One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

16 August 2012

Learning to Sit

Originally published August 6, 2006

The practice of "sitting" to meditate has always confounded me. I have never been good at sitting still...literally or figuratively. None of the suggested techniques for practicing meditation have ever seemed to ring true.

It could be said that they never worked for me because I didn't try hard enough...but I don't think that is really the case. In my opinion (for what it's worth), anything we do, be it a religious/spiritual practice, an art form, a political decision, an athletic activity, or whatever...requires looking within for the path/style/technique/idea that resonates.

So it was with "sitting" for me...

This spring I spent a great deal of time watching bird nests. It began with bluebirds and flickers when I found a couple of beautiful nests with uncharacteristically large entrance holes. I was able to watch the parents hunt and feed. When the parents were away, the young would sit in the opening (as many as four at a time). I found a chipping sparrow nest, as well...and weathered hour upon hour of heat and biting flies hoping to see some of these young birds fledge.

While standing, for hours at a time, behind my tripod watching these nests...I also saw chipmunks, chislers and an assortment of other bird species working the meadow around me. Raptors soared overhead and mule deer wandered by me. One afternoon a coyote stepped out of the brush a few yards away and howled...then its mate materialized from the sage below me and the two greeted one another before trotting off together.

From this nest site, I watched a grizzly spend hours flipping rocks on the hillside above me...and on another day a black bear ambled right through "my" meadow.

One morning I drove in at dawn when the park was quiet. I'd forgotten my tripod, so I carried the big lens up and sat in the grass to watch the most recent bluebird nest I'd found. Without a tripod I couldn't get a good angle to shoot from., and, though I could sort of balance the lens on my knee, I wasn't really shooting...
just watching...

A Robin flew toward me, eyelevel, skimming the tops of the grasses. Ten feet from a collision with my face it suddenly saw me and adjusted its course. Kinglets, chickadees and warblers bopped through the branches around my head and young Ravens screamed to be fed from their canyon nest behind me. Nuthatches called from the trees, chipmunks scampered down logs, insects buzzed by and a spring spotted fawn bounded across the meadow.

In the air above me, an osprey called and played with a stick clutched in its talons and on the ground a breeze ruffled the grasses. A junco chanced to land on the top of the stump that housed the bluebird nest and the female bluebird gave it a sound thrashing. Siskins called from the pines...and over the hill somewhere a woodpecker that I never could identify rapped away at a tree. Behind me carload after carload of tourists stopped, unloaded, wandered around the pullout, looked off into the canyon, laughed, chatted and then left. As happened at the other nest sites, the world moved and breathed around me as I sat quietly...and my "other" thoughts came and went.

It was there, sitting in the grass with my camera in my lap that "sitting" began to resonate for me. It is not about shutting your mind to the thoughts and experiences...it is about letting them pour through you and move around you without "attachment". It is letting the inevitable ideas, images and emotions move through your mind like birds, wildlife and breezes through a meadow.

Maybe "sitting" is not about shutting out the world to find a greater understanding...it is about feeling the moment fully and moving effortlessly to the next one.

Maybe it is not about separating yourself from the world but becoming one with it...learning to let everything, the passing thoughts, breezes, emotions, birds, dreams, bears, loves and losses begin to move in and out of you as naturally as the air you breathe.

Maybe "sitting" is about releasing your focus to heighten your awareness. Ironically, it seems the more you let go of what you see and feel, the more aware you become of what is happening in and around you. When you let go of your "attachment" to what you WANT from the world...the world begins to give itself to you.

There is a reason they call it a practice...it doesn't come easily.

Sadly, it IS easy to let the chatter of thoughts muddy your mind, it IS easy to take things and people for granted, it IS easy to get tangled up in the details and lose your perspective, and it IS easy to get so focused on the destination that you forget to enjoy the journey.

In a way, I have known how to meditate all of my life...I have found it on long drives (what I call my "peace of the road")...in carving tele turns and casting a fly...in wandering the street markets and Wats of Southeast Asia...on hiking trails and while waiting for wild things...in the feel of a loaded brush on linen and the view between horse ears...and so much more.

Deep down we all know how to "sit", we just need to stop thinking long enough to remember...