Sunday, August 09, 2009

I'm Too Stressed To Meditate!

[Cross-post from the Deming Zen Group website. That's our dharma room on the right. Click on it for a larger view.]

"Will this help me with my stress?"

Meditation can help you develop ways to manage stress, but are you willing to examine where "stress" and "ease" come from in the first place? The latter is the purpose of Zen meditation. What is stress? What are the feelings and sensations you refer to as "stress?" What are the thoughts that arise when you are feeling stressed?

Can you put your stress in a box and take it to the dumpster? Why not? Where is it?

While we were out of town, a local woman left a series of voice-mail messages, each more exasperated than the last, enquiring about the meditation group. We made some unsuccessful attempts to reach her and it was my wife who spoke to her first. The caller said, "I'm interested in Zen but I know I can't do it!" My wife attempted to talk to her about the group but was continually interrupted with more of this, "I can't do it, I'm too impatient, I can't sit still." Finally, my wife said, "You're probably right," and ended the conversation.

That was good teaching. The caller's mind was already made up -- can't do this, can't do that, I'm hopeless. All the same, I called the woman back myself to learn more about her.

She wanted something to help her deal with stress. I talked about Zen meditation and the practice of being still for a while, aware of our thinking yet leaving it alone, how transformative this practice of simple awareness becomes. She made up her mind to come today and to bring a friend, to try it out. I had to promise more than once she could sit in a chair. It was done.

Anyone can do the physical practice. There is almost nothing to remember. You can stand up if your legs hurt. You can sit in a chair. Physically sitting with us is not a problem. The bigger challenge is a willingness to do it: to sit there attentively for a little while, without getting up and doing things, acting on the impulses that come and go.

It isn't magic. Zen can't make real problems disappear. But doing it for a while might change how you react to those things. If you are willing to do it. That means showing up, taking a seat, and trying it.

One day after my conversation with that woman, she called back to cancel.

"I can't do it," she said.


Nathan said...

Can't tell you how many times I've heard this. Some people seem to be in awe that I can sit still for a half an hour, or an hour, or however long. They can't imagine it, which maybe is part of the issue.

If we get past the "I can't do it," I talk about how some days, 5 minutes of meditation in the restroom, or 10 minutes on the bus ride to work is all I do. That seems more manageable, a place to start.

Then again, I'm sure both of you worked to demystify zen in similar ways, but some minds are made up beforehand, and no amount of talking will change that.

Algernon said...

Truer words are rarely heard, Nathan.