The Art of Returning

Dear Noble Friends,

I’ve been away a long time.  Now it feels good and right to come home.  Late yesterday afternoon, a group of us gathered to practice mindfulness meditation and do a bit of yoga and talk in a beautiful yoga studio in Tarrytown (Yogashivaya.com).  The yoga studio was filled with the golden natural light of late summer.

We spoke about the gifts of practice–and especially about the power of return.  “Sati,” the Pali word for mindfulness literally means to remember or recollect.  On the most practical level, it means to come down out of our thoughts and memories and dreams to focus again on the immediate, present-time experience of breathing in and out, of being in a living body here and now.  All of us who meditate know the quietly momentous quality of the shift from concept to experience–the feeling of awakening from a dream, of returning to our senses.

People who don’t meditate sometimes have the false impression that it is a way of spacing out or floating away from the real world.  But those of us who practice know it can be like sitting on a hot stove at times.  You can feel like the Buddha facing the armies of Mara.  Waves of desire and anxiety and complex knots of long-suppressed feeling can come, compelling us to get up and do something, go to the refrigerator or the computer, do anything but just sit there and fry.  But if we stay on that seat, if we keep practicing the art of return and remembering–literally pulling together or collecting all the disparate parts of ourselves, body, heart, and mind–there comes a moment when  new power of awareness is released.  There is a feeling of opening and expansion, as if a door or window has opened and fresh air and light come in.  There is the feeling of being met by life.  Suddenly we remember that we are a part of a greater whole–a mysterious but very real and vibrant whole that has been waiting for us all along.

Sitting can feel like a last resort.  We return to ourselves often when all else has failed, when all our thinking and other efforts to escape suffering can’t bring us peace.  Yesterday, a number of us spoke about times when we have been hurt and confused by our children or other loved ones, times when we are shocked and sad and unsure what to do beyond being triggered (and then bearing the ripples that come from being triggered).  In those times, and in so many other difficult moments in life, the art of returning can remind us that there is always a deeper truth.  We remember there is a truth that cannot be thought, that must be experienced.

Heartbreak and disappointment can open the door to deeper insights, deeper seeing, truer passion.  Returning to our senses because thinking is leading us nowhere, we remember that each moment, each breath can be a refuge and a resource.  Surrendering to what is instead of what we wish can invite a power greater than our own ego.  Returning to the moment, we can rediscover the light of awareness that is always inside us.  Surrendering to what is, giving up all resistance to reality, giving up every argument, every last hope, we can experience the way the light inside us seeks the light outside us.  We can experience the perfect momentary peace of giving ourselves up like an offering and being received.

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