To Sit, To Breathe

Look what I found at a tag sale yesterday:

I’ve been thinking about meditation recently so this little zabuton is the perfect inspiration to get my ass positioned for a ‘sit’.  Reasons to do so are plentiful: relieves stress, inspires creativity and general well being.

Meditation is one of those things that I’m never sure I’m doing right. (Kind of how I often feel about writing…) Rationally, I know that this is nonsense-thinking, but still I doubt myself and I think I should really learn how do to this from a teacher. And then I remember Taniguchi-san.

In Kyoto in the 1980s, I met a Buddhist monk on a bus and we became friends. I initiated a conversation with the kind looking elderly man beside me (he was not in his robes so I had no idea he was a monk) because I was intrigued by the book he was looking at of these amazing little stone sculptures.

While in Kyoto, I fancied myself a sculptor and was so excited by these expressive, wacky looking little figures all lined up in endless rows that I said, “Summimasen, doko deska?” while pointing to his book.  Turns out, these nembustu were at a temple in Arashiyama not so far away. He introduced himself  as a monk who lived at a another beautiful temple and offered to take me to this place. Of course, I gleefully accepted his generous invitation.

A week later I met Taniguchi-san at his temple, Myoshinji .

We mounted bicycles and I pedaled furiously behind this 70+ year old gem, marveling for the millionth time at the wonderfulness of Kyoto. I’d been living there for over 3 years and had recently decided to move on.  Before I left, my new friend Taniguchi-san gave me a crash-course in meditating.

I met him on a beautiful spring day at Miyoshinji temple again and this time, I followed him inside to his quarters past simple gardens, silent but for the crunch of gravel beneath our feet, bees as we passed the cherry blossoms, buzzing in what seemed a chant. In a simple tatami mat room, Taniguchi-san talked about breath and paying attention.  Mind you, my Japanese was not great and he spoke only a smattering of English.  I searched my journals this morning to see if I’d made notes and found nothing. But I do have this:

As a parting gift, Taniguchi-san gave me this lovely stone – explaining I might, with eyes just ever-so-slightly open, focus on this rock. He knew I’d been inspired to come to Japan because of the rock gardens. For over 20 years this precious piece has graced my bureau.  I blew the dust off  setting off ripples of recollection as if this old stone had been tossed into the depths of my mind.  A cushion, a rock, a lesson remembered.  A return to breath.

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2 Responses to To Sit, To Breathe

  1. Avatar Lea Sylvestro says:

    Oh, the chance encounters and lessons learned while traveling. I love this story of your chance meeting, the monk’s graciousness, and the experience that followed. What a vivid image – the two of you on bikes heading to the temple. Meditation – you voice so perfectly that sense of not doing it right. It seems so many have found it an answer to stress and mind chatter…but it is HARD to quiet those inner voices! XO Lea

  2. This struck a chord with me – I love the funny stone figures and the monk giving you a rock. I’m a meditator, though it’s a little sporadic! I do weekend retreats occasionally and this helps keep it alive.

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