Kneeling Bench, Kneeling Bench, how do I use thee? Let me count the ways.

I noticed something the other day. In the midst of doing some research about how people find us, I stumbled on a website with a link to the kneeling meditation bench on our website. The thing is, this site was a bit out of the ordinary.

But first, yes, we are working on a meditation bench with folding legs. The Kneeling Meditation Bench – from the Zen tradition — is a bench suitable for those with trouble sitting in a cross-legged posture. Folding legs make for easier transport. Decent hinges – that is hinges with some tension that will hold their place are, however, very expensive. At the same time, we don’t want to make a bench with legs that flop around when the bench is carried. Stay tuned, we have a new design in the works and we’re optimistic.

Our video on Meditation Benches shows how to use the Kneeling Bench if you are curious. Ours is made here in Vermont from solid hardwood and is used with the Zabuton mat. The Zabuton cushions the knees, shins and ankles during sitting.

Now, about the referring website. We visited this site, with cheerful pastel colors for its design and upbeat copy with a helpful tone. OK, this is where it gets tricky. This site is dedicated to practices that come under the general heading of something often identified with two letters connected by an ampersand (&). These are the same two letters that head up the words “Sitting Meditation”. Connect the two letters that begin these two words with the ampersand and you should be following the drift.

The spiritual path, it is said, requires surrender, but here was discussed surrender of a different sort. Some say we are a slave to our own egos, but of course this usually involves being a slave to other things along the way.

“Not just for meditation” read the helpful comment next to the link. I guess it shouldn’t have as a surprise that the kneeling bench supports a posture that allows one to properly humble oneself before something less than the divine.

Our experience of the world, they say, is subjective. To one person, our meditation cushions and benches are support for a practice that uncovers the natural sanity and gentleness inherent in us all. For another, is an entirely different affair. To be honest, we were a little shocked by the referring web site. Still, perhaps we should take the long view. It might be better to have a meditation bench in someone’s toolbox than not to have one. Someday, that same bench may be used to free the buyer from the chains of ego and self-obsession.

While we wait for a bench user to wake up to the inspiration to move beyond the bonds of indulgence, we can still wish that the bench will bring someone happiness, if even for a little while and in unintended ways. Until then, we will submit to making and selling the Kneeling Meditation Bench to whomever wants one. It is our painful pleasure.

Michael Greenleaf (Samadhi Cushions Marketing)

Memo to Self: Please Find the Time to Meditate

Why, Self, am I writing to you? Well, for one thing, you’ve been a busy lately. I’ve had trouble getting your attention. Sometimes you can get someone’s attention with a memo, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Anyhow, why do I suggest that you find the time to meditate?

For one thing, the last time you invested some of your precious time in mindfulness meditation, the results were good. You slowed down a bit, you were actually able to listen to people when they spoke to you, and you were happier and less impatient. You’re better able to realize that rushing things doesn’t help. Everything has its time. You were able to begin appreciate your life, moment by moment.

The Past and the Future

When you sat in meditation, you spent less energy worrying about the future and fretting about the past. There is something funny about the past and future, I don’t know how to break this to you, but they don’t exist. They were and will be, but they’re not.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan for the future and also mull over your decisions in the past. It’s just that it would be good to be able to distinguish the past and future from what is happening now. When you get really speedy — and you can, especially when you haven’t sat on your zafu and zabuton in a while – you tend to lose this distinction. Mostly I see you leaning in to the future, as if by rushing into it you could manage it better.

Why Worry?

Do you have to worry so much? Just sitting, paying attention to your body and the sensation of breathing, can help you let go of worry. Why don’t you sit on your cushion more? Just a little bit pays such big dividends. It’s kind of crazy not to do it.

And why are you rushing — by the way? Do you have a train to catch? Are you on the run from the law? Is there something you’re not telling me? You keep saying there is “no time.” There is something funny about this idea of “no time”. You always say that you’re working now to have time later, but when this time arrives later, half the time you have no idea what to do with it, and you wind up lost in meaningless distractions. Is that what you worked so hard for? Maybe you are so used to rushing that you forget how to relax when you actually can. Sometimes I think you worry too much about what other people think, and that makes you anxious. What have you got to prove?

Your Mantra

The other funny thing is that that your mantra of “no time” (at least you have a mantra!) has an underlying assumption – that there will be time later. Rushing through each moment is a good way to ensure that when this promise of future time comes – if it ever does (see future above) you’ll be so unfamiliar with the present moment, you won’t even recognize it. That’s the real meaning of “no time.”

One Thing at a Time

The other thing Meditation helps you relax is your nasty habit of trying to do two things at once. There is something funny about the present moment. There is only one of them. Of course these moments follow each other in quick succession, but – as we covered before – there is no way to stack them up or “maximize” your time. When you meditate, you realize better that there is only one moment and only one thing do to in that moment. That helps you keep some balance in your life.

Part of life is movement, and doing things. But there is a part that doesn’t move – ever. It can be scary to see this, but meditation gives you a safe place from which to witness and accept the subtleties of life. (If you need a hint, there is a connection between the fact that nothing happens and everything happens, more on that another time.)

