By Adam Moskowitz
Have you ever sat at a red light for a long time and taken it personally? Believed that the ill-willed and sorcerous traffic light engineers seek to oppose your preferences pretty much whenever possible? Marveled at their success? Believed that god might be in on it? I have. I don’t recommend it.
I think it’s helpful to recall that our practice may have less to do with feeling rosy, peachy and creamy, and more to do with feeling what it’s actually like to be a human, and maybe even reconciling ourselves, just a tad, at the stop light, with the human condition, which frequently offers a present moment that for whatever reason we think is not the right one. C’mon, reality, can you please replace this moment with something different and better? Perhaps one that includes the stunning beauty of the natural world, or maybe just a cookie that I can magically un-eat as soon as I eat it?
When my preferences are loud and clear, and my view of reality is not, there’s a good chance I’m distracted from a deeper awareness of some sensory experience in the body, which has nothing to do with gridlock. Yet it is much more compelling. During moments of distraction from the body, the mind can feel like a group of attorneys trying really hard to convince me that a problem exists. Whiny, blaming, old, overpaid guys who are becoming increasingly threatened by the idea that life might not be as personal as they’d like to believe. If there is a big ol’ vast pool of peace and love right here, they want nothing to do with it. On the other hand when peace does arise—either during formal meditation practice or not— they want everything to do with it. They want to tell me that I am very good at meditation. And they want to believe that now that peace is here, it is going to stay. Talk about not being present!
So, it’s pretty easy to remember to be the beginner that I am when it comes to this inquiry of surveying the inner world in this way. How easily the layers of reactivity from within rouse with great energy. How easily I tend to forget it’s not always about getting somewhere, but experiencing what’s here, whether traveling in a car, or sitting on a cushion. How easily I forget that beneath the present thought entanglement, and its bedrock of tension is the here and the now, which is rather lovely, and it may be unveiled with practice. Proverb: Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.
On relaxation, a teacher once shared, “There is a difference between being casual and being relaxed.” Maybe it’s our casualness that can get us into trouble. Our casualness, allowing us to impulsively reach for the phone, say the thing the way that we said it, or get carried away in a slow moving car. We’re not aiming for anything casual (are we aiming at all?), but intending to strengthen an open-hearted concentration in the face of all that arises. This attitude of repeatedly seeing and allowing thus allows us to know our essence—relaxation. The kind of relaxation that helps us to respond with heart when an actual and devastating challenge emerges. The kind of relaxation that bids us to take notice of the cracks on the sidewalk, hear each intense moment of dozens of birds suddenly taking flight, or delight in the pure innocence of a child picking up a stranger’s sunglasses, having no idea that anyone owns anything. Here and there a moment comes along and we live that moment in honor of the simple truth that it has arisen. With our practice of engaging our attention, and tending to our hearts, we sense into life itself, and let it go.
Adam was a teacher for Headstand, an organization that brings mindfulness and yoga to at-risk youth in K-12 schools in the bay area. Their mission is to combat toxic stress through mindfulness, yoga and character education. Adam is currently on an extended meditation retreat in Asia.