“I’ve tried meditation once, but I just can’t do it! My mind is way too busy,” said the first woman.
“Yes,” agreed the second woman. “It’s impossible for me too.”
I looked at them across the table. “Well, they don’t call it meditation practice for nothing,” I said. These were two very smart, goal oriented women and maybe that was their problem. They didn’t realize there is really no destination—it’s all about the journey.
“Then there’s the pain,” the first woman said. “I can’t bear just sitting there.”
Ah, yes—the pain. I learned about the pain when my husband Wes and I went on a three-day silent meditation retreat. It was at a Buddhist retreat center. The schedule was this: up at 6:15 a.m., 45 minutes of sitting meditation, 30 minutes of walking meditation, 45 sitting, 30 walking, meal. It went on like this until 9 o’clock at night.
Wes sat in a chair (as did other people), but I chose to sit cross-legged on a meditation pillow and then switch off and sit on my meditation bench. I was a real meditator! Besides, I sat heel-in-front-of-heel all the time in yoga, no big deal. However I have never sat like that for forty-five minutes. After fifteen minutes my ankles and knees were screaming.
Thank God I brought the meditation bench! But that traitorous piece of spiritual furniture made me feel as if someone had driven a granite boulder into my splintering sit-bones. By the end of the second night, I was wondering about the distance to the closest ER. Would my health insurance cover it? So for the last sitting meditation of the night, I decided on a chair.
They were those ubiquitous green plastic lawn chairs that cost about twelve cents to manufacture. I was a little late getting in and everyone was in place so I quickly grabbed one and sat down in the back.
Instant nirvana. It was like sitting in the lap of a lover; like sitting in a hot fragrant bath; like sitting on a heavenly throne. Why had I been torturing myself for two days? Why this was the most comfortable chair in which I had ever sat! I felt embraced by the chair, loved by the chair. I felt—if you will—chairished.
We were supposed to be doing vipassana meditation which is being in the present moment and simply watching your thoughts arise. Here were my thoughts:
I love this chair.
I want one of these chairs.
Could I could put it in the living room?
I would meditate every day if I had one of these chairs.
I wonder if they have them at Fred Meyer?
You can see this was not keeping me in the present moment. So I decided to do metta meditation which is “loving kindness.” You think of someone and then send them unconditional love.
May you be peaceful and happy.
May you be safe and protected.
May you be strong and healthy.
May you live with ease and joy.
So I started with that, praying for myself first, which is what you are supposed to do. I couldn’t help thinking how peaceful and happy I’d be if I had one of these chairs.
Stop thinking about the chair! And then I remembered, “What you resist, persists!” So I did metta for the chair.
May you be peaceful and happy. You would be in my house.
May you be safe and protected. I would never leave you out in the rain.
May you be healthy and strong. May you never break a leg or your back or your seat!
May you live with ease and joy. I would give you your own little corner.
I couldn’t stop. At the end of the sit I realized that it was my physical pain that kept me in the present moment. For the rest of the retreat I was either on my pillow or on my bench. Anguished, but focused.
Enlightenment eluded me that weekend. And I’ve never found those chairs. But it’s caused me to think that perhaps the pain in our lives is what helps us focus, reminds us we’re alive, makes us pay attention. I’m not a fan of pain just for pain’s sake. But if we have pain in our lives—physical, emotional, spiritual—let’s see if we can sit with it and find any value in it. And if we can’t, maybe it’s time for a chair.