical discipline. It's the same at home as well. Many mothers opt for the switch. This method of punishment, however, is not extended to foreign English teachers, so we are essentially left to our own devices. The problem is that we don't have many devices and, sadly, the only method that I've found effective for controlling fearless children is public shaming. I'm not trying to be mean or hurtful, but Korean children have been conditioned to only fear physical retribution (because of the switch) and women (because Dad is largely absent).
This does not bode well for the foreign male and it does get hard for me, but this month I'm not going to yell, isolate or embarrass any of my students, friends, employees, but especially not my wife or dog. I'll find the patience and hopefully through my meditations and prayers, I can find more peace and understanding of my place in the world.
It’s now nearly 11:00pm and I’m nearing the end of my day. After work, I came directly home; stretched, meditated and did my bowing. I decided to bow with my eyes open today. I liked it much more. I know this is only my second day with the bowing, but honestly, it’s my favorite part. Even though my legs are sore and I worked nearly fifteen hours today, after only a few bows, my mind started to clear. The practice slows down my thought process dramatically and I almost look forward to the dozens of bows before me.
So far, Buddha has revealed himself to me in the form and that is patience. But I don't want to simplify it. I think it’s more like this: Patience is learned and anyone can become a more patient person. What I’m picking up from my mood is that I’m excited about having to be patient. The anticipation of –well—waiting is surprisingly rewarding for me.
Interesting.Until tomorrow, friends.