Beginning Meditation: TIME/TAO/ZEN

Lately I had been studying and working with Dogen’s Shobogenzo. I am truly fascinated by Dogen and the positions he takes on so many Dharma subjects. I have been focused on his writing on time/being in the section called Uji, and have been spending many mornings in study. All of that inspired me to write this blog. I’ll post a list of material that may be helpful for those of you who are curious about Dogen.

I freely admit that I have had a fascination with TIME ever since I can remember. My older sister would wake me super early on Christmas Eve to tell her the time. One of my first memories is  watching the second hand of a watch as it traveled around its circle.  So, telling and watching time are some of the first things I remember doing. 

I have always been aware of time’s elastic nature and subjective experiential frame. I had experiences of days that went on forever, and some that seemed incredibly short. I still remember a summer afternoon when, from my perspective, time stopped. It was a beautiful summer day and I was playing in some sand when I noticed that the shadows appeared to have stopped moving. It felt as though everything in the world had stopped. The afternoon was intensely long and felt endless. Those who formally study time have  since determined that time is indeed flexible and suspect it can be specific to the individual experience. 

When I initially started meditating the first thing I noticed was a new appreciation of my perception of time. I was fascinated by how much my meditation experience depended on my perception of time flowing,  and my perception depending on my body, hydration, nutrition, emotional structure,  and my frame of mind or reference frame. Sitting really focused my awareness of Conditioned ego’s sense and awareness of time. (I honestly think that for a long time my idea of a good meditation was one that passed by quickly and some days it still seems to be a standard. Sigh.)

I have great empathy and caring for those starting a meditation practice. At first, the passage of time, when our perspective is coming from a position of resistance, increases when the body is still and our intent is to remain focused on this moment of now. Developing the ability to be at ease with the present is sometimes challenging, and at other times, ease in the moment seems natural.  I have sittings when my Conditioned mind seeks to escape, but I have learned not to judge that and focus my attention elsewhere. Perhaps others no longer have that experience?

Conditioned mind does not want me to take that time to be aware of it, no matter what kind of meditation I do, sitting, standing, walking, or lying down. The Conditioned mind will try to escape the meditative here and now focus. What I have found is not a way to make that attempt to escape stop, but a helpful process of redirecting my attention because of my intent to do so. Conditioned mind is will keep looking for escape but that doesn’t mean I have to entertain its movement. 

CONDITIONED MIND is constantly asking the same question:

“WHAT TIME IS IT?” or in meditation “HOW MUCH TIME IS LEFT?

When we first start to meditate we have no idea why it seems like such a miserable experience and most of our focus of attention is on “How much time is left?” Which translates to “When is this attempt to make Conditioned mind’s presence known going to be over?”  This can happen no matter how long you committed to mediate, from five minutes or an hour. You’ll find that Conditioned mind doesn’t want the attention.

You will experience thoughts about what needs to be done, what a waste of time this is, followed by ideas of you “should” sit, it’s good for you, and what kind of person makes a commitment and then doesn’t follow through? Conditioned mind will always attempt to trap us in dualism. It will then alternate between sides choosing what ever one keeps the focus of attention on ego.

What is extremely helpful when starting to practice is to use an amount of time that is more than you think you can stand but not more than you can do without hurting your practice. There is no magic amount of time, not now long you sit or how many years you sit. You are already where you need to be, meditation will uncover that. You are a Buddha and the only thing left is to realize that and live that out. 

My rule of thumb for starting sitting is to develop a dedication to a process of sitting before you attempt to sit for long periods. Sit for five minutes a day and when a practice is established you can add time. Or, subtract time. It’s not how much time, it’s the experience of sitting that will matter.  We are trying to develop a perspective that we can carry with us, not a practice that confined to a special environment or a mat. 

People can share the process of meditation and give you direction. No one can give you a meditative perspective to carry through life. 

You will “learn” by meditating. Reach out to all, ask questions, but most importantly practice.

With compassion. 

One day, around one meditation, while watching patiently, we discover how much of our life is conditioned to be automatic and reactive.  The instant we bring awareness to the process, the hold starts to lessen.  On that day you notice that the thoughts aren’t your thoughts, they are conditioned thoughts that are not at all helpful. You will start listening to the genuine and present self. 

On that day the conditioned thoughts don’t quit, but we slowly start to diminish our need to listen to and believe in them.

Freedom starts to engage. 

I am always interested in your experience if you care to share. 



Further reading: 

“Shobogenzo”  in “Classics of Buddhism and Zen”  by Thomas Cleary  

“Being-Time” A Practitioner’s Guide to Shobogenzo  by Shinsu Roberts


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