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What if this was it? Barry Magid May 31st 2008

Some mornings it seems a shame to say anything at all about this practice of ours. To just sit together the way we do seems a perfect expression of who and what we are, and any words I add feel superfluous. But not every morning feels that way to all of us, all the time, so inevitably we start thinking about what's going right or wrong in our practice, and how to get it "back on track." But as soon as we begin thinking that way, we've turned our practice into a problem or a technique, something we can do well or badly. But really, practice isn't a problem to be solved or a technique to be perfected. We just sit, and that sitting encompassing anything and everything that arises even our thoughts of right and wrong, which are just thoughts that come and go, as thoughts do.

I say "we just sit," but "just sitting" has become a clichè that we pay lip service to without necessarily examining what it really means to us as individuals in our own particular lives. So as an exercise, please join me in a little thought experiment. Think back to the period that just ended. What was that sitting like for you? What do you think went well or badly during that period? What did you like or dislike about how you practiced during that particular half-hour? Now, what if I we're to say to you that from now on, for the rest of your life, for however many years of practice you have left, 10, 20, 30 or more years every sitting from now on will be exactly like the period that just ended. The same mix of clarity and confusion, comfort and discomfort, feelings of accomplishment or discouragement. Nothing more and nothing less. How would you feel about that? Would you keep sitting if that really was it? If there were nothing further you would ever accomplish? If you never made any more "progress?" What would be your motivation to keep practicing? We like to say we sit without any gaining ideas, but how about it? How would you really feel if this was it?

Postscript: After I wrote the above, I wondered which was more grammatically correct: "If this was it" or "If this were it?" So I checked the dictionary, and it said that that "were" is a past subjunctive, properly used in conditional sentences that are "clearly hypothetical or contrary to fact." Well, my little thought experiment is certainly hypothetical, but just how contrary to fact do you think it is? What if this was it?

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