Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

You Should Be Practicing

“When do you meditate?” the interviewer asked the Buddhist teacher.

“I am never not meditating,” the teacher replied.

“You should be practicing.” This is one of the slogans we train with in martial arts. The idea is that we weave practice into our lives as we go through our day. I think this is what the Buddhist teacher meant – not that he was sitting on his cushion all the time but that meditation permeated all aspects of his life.

Our practice becomes how we live. We practice in class or on our cushion to enable us to apply what we learn in the rest of our lives, especially when we find ourselves on the razor’s edge. We find ourselves on the razor’s edge when something has hooked us, churned us up, thrown us off balance. When we have attached ourselves to a narrative and are poised to react to our story rather than to respond to what is. When grief presses all the air out of our lungs until we can’t breathe. When we are hurt and we want to lash out in pain. When fear has clamped our minds and we seek desperately to escape. 

All of those descriptions apply to me at various times. I’ve been teetering on the razor’s edge recently. I have fallen off a couple of times. Okay, a lot. This is part of practice too. In fact this is where practice matters most – when we are tired, angry, afraid, suffering. When we fall off the razor’s edge in a heap and practice is the last thing we want to do. 

So I went to the cabin this weekend. I sat by the creek. I meditated in front of the fire. I danced tai chi in the trees. I belly breathed. A lot. I stepped back from the razor’s edge. And I remembered. 

I should be practicing. 

Pray without ceasing.   ~1 Thessalonians 5:17

11 thoughts on “You Should Be Practicing”

  1. Galen, I so hear through your words your pain and grief. Know I am praying for you, dear friend, that healing will come, balance will be restored, and you will continue to practice until prayers without ceasing become the breath of life.

  2. Yes, it has been a rough time, Martha. Thanks. I loved what you said about practicing "until prayers without ceasing become the breath of life." That is so beautiful.

  3. It's been quite a while since I felt any of these things, Galen, but I have in the past. Where you're so buffeted around by intense feelings and pains that you can't even conceive of ever finding balance again.It seems so impossible and teetering on the razor's edge is an apt way of expressing it. Your cabin activities sound just the right approach, and yay to the dancing. I remember drawing upon simple sayings I kept on a post-it-note on my fridge, to keep reminding me, and I suppose they were my practice reminders. 'Bend like a reed in the wind'is one of them, and these three: Are you present? Are you open? Are you doing what matters? They are still in place now to remind me to keep up my forms of practicing. Very warm wishes to you from me.

  4. Not knowing what is causing the pain, I am glad you are using your posts to tell those of us who go through similar periods as to how one might get through them. It's a fact of life that these times will come, and they will eventually pass. Sending you much love, Galen.

  5. Thank you, DJan. As you said, the experience of going through painful times is universal. I know you that know this more than many people. And yes, my intention in sharing my own path through this is to acknowledge that practice does not help us avoid challenging times, but it does help us move through them with awareness. We can't avoid suffering, but we can avoid the suffering of suffering, as Buddhism teaches, by developing habits and practices that sustain us with, as a friend says, the long view. Thanks for the love.

  6. I love your post its, Lynne! All of those provide wise guidance through turbulent times. I have a post it on my computer right now that says "Trust the process." Also a good reminder.

    Until these recent events, I was cruising along feeling pretty solid in my practice. These events caught me off guard (like life does!) and shook some deep foundations, revealing to me attachments and beliefs that I didn't even realize I still clung to. So good for life — always teaching me what I still need to release. Sometimes it takes something sudden and traumatic to get past our defenses. So while this is not fun (!) I see it as a deep lesson in humility and acceptance. And trusting the process. Thanks for your good thoughts.

  7. "Our practice becomes how we live. We practice in class or on our cushion to enable us to apply what we learn in the rest of our lives, especially when we find ourselves on the razor’s edge."

    I am attempting to read a book by Stephen Batchelor called After Buddhism. This man trained in Buddhist monasteries for 22 years.For 4 years he trained at a Zen monastery where the main practice was sitting facing a wall for 10-12 hrs a day asking oneself : What is this? If I get nothing else from the book I now realize that this is not a practice I will undertake. I do like the question, what is this? but I believe it can be a meditation in everyday life. As we live and move and have our being in consciousness (God), we can be asking always, what is this? I am sure it can be very enlightening. This question may be a type of prayer without ceasing. We will live in awe as we look deeper into everyday moments. Maybe the practice will even work on the razors edge. When life gets intense, we need an antidote. Inquiring what is this?, as we teeter on the edge of discomfort may be very revealing in our everyday practice. We know that living on edge constantly is not healthy but there seems to be times when we all have to go through these dark night of the soul periods in life.

    Thanks for your honest posts Galen. The human experience can be very intense at times, maybe more time at that cabin will be your antidote, canceling and transmuting the toxic elements of life into blessings.

  8. I had to laugh, Brian, at your realization that sitting zazen for hours a day is not your practice. The question "What is this?" is one of several fundamental questions we can ask ourselves to enter the mystery of being. And yes, the cabin is a retreat for me in so many ways. Blessings indeed.

  9. This book is a little hard to read, its very wordy. But, the premise of the book, titled 'After Buddhism' is a whole discourse on how Buddhism has changed since Buddha lived and how it could evolve back to his original vision of dharma. His idea of the middle way may not require us to sit on a cushion for half a day at a time. Meditation in the process of every day events moments and actions may be the best approach after all. It would be like looking at Christianity as the original Way, and really understanding the original teaching of the man Jesus who embodied the Christ spirit, and understanding the teaching in such a way that he would have wanted it to be like in our day. A book called After Christianity in a post Christian world would be what he is presenting about Buddhism. These ancient teachings have been evolving over the centuries. Digging deep into their original intent would be very helpful in understanding their truth, which in many cases have been lost or distorted through a natural process over time.

    Hope you enjoy that cabin more and more Galen, as your place of retreat.

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