The thing about meditation is that it’s effects never stop revealing themselves. Sit for 10 years and there are still going to be those “aha!” Moments just as poignant and life altering as the ones that happen in the first couple months. In fact they might be even more striking because after some years of sitting you no longer doubt the trust of that inner voice when it says “hey dummy! Pay attention to this, it’s important!”
In the few months I tried out psychotherapy my therapist once commented “you are the kind of person who, if they know the right thing to do,you will do it” I agree, but for me the real trick is getting to the point where I realize what the problem (and thus the solution) is in the first place. I can count the number of “revelations” I’ve had while actually doing zazen on one hand, most of those moments happen when you are sort of not paying attention. however, I know that without the meditation those sparks of revelation wouldn’t happen at all. (I know because I had 34 non-meditation years of no revelations and whole damn lot of bone-headedness)
Not long ago I was listening to a podcast (’Stuff Mom Never Told You’ it’s awesome) about passive aggression and the light bulb went off. I realized that all the shitty behavior they were describing, all the bad results they mentioned were going on in my own life! Ouch. Almost all the recent friction I had suddenly began experiencing with my wife could be traced back to my passive-aggressive behavior! It had crept into my personality like a cancer and it was definitely fucking with our harmony. I had felt off-center for some months and was frustrated that I couldnt figure out why. However, once I understood what was wrong I gave the ’reasons’ scant thought. (was it living with a toddler and all the changes that brings? My mother dying last year? My getting older? Etc) Who knows (and more to the point) who cares!?
The fact is that knowing “why” was secondary to knowing what the problem was, because once I knew, then I could act. In one of my favorite Buddha tales the Big B describes us as being like a man shot with an arrow , but instead of just pulling out the arrow and patching the wound we start asking things like “who shot this arrow? Where did it come from? was it metal or wood?” We tend to worry about a lot of secondary shit that doesnt matter when the real correct action is to fix the problem! So I didnt put too much thought into how or why I had started to act passive/aggressively, I just determined to stop. After that it hasn’t been hard to keep an eye on what comes out of my mouth and I was shocked at how my the first thing I said was often couched in a passive-aggressive dig.
Suffice to say that cutting out this crap has had immediate and great effects. We get along much better, my long suffering wife is no longer constantly being subtly attacked by my insecurity and need for control, and I feel better and more at peace. At multiple points in my life I have become aware of problematic behaviour on my part and decided to correct it. Before doing zazen I believed, like many of us today, that my shitty behaviours were just “me”, that there was something called “Jason” which acted of its own volition that I was powerless to stop, it might have been my parents fault or society or my spouse who “caused” me to be an argumentative self-pity monster, but it certainly wasnt “me” and there was nothing “I” could do about it! Stupid world making me act badly!
It was bullshit. Had “bad” things happened to me? Of course, Im human and that is the price of being a human, but was I powerless to change the results of these things in myself? I discovered that this was not at all, the case and within weeks of begining meditation I began to realize that this thing I called “me” was infinitely malleable! Far from being impossible to change I realized that it was taking me a LOT of work to maintain this image I had of myself as this wounded victim of the world! As long as I had believed that other people were responsible for making me feel ok about everything I was passively (but petulantly) waiting around to be “fixed”. It was never going to happen, those who “wronged” me would never fix it, those I loved couldnt, and as long as I was a fucking asshole no one in their right mind would try. Ive met quite a few folks like this who were my (middle) age and its a sad, annoying person to encounter! So, once I began to see “me” as this constantly changing collection of habits and patterns I realized that I could change those patterns which caused suffering, once I realized which ones they were. It was liberating to take back that responsibility for my own being in a way that is impossible to describe.
Meditation has always worked like this for me, once you realize what it feels like to not be uncomfortable with yourself, any sort of imbalance becomes quickly apparent. The word Buddhists use to describe the cyclical world of suffering, avoidance, greed, and ignorance is the sanskrit word “Samsara”. Apparently the root of the word samsara once described a wheel where the central hub was not centered, as it rolled ove the ground your wagon would bump bump bump as the uneven wheel jarred everything, you would know that something was out of kilter. I lived much of my life with that feeling, like a perpetual pebble in your shoe I felt irritated by life and could never shake the feeling that something between me and the world was separate and uncomfortable. Samsara. I even got a skeletal hand holding a banner with the word tattooed on the back of my neck to never forget what a painful and deadly path Samsara is.
The biggest change for me since I began sitting was a growing comfort with the world. I cant describe how profoundly strange this felt to me at first! But the reality is that no matter how weird our haircuts and how many wacky chemicals we ingest we are a part of this world, not something seperate from it. When we allow ourselves to be natural the world embraces us (and shows us when we stray into unnaturalness) To live at odds with reality becomes impossible in the best possible way. Obviously I had and still have a lot of work to do, I always will, but without the baseline that daily Zazen has given me I doubt that I could or would respond to those quiet reminders which alerted me to my bad habits.