"Learning to Stay"


Earlier this month, my partner and I were enjoying an unseasonably warm and quite beautiful weekend on the boardwalk out in Arverne and this bird stayed hovering above me just long enough for me to snap it's photo with my iPhone. So sweet! Certainly, it is not easy to capture a bird in flight, as their movement patterns are similar to something we're all familiar with -- our own minds! Yes, like birds in flight, our own minds have a hard time staying in one place. Yet, Pema Chödrön suggests in her dharma talk on "Learning to Stay" on her CD Getting Unstuck (Disc 1) that doing so may lead to greater liberation.

Her talk was enormously helpful for me this month, as I experienced some difficult emotions and on several occasions woke up in the middle of the night frozen by panic. Know the feeling?! A few times, I forced myself to sit in meditation in the middle of my room surrounded by the darkness of the night and eventually my mind and body was able to settle enough for me to fall asleep again. At the very least, I had learned to stay. And now as I settle down to write this, I am also practicing learning to stay while my mind is experiencing the uncertainty of not knowing what is going to appear on this page. I am experiencing an inkling of why, as Pema suggests, learning to stay can be so useful.

Life is always going to be filled with ups and downs, knowings and not knowings. The secret to remaining balanced and still functional through it all is, Pema suggests, simply learning to stay. It goes beyond needing to prove "my rightness" and "your wrongness." Rather it's more fundamental than that and has to do more with just being quiet, and staying, breathing, and listening.

And yet it's not so simple. When things are difficult, we either want to run away and hide, and not come out until the coast is clear. Which is why, Pema says, "learning to stay takes courage." She shared one of the lines of her morning Buddhist prayers is: "Whatever arises is fresh, the essence of Realization ... [and] even our judgments about what arises is the essence of Realization." By this she is encouraging us to stay with whatever arises in each moment, as the experience could lead us to greater Self-Realization. If we can treat each moment, each arising, as precious then theoretically we never have to fear anything that arises. 

And she reminds us that "the process is the fruition." We don't have to become completely realized human beings in one sitting. Rather just the fact that we sit and take each arising in our mind as it comes is enough of a victory.

Pema anecdotally shared that after many years of practicing meditation that one of her greatest realizations is that even when her mind goes off on a tangent her attitude about it is "no big deal." Like a bird in flight, we can't always expect our mind to be able to stay still and hover in one spot. But what we can change is how we view our minds. For, e.g., if we can see it as "no big deal" that our mind is experiencing panic--it's just what minds do every so often--then we'll likely see the panic begin to subside sooner rather than later. During such moments, she suggests: "learn to accept the present moment, as if you had invited it, and work with it rather than against it, making it your ally rather than your enemy." She suggests that one way of uncovering our Buddha nature is to "open to the unknown future, as if it were thrilling rather than threat."

Pema shared: "What I've noticed about the few people in my life who I consider to be completely awake is they learned to stay, ... and you feel this sense of eternal presence [when you are in their presence]; they don't go off anywhere." So we may not be as fully awake as these people are, but if we wish to somehow help those around us, perhaps one of the most profound ways we can do that is to learn to stay a little longer each time things get uncomfortable and show a little more courage by not going off anywhere.. 

Practicing yoga postures takes courage during those times when uncomfortable emotions are loosened and rise to the surface. Sometimes we can stay in the posture and keep breathing through the experience, while at other times the only solution is soften into child's pose and experience our breath there. 

On a personal note, it's been 9 years since I founded Keoni Movement Arts and as I look back I'm really grateful that I stayed with it for so long. Certainly, things didn't always unfold in the manner or as quickly as I thought they would and I've surely made a lot of mistakes along the way. I'm just grateful that I stayed long enough for me to be able to learn from my mistakes, and as a result I feel the organization is in a stronger position than it's ever been. In these fast moving times, when people are changing jobs -- and companies are changing people -- every few years, I've found that sometimes staying put can have long term benefits. 

May you learn to stay, ... for the benefit of all beings everywhere.

With aloha and metta,
Paul Keoni