I recently, with encouragement from a deity, admitted to myself that I am a spiritual person, and on a spiritual path. I am finding it extremely hard to talk about.
We’ve already seen that my contemplative practice can be unusual, and I find it hard to say that something is explicitly a spirirtual practice, when patently all of life is.
To me, meditation is a sort of brute force method that should work for almost everyone, given enough time, and that’s why it is so strongly encouraged. It’s the “5 fruits and vegetables a day” of spiritual practice. However, I have none the less started doing what looks like “meditation” from the outside, and is absolutely a spiritual practice from the inside. The more spiritual contemplation I do, the more I crave what a monastery can provide: plain food, easily aquired. A narrow bed for a little sleep. And a safe place with plenty of time to reflect.
In his book A Path With Heart, Jack Kornfield recounts a saying from his teacher, Achaan Chah: “Take the one seat in the center of the room… and see who comes to visit”. Jack reminds us in this chapter to commit to a practice, and to actually do it. “Take the one seat”. He tells us that the inner and outer aspects of the one seat unite on the meditation cushion.
Good advice, but I don’t use a cushion,. For my first month in Lisbon, I’ve been sitting on a concrete block, and I thought I’d share it with you.
The concrete block is in a local, tucked away square that seems to have been under construction/repair for some time. The trees seem dead and the fountain at the back is shuttered and dry. I like to put my back against that fence on the left hand side. The afternoon sun shines down from right.
Here’s my one seat. It’s just high enough to cross my legs slightly lower than my hips, opening the pelvis just a little. Sometimes I lean on the fence, sometimes I don’t. One day the fence was moving back and forth strongly in the wind.
I sit here in the sun and meditate. As the earth moves, the shade from the building opposite travels slowly towards me, from the left in this picture, towards the block. (The shadow on the right here is a morning shadow that receeds as I meditate – this was taken before the start of my meditation).
When the shadow of the building touches my face, the meditation can end.
I chose this place because I can be warm and comfortable enough to sit for extended periods. The street is a quiet one, but it links two major roads, and noticing my social unease as people walk by is a part of sitting cross-legged here with my eyes closed. I like using the sun as a marker, which removes having undue awareness of my phone. I still sometimes peek at the shadow, noticing what part of me it is that wants me to get up and stop. And it illustrates for me that the one seat can be any seat, since this place is somewhat distant from even the comforts of an austere monastery.
This is just one seat. Every seat is The Seat. The bus seat. The lounge couch. The smoking balcony seat especially. You don’t even have to sit to be in the seat. Any delay in daily life of a few seconds or more is the seat. The bus queue, the supermarket queue, the gap between the receptionist welcoming you and your 10 o’clock collecting you from the lobby.
Recently, sitting on my bed, collecting myself before a phone call, I reflected that even 20 seconds in the presence of Buddha is a refreshing swim down the river. Just sit back, lift your legs off the bottom, and float.
All seats are the one seat, especially concrete blocks on broken down building sites.