“You and I are just swinging doors,” Suzuki Roshi says.
The tidal rhythm of the observed breath provides clues into what that might mean.
In Seeds for a Boundless Life: Zen Teachings from the Heart, Zenkei Blanche Hartman explains,
When we all concentrate on our breathing and we become a swinging door and we do something that we should do, something we must do, this is Zen practice. In this practice, there is no confusion. If you establish this kind of life, you have no confusion whatever.
Tuesday I felt unsettled. I wanted to be outside enjoying the perfect autumn afternoon instead of in front of a computer or, honestly, “sitting” on my folded meditation blanket facing a wall.
But that unbalanced, dissatisfied feeling, like all feelings, is temporary. I decided to help it along the pot-holed Feeling Road with a few minutes of focused breathing, a form of mindfulness meditation.
Experts define mindfulness as a state of moment-to-moment awareness that emphasizes attention without judgement, without thinking, for example, that the sound of cicadas is irritating or that the lawn needs to be trimmed or “Why did I say that to so-and-so?”
He cites studies supporting benefits of mindfulness and shares his students’ reactions to the practice. As for his own attitude,
I have come to think that encouraging patients to adopt meditation as a way to mental well-being is as important as encouraging them to jog as a way to physical well-being.
He points out that,
Today, our lives are filled with stressors, from work, home, financial pressures and digital devices. Mindfulness is a low-cost, medication-free way to manage and reduce the ill effects of stress.
Having found this to be true, I rode the elevator from my first floor apartment to the building’s rooftop patio. No one else was up there. Good fortune! I set the phone’s timer for 20 minutes and sat down.
Eleven stories above the street, breeze on my cheeks, I thought of Charles Simic’s line, I am happy to be a stone.
A hundred feet below, sirens brayed. One buzzing insect passed. Jets droned overhead.
Hartman offers an explanation for what Dr. Jain and I experience in mindfulness. She writes,
When we become truly ourselves, we just become a swinging door and we are purely independent of, and at the same time dependent upon everything. Without air, we cannot breathe. Each of us is in the midst of myriad worlds. We are in the center of the world always, moment by moment. We are completely dependent and independent. If you have this experience, this kind of existence, you have absolute interdependence; you will not be bothered by anything.
Preparing her workshop students years ago for a public poetry reading, Julia Connor told the jumpy among us that nervousness is just a kind of excitement.
Feeling antsy, feeling confused, is agitation, it’s excitement. That good old prefix ex– is a call out and away; excitement is a calling forth.
Having satisfied his own curiosity, Dr. Jain recommends meditation to his patients. He concludes,
Meanwhile, I have taken my own advice. I am still at it: sitting on the deck, focusing on my breath, watching my thoughts, clearing my mind amid the shrill end-of-summer calls of the cicadas. I think I have noticed an effect–I feel a deeper sense of acceptance in my life, without losing a passion or resolve to change things for the better.
Just as we stop at the red and white octagonal traffic signs, we need to stop at the signs in our own lives that tell us to stand still. When we stop, we can listen. We discern inside and outside and the door of perception that connects them. We are calmer and more motivated. We are the stone and the stream.
Sit still for a few minutes, Dr. Jain-style
Or try this guided ambient sound meditation .