existentialist cafe

life is sacred

Tag: wisdom

The moral sense of nature

It is remarkable how much we let our technologies run the game for us. Two in particular–money and the clock–we let run rampant, to the point that they have actually changed the way we understand reality and our place in reality. Money has dehumanized our labor, and the clock has detached us from the natural rhythm of the seasons and the day. How did we let that happen? How does it happen that the tools we use to interact more easily with the world around us come to define reality for us? What is time without the clock? I think many of us take it for granted that time is a thing that ticks on, uniformly and infinitely. We have no moral sense of time – the fitting season, the right time. As it says in Ecclesiastes, “there is a time for gathering, and a time for scattering.”

In fact I would even suggest that “reason” is yet another tool that has come to define reality for us in a distorted way. Reason is a tool that we use to conceptualize the world in order to think about it. But somehow we come to believe that our concepts of the world are actually the world.

It is almost enough to make me a Marxist, but it is deeper than history, and so history can not save us. Somehow we must learn to recover the awe of the world as it is in itself, not as it is defined by our tools and technologies.


A mid-day walking meditation

Walking meditation is an old practice. In the Maha Satipatthana Sutta, it reads “a bhikkhu while walking knows ‘I am walking.'” The practice of kinhin interrupts extended periods of zazen and probably has, among other things, the practical purpose of stretching the legs. In my practice, I do sitting meditation in the morning; however, I find that at mid-day I am tired from working and need to be more active.

One day, I was thinking about my scattered brain, and it seemed that my desires were like sheep without a shepherd, running in all directions at once whenever they hear a noise or see a flashing light. This is the mind without wisdom. Desires, like sheep, do not know the thing they desire; they are dumb. Wisdom is a shepherd, who calms the flock and leads them to nourishing food and living waters. The mid-day walking meditation is a way to calm the flock of our desires after being exposed to many of sensations throughout the day, enough so that they are able to graze peacefully on good food without being startled.

Find somewhere you can walk uninterrupted for about fifteen minutes, or more, or less. Even if you only walk for five minutes, it is beneficial. The place preferably is pleasant to be in. A skilled shepherd finds nourishment everywhere, but as wisdom is being trained it is easier in pleasant places. Do not drink caffeine or other stimulant an hour before beginning.

At the start of the walk, set the intention to be simply present and aware, much as you would at the beginning of any other meditation. This intention is the voice of the shepherd, whose voice the sheep know and will follow.

As you walk simply take things as they are, without concern for them. Your thoughts should be allowed to drift easily, without being hurried or pushed. Take in your surroundings, but do not force them in. Simply permit them to enter your eyes, ears, nose, skin. Walk with an easy stride, with your back straight and your hands at your side. If you find that you are moving frantically or nervously, or are making an effort to fix your concentration, set your intention again. If you stop for a minute to absorb some particular thing, then stop for a minute to absorb that thing and then move on.

At the end of your walk, it may be a good time to read a few verses of sacred writing or poetry to ease the transition back into daily life.