Lenny Bass is a long time meditation practitioner with deep ties to the Zen Buddhist Temple of Ann Arbor. His essay "Swaying in the Sangha of Trees: The 'Tree'-Quel" appeared in the January through April issue. You can read it here.
By Lenny Bass
For those of you have read my previous essays about the on-going conversation I’ve been having with a Spruce Tree stationed in upstate New York near the heart of the Allegheny Mountains, I am inclined to further elaborate on some of the matters that were touched upon during these — how shall we call them — “episodes” of intra-species lucidity (others might be more inclined to call them “anthropomorphized psychosis”...to which I have little defense...)
At the end of my last essay, some of you might recall a short “bio,” a kind of quick synopsis of who was at the helm of this fable-like rant. “A man with deep ties to the Zen Buddhist Temple who was thinking of starting a service to help others get started and/or maintain a meditation practice. . .” to paraphrase what it said. I was hoping to elaborate a bit more about this, with the hopes of perhaps opening it up to others for feedback, suggestions and/or possible interest.
Although I deeply admire the insights of the tree (whether they be anatomically correct or not), the bottom line is that both my articles are really NOT about trees at all. To be honest, I am not an arborist nor do I have any particular expertise in the inner workings of a tree. Rather, they are about the necessity of a meditation practice as the greatest possible tool for the awakening of the deepest aspects of the human spirit.
The Tree, because of its own unique disposition and circumstance, could help me to reflect upon my own practice and the inevitable shortcomings that are often part of the difficult process of shining a light within. The insights of the Tree were so helpful to me in the moment they came into my consciousness. And I could not help but want to share this with others if they, perchance, might find them helpful as well.
Which leads me to my main point here, in that I do feel more and more the calling of helping others to get started on the path of meditation. My personal feeling is that nothing will change the world so deeply and so completely for the better as the collective will of the human species embracing the path of meditation as a way to cultivate kindness, compassion, simplicity, modesty, patience — all the very best traits that each of us carries within. It is really just a matter of clearing away the “surrounding debris,” if you will, the societally reinforced bad habits, the egoistic illusions, the tendency to point our fingers at others who are responsible for our angst. Once we begin doing this, through our practice, what ultimately starts to shine through is just this kind of light; the light of kindness and joy and compassion. It’s just what remains after the enormous work of clearing the debris has abated.
But, oh my gosh, is it hard work! People often come to their meditation practice under the guise and illusion that everything will be beautiful once we learn to sit quietly upon our mat and cushion. We will simply instantly escape to a kind of “Shangri-la” from which we will emerge perfected and flawless. The hard truth of the path of meditation is that the inner light often reveals the starkness of our own culpability in whatever dire circumstances lay before us. Meditation is NOT the escape we had hoped it would be. Instead, the putridness and utter depravity of all our “stuff” comes squarely into our faces. Who would want to engage in such a thing! The task of undoing all of this is enormous. We see how far back it actually goes, into the habituation of behaviors and tendencies far beyond our own birth, into the lives of our parents, and their parents, and, indeed, into our very ancestry. And we are supposed to overcome all this in a sitting or two . . . or, in my case, a week or two of intensive training?
What I really wanted to portray in my articles is that this is, indeed, the path of a lifetime — perhaps lifetimes — I do not know. It can seem overwhelming once we get the clearest view of things, but really it is not. This is slow and steady and regular— like a gentle persistent wind taking down a mountain. But, it has to begin somewhere.
Sometime. And soon, I believe, if we really are to survive much longer as a species upon the planet.
How can I help in all this? I’ve been at this a while, around 30 years to be precise. Am I an enlightened soul? No! Very far from it, in fact. But I cannot deny the fact that I have a good start, and enough basis to help others get started as well. I know a few “tricks of the trade,” so to speak. I see clearly so many of the pitfalls that can make us feel lazy, or hopeless, or defeated. And I see the benefit of knowing others or being around others who have persevered. Their light shines just that much brighter, and they offer this light as a way to inspire others to keep going.
I do feel this light, or whatever one calls it, more and more in my own life. And always, it lets me know that I’m on the right track. How can I use it, then, to help others, I ask.
How can I work with others who wish to begin or maintain existing practices?
My personal belief is that meditation practices are as unique as the individuals who begin them. There truly is no “one size fits all” approach that will work equally well for everyone. For some, sitting on a mat and cushion, as I do, will make sense. For others, it may be a different form, say, walking, or creating art, or mindfully washing the dishes. Ultimately, it is true that everything is a meditation if it done with the fullness of this intent. Therefore, my thinking is that while meditation classes may be useful in the beginning for many, working one on one with another practitioner may be equally useful in tailoring practices that are unique to one’s own disposition, tendencies, abilities and preferences. As well, maintaining those practices over the long haul, it can be very helpful to have someone there, paying attention, holding you to whatever commitments you, yourself, come up with.
Ultimately, this is what I am hoping to do. And, as previously mentioned, I am open, in this blog space, to any feedback and ideas you might have for how to do so. I am also open to working with any of you who wish to get started. As I am not officially set-up to be working this way, we will each be learning from the other you, on how to get started with a personal meditation practice, and me, on how to guide someone through it.
Feel free to email me your responses directly at firstname.lastname@example.org