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A few years ago I was teaching in another city, and the person who was to be my host telephoned me in advance to see if I had any special food requirements. I appreciated his concern and explained my eating preferences. I also mentioned that I don't normally eat much for breakfast but that I do like coffee in the morning. He replied, in a very surprised voice, "You drink coffee? " I realized I had just made a heretical confession. I needed to do some fast mind scrambling to find a graceful way to explain to my host (without losing my spiritual stature) that I do, indeed, drink coffee.
There are some peculiar notions about what constitutes "being spiritual." I have a cartoon on the wall of my office that shows two people having dinner in a restaurant. One of them is saying to the other, "It's such a relief to meet someone who isn't on a spiritual quest." I agree. There is an enormous possibility of getting side-tracked into self-conscious holiness, of putting energy into acting the part of a "Spiritual person."
A dear friend of mine, as he has become more and more established as a meditation teacher, has become less and less hesitant about telling people he loves football games. He even admits he gets very excited about the games, cheering at his television set as if he were sitting in the stadium. No dispassionate attitude of "May the best I team win" for him! I know he has a wonderful level of understanding, and he behaves like a regular person in a regular world. Being a meditator and developing equanimity do not mean becoming weird.
Other people choose other tools. In this book, the principal tool, mindfulness, is invisible. Mindfulness, the aware, balanced acceptance of present experience, is at the heart of what the Buddha taught. This book is meant to be a basic Buddhist primer, but no one should be daunted. It's easier than you think.
Here's the scene that inspired this book:
I was at a gathering of American Buddhist meditation teachers. At least once a year mindfulness meditation teachers in this country, all friends of mine, meet and spend some days together. We plan our schedules, and we talk about what we're teaching. We also spend a certain amount of time sharing our personal stories. "What's happened to you this year?" "How are things with you?" We take special time to go around the room and share what's going on in our lives.
As I listened to all of us speaking in turn, I was struck by one particular thing. As people spoke, they said things like, "I'm pretty content" or "I'm doing all right" or "I'm pretty happy." And yet, we all told regular stories. People had regular lives with regular Sturm und Drang. People had relationship problems, problems with aging parents; someone's child had a very serious illness; someone else was dealing with a difficult kind of loss. And yet everyone said some variation of "I'm pretty much all right" or "I'm pretty content.' And it didn't mean that they weren't struggling with what was happening to them. It did not mean that they had transcended their stories and that they were fine because they felt no pain from them. They were struggling and often in quite a lot of pain and concern, but still, they were all right. I thought to myself as I looked around, "What we're all doing is we're all managing gracefully."
Managing gracefully is not second-rate. I'm pleased to think of myself as managing gracefully. It's a whole lot better than ten years ago or twenty years ago when I was managing tensely or fearfully. Everybody manages one way or another; everyone who is alive and reading this book has managed. Managing gracefully or even semigracefully is terrific.
When I started to practice meditation in the early seventies it was hip. Everybody was meditating; every weekend you could take a workshop in another form of meditation. The advertisements for the workshops usually suggested that at the end of the weekend you'd be totally enlightened.
I remember once going to a party that looked like a regular party — people talking, visiting, and laughing — and in the middle sat a woman with a strange look on her face, eyes closed, face serene, totally tuned out from the whole scene. Somebody leaned over to me and said, "Look at her, she's enlightened," and I thought to myself "If that's what enlightenment is, I don't want it."
What I did want, at least for a while, were exotic powers. I heard extraordinary stories of people who could bilocate or levitate. Sometimes, as I sat on my cushion and experienced an unusual lightness in my body, I imagined I was about to levitate. I hoped I would. I thought it would be a far-out thing, rising up off my cushion and floating in the air.
I think I was also influenced by a story my grandfather told about my grandmother — a woman who died when I was nine years old. I knew her as a sickly old woman, but my grandfather remembered her as the very beautiful woman he had married when she was eighteen years old. He told me she was so beautiful that "she glowed in the dark." I asked him if he really meant that, and he said, "Yes, she really did.' He said, "At my nephew Murray Fox's wedding, the hall was lit with gaslight because it was before electricity, so it was quite dark, and everyone said, 'Look at Fischel's wife, she shines in the dark!'" I held that as a wonderful, luminous memory and as an ideal. What I wanted to achieve from my meditation practice was to shine in the dark. I think a lot of us in the early days wanted magic.It's Easier Than You Think copyright © by Sylvia Boorstein. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All Rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.