The thin haze slightly obscures the gleaming street lights along the avenue. The stale odor of a garbage bin briefly accents the early morning mist that otherwise smells like a damp, musty basement. My running shoes have trapped a few small gravel stones; they click as they strike the tarmac paving. The silence is pierced by the scolding voice of a woman behind the closed doors of a ranch-style house. Is Harold her mate or her pet? My hands are comfortably curled up within the kangaroo pocket of an olive green hoodie sweatshirt. I continue along the way, feeling grateful for my solitude.
I feel most integrated with the Earth and the Universe in the dark, early morning. These hours are perhaps the most dangerous for a person to be out and about on the streets. One early January morning, I was slowly making my way along an ice-covered street. I encountered a man supervising a small dog that was answering nature’s call. The man angrily asked what I was doing on his street at that time of night. I answered that I was out for a stroll. I don’t think he believed me. I picked up my pace and speed-walked towards home. I just narrowly escaped the inquiring minds of the city police.
In some cities, burglars and other people with nefarious ambitions are prowling neighborhoods to loot businesses, homes, and motor vehicles. I once read that the ideal time for burglars to score is around 3:00 AM. I feel resentful that the most logical time period for home intrusion coincides with my favorite time for walking meditation. I very rarely take walks in the wee hours of morning anymore. I content myself with sitting on the front doorstep, observing the neighborhood from that viewpoint, instead.
As mentioned in a few previous bluejayblog posts, sometimes “Orange” the cat appears at my home. He likes to curl up on my lap while I sip coffee. The fingers of my right hand wander through the fur of his head and back. He loves having my index finger softly caress his left ear. “Orange” gently flexes his forepaws into my blue jeans and purrs loudly. Cat meditation is as rewarding as early morning street meditation. The wayward cat is another way the Universe connects with me.
I could just as easily light a candle and sit in semi-lotus posture in front of my shrine. (I cannot do a full-lotus because that causes nasty charlie horse pain each time.) If the weather is especially harsh or unpleasant, cushion time is a good substitute. The time spent in front of the shrine is a convenient substitute for half-an-hour outdoors.
In my opinion, formal meditation at my home shrine is actually concentration. Such concentration is a helpful practice but it is not exactly meditation. The two are closely related but they are not the same thing. I believe meditation is not conforming to any organized ritual. It is not imitating a particular system. While mindfulness concentration at one’s shrine is wonderful and life-enhancing, meditation is akin to quality time among nature’s elements. Again, this is only my opinion, your results may vary.
It just so happens that there are a fair number of people who feel spiritually awakened without practicing any formal meditation technique or any organized spiritual system. They awaken spontaneously because they somehow stumble across the realization that quiet time, doing nothing particularly special brings them satisfaction. Perhaps they discover themselves in such places as the mountains, forests, meadows, city streets, or engaged in perfecting their crafting skills, or practicing an art. They give themselves permission to let go of daily pressures and merge into creative thinking and doing.
Regardless of whether you define meditation as I do or regard it as part of your religious beliefs, it’s good to slow down in our journey through life–especially if the practice is not an escape from life. Many wise teachers from the past and a few from the present day have said that the flowering of love is meditation. Meditation is an authentic form of love.
We can activate such love by being aware of every feeling and thought in a non-judgmental way. Just observe and move with it. By carefully watching, one begins to understand the fluctuations of feelings and thought. By these observations, done with total awareness, we may approach pure silence. Silence is not the goal; the silence is a by-product of meditation. Meditation just is.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the Vietnamese Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. “Meditation is not to avoid society; it is to look deep to have the kind of insight you need to take action. To think that it is just to sit down and enjoy the calm and peace, is wrong.”