Thursday, 6 December 2012

Love of Chair

There was no place on the Acres to sit. Not for a white man. White men don't sit. Not because it's dirty or demeaning. Because we can't.

How often I've wished I could sit lotus, the real one commended by the Ancestors, soles bared to heaven, butt grounded on the earth itself, like the Buddha's own. Many Asians still practice this way. (Some use a cushion now, but it's a small concession.)

I determined once, early in my practice, to meditate this way as well. A week later I was so crippled I could no longer walk. That didn't feel like enlightenment, so I stopped.

Throughout the Third World, people lounge comfortably on the ground, or squat for hours, with their buttocks resting on their heels, or even the dirt. Meanwhile I couldn't even defecate outdoors without a walking stick to hang from.

And so sitting remained a problem for me. Not meditating; just sitting. A chair is small enough a thing, until you don't have one. I sometimes walked all the way down to the barn, just to sit on the derelict old coffee table there. Meditation was my alibi, but the truth centred lower.

That old table was literally the only place, on all the Acres, where a man could sit in comfort. There was no such ease in camp. There I either sat on the mat, or balanced my backside on a downed hemlock, no more than a bark-rough pole really, to write in the log or braid a fudo. But that was just to escape for twenty minutes my half-lotus hell. Mealtimes and formal sits I had to plan mindfully: plenty of activity beforehand to loosen the leg joints, and plenty of movement after to work them free again. To move straight from a meal to meditation, or vice versa, was out of the question.

For sitting on the mat was no rest; just the act of sitting down there and getting up again took great effort. Looking back, I don't know why I didn't simply construct a chair, or at least a bench, to relax on from time to time. It's true I had few tools, so that making anything was a tedious, time-consuming process. But I had wire, and I had wood; more to the point, I had nothing else to do. The thing would have taken days, certainly. But I had days.

The best excuse I can make is, it was a small problem. And so it was never solved.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia and Oxfordian Kissuth.)
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