Meditation on Doing Nothing

I’d heard about a Buddhist meditation group about 1.5 years ago. Specifically, it’s a Vipassana meditation group, which means it’s about insight meditation. I’d put it off for a while, but several weeks ago I decided I’d like to try it. It took a few weeks for me to bother to call to find out more, then it took a few more to bother to actually go. Tonight was the night.

I was under the impression that insight meditation would be about something other than “just” concentration and centering, since I thought that’s what Samatha meditation was about. So I was a little surprised at how tonight went, because it was essentially about concentration, focus, mindfulness. But it was valuable, and I’m sure there’s plenty of time to learn more about these different types of meditation, how they relate, how they differ in practice. I suspect I’ll end up saying more here at some point.

As always happens when I meditate — in the first or last minutes of a yoga class, or times I try to do it on my own — I’m amazed at how much time I spend, well, not meditating. Focusing on the breath or other bodily sensations or just the sounds around is unbelievably difficult for me. I’m sure I spend far more time failing to focus. I’m not hard on myself about it, we’re not supposed to be, but it’s amazing nonetheless.

Amazing how hard it is to do, essentially, nothing.

Of course, focusing isn’t nothing. It’s very much something, and it’s very impactful compared to lots of other things on which we tend to spend mental energy. But compared to those other things, it sure seems like nothing. But doing it really is something, something challenging.

I’m more and more clear how much benefit there is to meditation and other kinds of inner work that can help one to stay centered, in Self, what have you. At the same time, I worry about being too calm. Does accepting what is really mean accepting it, being okay with it, losing motivation to change it? Does being calm mean not taking action? I don’t believe that, but sometimes it seems that that’s what centering entails.

The person leading the sitting said something very wise about this. It’s something that I actually know, but like so many things I know, only part of me knows it, and other parts of me aren’t convinced yet and end up with those worries, those concerns. I don’t necessarily expect those other parts to have learned this thing better just because someone pointed it out tonight, because these sorts of things, in my experience, are best learned through experience. Still, what he said landed on me powerfully tonight.

We bow down to what is. We fully accept it. But then, the bow ends, and we get back up, and then it’s time to take appropriate action.

Acceding to what is isn’t merely accepting it. Acceding to what is means drawing in what is, bringing it closer to you, accepting it in the sense that, well, it simply is, and there’s no point denying it. But that doesn’t mean that when you’re upset you just accept your feelings and then do nothing. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong to want something in the word to change. Maybe sometimes you do nothing. Surely, while you haven’t yet fully gotten present to what is, you’d be wise to not yet do anything.

But once you’ve gotten present to it, fully, then it’s time for appropriate action. And appropriate action can be anything but passive acceptance, anything but submission.

And the key word is, I think, appropriate. Until we get fully present to what is, our feelings and thoughts and whatever else are all in the way of us perceiving things as they are. How, then, could we possibly respond appropriately? Likely, something will be off. But get present, perceive clearly, and then how can we fail to respond appropriately?

It seems to take a bit of something to do nothing, and it seems to take a bit of doing nothing to end up doing something.

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