Saturday, June 11, 2005

Now I begin

(I'm having trouble accessing Audioblogger, so today's post is an old-fashioned written one!)

It's been two weeks since I last posted to Creative Mindfulness, and during that time I haven't spent any time on my mat and cushion. There you have it: today's big confession. While Gary was here visiting, we went hiking and sight-seeing and otherwise enjoyed one another's company; you can read accounts of two of our hikes on Gary's new hiking blog. Since Gary left, I've been playing catch-up with work I didn't do while he was visiting: the usual post-vacation catchup. So this morning when I returned to my meditation cushion and writing notebook, I did so after being away for a while.

I say this all by way of observation, not apology. As I noted in my last post, we all go through cycles and seasons in our practice, times when we can practice interspersed with times when we can't. One thing I've learned over the years is that beating yourself up for not practicing doesn't help you practice any more or any better: you only end up beaten. So what good is there in such emotional self-flagellation?

Meditation practice and creative practice aren't about beating yourself up; instead, they both are about beginning. After two weeks off the cushion and away from my writing notebook, this morning I began again: I brushed dog hair from my meditation mat, and I uncapped my pen. Truth be told, what I did this morning was no different from what any practitioner does any morning. It doesn't matter whether I practiced yesterday or the day before or the day before that: it matters that I practiced this morning, today, right now. Meditation practice and creative practice are both about what we do right now, so every moment we practice, we begin anew.

Several years ago I went on a Christian-Buddhist retreat at the Providence Zen Center, where Father Kevin Hunt talked about his daily meditation practice. Father Kevin has been a Trappist monk at Saint Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, MA since 1953, and he's practiced Zen since 1970: in other words, he's an old pro when it comes to spiritual practice. Even with this wealth of meditation experience (or perhaps because of this wealth of meditation experience), Father Kevin insisted that spiritual practice is a process of continually beginning anew: whether you've been practicing for three days or thirty years, every moment when you begin to practice, you're starting from scratch.

In his talk, Father Kevin quoted a line from the Latin psalter from which Catholic contemplative monks recite everyday: "Nunc caepit, Domine, nunc caepit," or "Now I begin, O Lord, now I begin." How interesting that Christian monasticism contains such a pithy expression of so-called beginners' mind, an insistence that spiritual awareness happens right here, right now, the Kingdom of God being nowhere other than at hand.

If in the past you've tried to establish a spiritual or creative practice, you might have been discouraged by failure: the good habits you began dissolved into procrastination and avoidance. Even if you've for years had a solid meditation or artistic practice, maybe recently you've fallen into a slump, or perhaps circumstance has pushed you off the practice wagon. The wisdom of "Now I begin," however, suggests that there is no shame in stopping, only benefit in beginning. Whether you practiced every day last week or not at all, today--this moment--is a new beginning. Every moment is a new opportunity for practice; each page we turn is a fresh start.

The wisdom of "Now I begin" means we cannot rest on our laurels. Even if we sat a wonderful retreat last week, this morning we'll have to drag ourselves out of bed to meditate with a sleepy, wandering mind. Even if yesterday we wrote a brilliant short story, today the empty page looks at us with an attitude of "What have you done for me lately?" On the flip side, though, all our past failures and shortcomings are erased the moment we say "Now I begin." It doesn't matter how many times you've tried to practice in the past: it only matters that you begin to practice, now. When your mind wanders during meditation, you bring it back: "Now I begin." When your mind locks with writer's block, you turn to a fresh page: "Now I begin."

Yesterday's successes and failures are irrelevant: Now I begin, regardless of the past. In Zen, we have a saying: "Fall down six times, get up seven." This means it doesn't matter how many times you fail or fall; all that matters is that you always get up. Regardless of what you did or didn't do yesterday, today is a fresh start: a new moment, a clean page. Now I begin and begin and begin again: moment by moment, now and again, tomorrow and forever more.


At 2:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I really like the Zen saying both because it appeals to someone who physically falls over with a regularity that has made me transform the ugh into ah by trying to see what creative process it enables.
The Now I begin Theme of this post really resonates too, living with chronic illness and acute phases if I did not see each day as new beginning, possibility and commitment would easily lead to barriers and pits to run into and fall down permenantly when it comes to living which would mean the creative and the spiritual, which I kind of think are one, would be failure and cease because of guilt or remorse or some such.
So much better to embrace each day with a Now I begin sensibility and to bring this to each part of the day but more importantly to my self.

At 3:23 AM, Blogger moira said...