Consumed by Time

Sometimes I think you have this idea that time is another thing for you to consume, like your supply of 100% cranberry juice that you’ve socked away in the pantry (how can you drink that stuff?!) and don’t like to share with anyone (not that anyone would want it). Anyhow, there is something silly about your approach to time. If someone puts you on hold for more than a minute, you’ll hold a grudge for life. Then you spend two hours in front of a Batman movie without enjoying it! I just don’t get this.

It’s All about You

That’s another thing meditation helps you relax — your obsession with yourself. Who died and made you center of the universe anyhow? I mean really. But seriously, you do get this oversized view of yourself sometimes. Where does that come from? I think that is part of the logic of rushing – if the boss wants something right away, I mean everyone has to jump, right? There is something funny about having an oversized view of yourself. For one thing, who is so special? You or the voice in your head who voted you #1. I know you can be down on yourself, too. But the same logic applies. Life would be a lot easier for you if you lightened up on your self, by the way.

Meditation helps you see

Meditation helps you see that the last thought you had about yourself and your requirements was just that – the last thought you had about yourself and your requirements. There are obvious reasons not to jump every time you have a thought. For one thing, you have a lot of thoughts, so it’s just not practical. For another thing, your thoughts are always changing. Chasing after thoughts is like putting the kids in charge, the result is chaos. Thoughts do grow up sometimes; those thoughts can be helpful. You’ll know when you meet a grown-up thought and not because they’re so serious!

A Little Sad

Sitting on your meditation pillow, slowing down in mindfulness brings the insight that everyone is going through exactly the same thing you are. You are really very much alike. Everyone is rushing from something, to something, trying to find something that the future will bring or outrun something that the past has delivered. Most of the time they look a little worried – definitely preoccupied. This makes me a little sad.

Listen Self, I don’t mean to overwhelm you — and thank you very much for your attention – but LIFE (in the form of a moment) is right in front of you waiting to be celebrated and appreciated (it’s the holidays after all!) What’s stopping you?

Don’t tell me you don’t have the time.

–Trinley Senge

I Got To Do A Program!

The last meditation program I did was a year and a half ago when I staffed a dathun. But this time I got to be a participant, which hasn’t happened since…2001? Somebody correct me if I’m wrong.

Theree were other programs I might have done that weekend. In fact I was quite torn since Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche was teaching at his center in Vershire just 45 minutes away. But I ended up doing the program here at Karme Choling, over Labor Day weekend (and into the Tuesday): His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche gave the empowerment and taught and led us in the practice of a Yeshe Tsogyal sadhana.

A tiny amount of background for those unfamiliar: His Eminence is the father of Khandro Tseyang, the wife of our teacher Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and while in Tibet prior to 1959, was close to the founder of Shambhala, Chogyam Trunpga Rinpoche, from whom he received important empowerments, including the Rinchen Terdzo. So there are strong family and dharma ties among the teachers.

Among us students, however, we seem to be used to quite different practice styles. Chogyam Trunpga Rinpoche had a brilliant command of the English language (to the point of giving his American students elocution lessons), taught nearly exclusively in English, and liturgies used by his students are beautifully translated and printed by the Nalanda Translation Committee, and recited in English. So we always know what we’re saying (whether we understand the full meaning is of course another question). Now, given a Tibetan original which is often in verse and so has particular rhythms and melodies to it, and an English translation which is quite elegant but generally has an emphasis on meaning rather than on meter, the chanting style developed in the Shambhala community is a one-note unison, a monotone. Which can have quite an energy and drive and rousing quality to it in a group situation.

Pretty much any time you see a documentary on Tibet or on Tibetan Buddhism, or come across one of those old Nonesuch recordings of Tibetan monks, you hear melodious chanting, you hear cymbals and drums and various blaring wind instruments. If you come to a Shambhala Center, you hear some monotone chanting, sometimes with a drum. So it can be hard not to wonder sometimes, what are we missing?

Well, here I was part of that full treatment. Most of the practice was chanted melodically in Tibetan, with the occasional bursts of cacophony on drum, cymbal and conch-shells. Salient sections were repeated in English, and for the most part there was interlinear translation in the text so with a little back-and-forth glancing we could know what we were saying (at the risk of losing one’s place in the text). And, doing four sessions a day, it wasn’t long before there was a general familiarity with what was going on anyhow. Certainly a good deal of the immediacy of the meaning was lost, but a whole other dimension was added, an added emotional quality, a further sense of immersion, clarity, and heartfeltness to the practice. Often when we switched back to the English text there would be a sense of, “Oh, so that’s what I’ve been saying,” but it would also suddenly sound very flat.

At the end of the day, Rinpoche’s daughter, Semo Sonam Palzom, would sing the Yeshe Tsogyal mantra with a haunting, spine-tingling melody.

With the before-breakfast sessions starting at 6:30, and the after-breakfast and after-lunch sessions running usually around three hours with no break, after four days of this I was pretty wiped out but also amazingly energized.

And then I had to go back to work. The next day I was talking on the phone to someone who asked, “Are you sick? You sound different.” And I said, “Oh, no, I’m fine, I’ve just been chanting in Tibetan for four days.”

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