In Indianapolis, I recently started practicing Zen meditation with a sangha in the lineage of Mahayana Buddhism from the Kwan Um school of Zen, started by Zen Master Seung Sahn. I started my studies with sitting with a community of practitioners at the Indianapolis Zen Center. Practices consist of sitting and walking meditation, listening to Zen dharma readings and participating in light-hearted dharma discussions in the waiting room.
What has been a game changer in meditation practice has been meditating with my eyes open. I decided to try and have been struck by its functions and usefulness. I’m fully alert rather than traversing in various sleeping, subtle stages of meditation that I usually find inner peace with. I’m awake in the mindfulness I gain with my eyes closed, and what advances my meditations, is that I develop a mindfulness in my waking life instantly rather than closing my eyes, doing all this work in the dark, and later integrating it with the world.
What’s come up since my recent move in this new city is the living grief that I’m immersed in when I close my eyes. I feel it as a ferocious, all-consuming ocean in my mediations. And from it, there is a heaviness in my mind. And I look through that heaviness like fog or dirt on a window. But it does clear, which I’ve achieved in split seconds of temporary clarity. And then I feel exact vividness in the present moment, and I have no mind at all. I’m just awake in the room I’m sitting in.
During a Zen retreat I had yesterday, I was able to have an Interview with a teacher. I brought up my grief in mediation and my experience when it clears.
“Where does it go?” The teacher asked.
“It disappears,” I said.
“Then you have a choice,” he said, smiling.
I described the grief and the heaviness, the way it can pull at me and makes me sleepy, and how the feelings of sadness and this heaviness can obscure my clarity, seeking Zen advisement on meditating with these difficult sensations revolving almost like a circle. I described that I have a strong attachment to it, that I might have been making it even bigger by focusing on it in my mediations throughout the years, unknowingly concentrating my mind in it and feeding it, but now see how it lingers in me with eyes open, and I can only imagine how it could also influence my waking life unconsciously. So, I was troubled because all of this is like taking on my lifelong karma as an adoptee, which the teacher knows a little about thankfully.
“Learn from it,” he said, “And when I experienced it, I would thank it. I thanked it for the lesson.” He described his own life experiences in grief, mentioned a book titled, How to Be Friends With Your Demons, and said it did go away for him.
I felt a sudden burst of hope in this conversation.
“So I can try appreciating its presence and continue with practicing,” I confirm to him.
“You have to feel it,” the teacher said to me towards the end of my Zen interview. “You have to own it.” I stared at him, now understanding that there is a way to practice Zen even with grief. And that there is a way to own it and to not let it have control over my life.
In my new apartment in Indianapolis, I’m seeing the grief in my life as it is today and the heaviness that it creates, with eyes open, and I’m journaling about what it teaches me. I’m asking critical questions in myself from what I observe even though it’s hard. Instead of focusing entirely on my grief, I’m giving space to thank it and appreciate its presence in my life and waking world, and all that it teaches me. From my experience with grief, it’s a wounded, intoxicating companion to me especially with the death of my Filipino American brother last year. But I also realized that I am not abandoning my grief by appreciating it and connecting it back to the love inside me.
Read Desiree’s previous blog: Moving on in a new city
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