This is a perspective from which I am only now learning to view, well, just about everything. For those of us mired in guilt and self-flagellation, this alone is a worthy goal. Perspective really can be everything; it makes all the difference in the world, right on down to what we are able to physically accomplish.

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Lorianne said...

Daisy-Winifred, it sounds like you've learned that there is an awakening that come from falling: the "ouch" being a kind of "a-ha!" It's no fun to suffer chronic illness, of course...but physical pain & suffering does tend to remind you where you are (physically) in the present moment, so there's wisdom even in sickness.

Living with illness, I'm sure you've learned a lot about living with limitation, and that's a profound kind of wisdom, too. Thanks for the marvelous comment.

Moira, one of the reasons I practice Zen is I appreciate its attitude of "try, try, try, and if that doesn't work, no problem!" I think it's funny that many of us are very patient with other folks, but we struggle immensely with giving *ourselves* a break. It seems to me that compassion starts at home, with OURSELVES. As long as we're trying our best right now, does it really matter how many times in the past we've failed?

At 9:01 AM, Blogger Tony said...

I really enjoy reading and listening to your posts. In fact, your use of Audioblogger has motivated me to see if I can also apply it to my blog. Unfortunately, I can't seem to get registered as it always returns an error code at the end of the registration process and still does not recognize me. It is also frustrating that it seems to be difficult to figure out who to write to or talk to from a customer service perspective.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger Lorianne said...

Tony, I'm glad to have motivated you to do your own audio-posts. I feel your pain when it comes to Audioblogger, though: I'm still unable to access the phone line through which posts are recorded. Apparently Audioblogger is experiencing the same kind of troubles that Blogger occasionally has. The only customer service contact I've found is via email:

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Lorianne said...

Well, Tony, I just figured out what *my* problem is: Audioblogger changed their phone number! You think they'd email registered users to inform that of that fact, wouldn't you?

I guess I can't be too choosy with a free service. Like many other online tools, Audioblogger is great when it's working, but getting help when it's not is a challenge.

Good luck with your registration difficulties.

At 9:57 AM, Blogger Brett said...

Very beautiful post. Thanks so much for this! I have trouble dwelling on the past, instead of starting each day fresh and in the "now" of things. "Now I begin" is a good mantra.


At 4:22 PM, Anonymous Planethalder said...

I love your quote -- "How interesting that Christian monasticism contains such a pithy expression of so-called beginners' mind, an insistence that spiritual awareness happens right here, right now, the Kingdom of God being nowhere other than at hand" -- because it reminds me of my favourite psalm (46?) in the Bible: "Be still, and know that I am God". Right now, right here.

At 7:43 PM, Blogger Helen said...

"Practice as you can"! Nice to have you back.

At 8:28 PM, Blogger Nan said...

I have been meditating regularly (almost every day) for over a year now. I still feel as though I am beginning. But, your post has given me permission to feel that way.

Many, years ago (35) I spent several years in a convent. Our custom was to start each day with a prayer. Funny how that practice has come back to me after all these years. "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad." I find that, even as I think those words, I stress the word "this". This is the day, the first day, the beginning all over again.

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Lorianne said...

It's good to hear that this "Now I begin" mentality resonates with so many folks! It's something that really struck me when I first heard it, and it's only sunk in deeper over the years.

We're usually pretty willing to give "second chances" to the people around why are we so demanding & judgmental with ourselves? "Now I begin" means we allow ourselves the miracle of conversion, a new beginning, enlightenment. "Now I begin" suggests that it *is* possible to change our lives in marked and marvelous ways!

Thanks as always for taking the time to comment: it means a lot to me to hear that I've been "heard." :-)

At 7:29 AM, Blogger John said...

Just what I needed! Thanks!

At 2:45 PM, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

One of the things I appreciate about Buddhism is that it shifts one's focus away from personal failure and guilt.

I understand why Christianity emphasizes sin & holiness, failure & redemption. But in the end I don't think it's very edifying to hear, over and over again, what a miserable worm you are. Too often, that's where the emphasis lies.

Similarly, Buddhism emphasizes the here and now whereas Christianity is much preoccupied with the past (creation & fall) and the future (judgment & redemption).

It's good to look ahead and set goals for oneself. But, as someone has said, the only time we really have is the present. The past and the future are not within our grasp, but the present is overflowing with possibilities.

I don't mean to set one religion above the other. On the contrary, I think each tradition has its strengths. But your post comes as a breath of fresh air.


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