Why sit?

An email to Wayne Coger and his response. From the Summer 2004 Newsletter.

Wayne, how are you doing? I’ve got a question: I like to take a walk in the forest or nature, especially on sunny days. How do I have to meditate then, and what’s the difference between sitting meditation and meditation while slowly walking or standing looking at beautiful natural scenes? Why can’t I sit still and why is it so much more boring than walking in nature? Why do people prefer sitting when walking meditation is much more interesting and fun and healthy? What is there to see by sitting? I always only see the same boring things. What else is there further to see? I don’t see anything new or have a breakthrough, I only get into those thoughts of frustration about this, and outside my room there’s nothing to see, feel or hear other than the same old boring stuff: passing cars sometimes, birds, silence, pain in the legs, breathing, talking in the next room.

What’s the meaning of seeing, feeling and hearing those things in-and outside me? Every sitting time I really ask myself what and why I am doing this. Am I not wasting my time? I hope you can answer this, Wayne, and please don’t tell me if I really see, feel and hear what boring really is. Sorry, I’m not fooling, but I really want to understand this matter deeply. Thanks already for your help.

Take care, Wayne,

Hoa Tran

Dear Hoa,

It’s good to hear from you and to hear your questions. You say you “really want to understand this matter deeply.” That’s important, I feel — not to be satisfied with superficial or dogmatic answers, but to probe thoroughly, to the very bottom of our concerns. Not knowing what to expect, might the body/mind — attentive, open, completely interested and alive — begin to quiet itself? In this quiet, questions may unravel themselves naturally without additional tension or force.

You ask about the difference between “walking in the forest or nature” and sitting meditation and you also say “walking meditation is so much more interesting and fun and healthy.” My first reaction is: “Why make a problem out of this?” If you love to walk, why not walk? Why even call it meditation? We have so many ideas about meditation, about what it is, what it should be, what it should lead to. I love to walk! The senses open, the body moving freely — it is incomparable.

So what makes the sitting so difficult? Is it “only seeing the same boring things?” Perhaps it would be good to first look a bit at this matter of seeing, to look at how we are using the word. Is seeing repetitive, is there sameness and dullness in it — or is it possible to see “the same boring stuff, passing cars, birds, silence, pain in the legs” freshly? On the face of it, that seems like a contradiction and almost impossible! We know what cars and birds sound like, what silence is and we want to get onto something more exciting.

Could we say that seeing is not this known stuff, that it is something not-known and not-knowing? This seeing is openness itself, totally with whatever comes up. Probing quietly, our whole being alert, we might begin to see “the same stuff” in a new way, without the usual judgments and comparisons. If there is judging, comparing, reacting — whatever — can this too be seen simply, without further commentary or complication?

It is possible to openly observe the nature of thought, isn’t it? Thought compares — what is boring, what’s interesting, what was, what will be. At the center of thought there is always this sense of a separate me, feeling apart from an alien and sometimes hostile world. This thought me is incredibly hard to satisfy — comparing, wanting, restlessly seeking diversion. Does this make sense? Thinking about, for instance, pain in the legs, calling it the same stuff, hoping that it will go away, wondering why I have to endure it — all of this is a kind of distancing, a holding back. As long as there is this holding back — thinking about, imagining how things could be — there is inevitably going to be dissatisfaction and boredom. Thought, me-thinking, is boring! It is a repetitive, narrow and limited business.

So how do we begin to go into this matter more deeply, to understand this whole movement of me and me-thinking? This sort of inquiry requires incredible patience — it is not a looking that glosses over or brushes aside anything. Asking what is the pain in the legs, the boredom, the dissatisfaction and not trying to formulate an answer. There is energy in this kind of looking and questioning. If we are wholly involved, wholly with the attention, then meaning does not have to be searched for — it manifests itself in this wholeness of being-with.

Hoa, I am not advocating or justifying sitting meditation. We will do what we need to do. However, I do not see sitting as some sort of repetitive practice, as a means to achieve some sort of imagined future state. Sitting is not, to me, a project or a complicated thing. It is a completely natural response to the need to look at something more completely, to look in an unhurried and unrestricted way. Sitting quietly — are there moments of complete and undefended openness? Seeing what is here, as if for the first time? Seeing the thought, “this is the same old stuff” as a thought, nothing more. Not always clinging to the thoughts, perhaps beginning to question the certainty of this thought-created world. Seeing freshly what is here, without the necessity of labeling, judging, comparing — seeing with a new innocence.

It is a dark morning here in Springwater — rain, thunder, flashes of lightening and strong wind. Everything green, trees and grass, fields and forest — green and wet and wind tossed. No chance of a walk this morning and no space for boredom. Everything is here, nothing inside or outside this wholeness of attention. Boom! A roar of thunder.

Hoa, I hope you are well and that this in some ways addresses your questions. If anything is unclear or if you would like to go into something further, please let me know.

With much warmth and affection,

Wayne