MEDITATION IS MORE THAN YOU THINK
Meditation Is More Than You Think
DAVID E. DRAKE*
Anthropologists and sociologists must have been busy in these past 25 years, seeing how human culture and our society have changed so dramatically. We live in a world now that bears little resemblance to the world where those of us over 40 grew up. This new world is one in which we are increasingly bombarded with information — news from TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, the Internet and all sorts of ways that people can contact us, including fax, phone, text, email, Twitter and Facebook.
How do we manage all this information? How do we get respite from all the noise and demands? How do we get our minds to take a break, to turn off? Twenty-four years ago, I made a naive and daring move. I signed up for a one-week meditation retreat in a rigorous Zen tradition in the mountains of North Carolina. At that time, my wife and I had a 1-year old child; we had just moved from Kansas to South Carolina, where I began my first position as a new psychiatrist; we bought our first home, and she had just taken on a new twist on her-then public health career in AIDS volunteer training.
I needed some respite and a little adventure.
I came across an ad for a week-long sesshin, or meditation retreat, at a quaint place called the Southern Dharma Retreat Center near Asheville. I thought to myself, “Wow, I could use some relaxing time like that!” At that time, having never “sat,” or meditated, in my life, I had no idea that I would be subjecting myself to rising at 4:30 a.m. and sitting cross-legged on a round cushion for some nine 40-minute periods every day — all in silence — and for an entire week. So there I was. Stuck, as it were, just me and my head in silence for a week.
We each sat on a little round cushion called a “zafu” on top of a larger rectangular cushion known as a “zebuton.” My legs and knees were quickly getting sore and my back hurt. The sitting mediation was interrupted every 40 minutes with 20 minutes of slow, deliberate walking meditation on an outside porch that wrapped around the sitting hall. Walking in single file, one after the other, some 20 of us with our gaze to the floor and our hands clasped loosely together at the waist.
When I came back from this retreat, I was aware that I was very focused — paying attention to each moment more intensely — as I ate, as I drove, as I did anything. My wife made note of how I so intentionally and slowly drank a cup of tea when I first arrived home. Then with the fading of sitting practice, I went back to my usual ways until I repeated a similar retreat two years later.
Once again, the practice of paying attention — of slowing down — was lost in the return to my regular rhythm of life. Then a couple of years after my move to Des Moines, where I have lived since 1995, I came across Charlie Day, a man known to many in the Des Moines area as a master meditation teacher. He is a retired psychologist who has given his life in his more senior years to teaching the value of living in the “now,” in the moment, of realizing the specialness of living our lives fully in the present. Charlie was presenting a talk on the psychological teachings of the Buddha at a retreat at the First Unitarian Church in Des Moines. I became a student of his work and later friends, and I have meditated almost daily ever since.
Now I teach the basics of meditation to folks in my practice — as a way to learn about and watch the mind, the “monkey mind,” as meditators call it, and to learn to step back and not be so attached to all that comes to us as thoughts. We are all troubled by our thoughts. I joke with friends that if any of us were to tell others what we were thinking through the day we would lose our friends, our jobs and might end up in jail. Thoughts are just thoughts. We can learn to observe them — to watch them come and go — without attachment and with less emotional reaction. It is as though the mind has a Velcro attachment to the stream of thoughts that flow through our experience.
*David E. Drake, D.O., is a Des Moines Family Psychiatrist in private practice and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article appeared as an Iowa View quest editorial in the Des Moines Register, March 16, 2013. It can be accessed online at: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?aid=/201303160405/opinion01/303160016