By Tyson Davis
Friends ask me fairly often why I meditate.
Sometimes it’s with a derisive tone. “How could you? What a waste of time!” But most of the time it is with general curiosity, if not necessarily with intention to do it themselves. Normally I provide a glib answer that ranges from, “Because I’m a boring person who likes to sit in a dark room alone,” to “Because I’m crazy,” and both of those answers have at least a grain of truth.
But I haven’t really thought about why I still meditate in a long time. I kind of remember why I started to meditate years ago. I was looking for answers about this life (not some future heaven or reincarnation) and determined that Zen and meditation would give me the best answers. Also I knew I needed to become more kind and compassionate to myself and others, so I started.
But now, seven years later, why am I still sitting?
Have I found the answers to the questions I was looking for? Definitely not. But I have come to the acceptance that there are no answers. I’ve had a glimpse of another big question that I didn’t even know I should be asking when I started meditating. That was a nice surprise. But the big metaphysical questions I used to ask myself, the ones that literally kept me up all night a lot of nights, have quieted down in my mind and are almost gone. Thank you zazen!
Now, for the more important reason I started. Am I more compassionate to myself and others? I am definitely more compassionate to this thing we have agreed to call Tyson. I no longer expect perfection from myself, I don’t beat myself up mentally when I make mistakes and I no longer have to be right all the time. So selfishly, I’m better to myself. But am I better to others? Hmm…that has been more difficult for me.
I’ve always had a difficult time with empathy. I am quick to judge others. I love dogs more than people (sociopath much?). But I have seen improvements in these areas, although they have been more incremental. I am able to see things from someone else’s perspective and that has been pretty big for me. Taking the Five Precepts—and taking them seriously—has also helped me be kinder to others. But it’s been meditation that has laid bare the things I need to work on. I can see them now, where before meditation I either didn’t see them or I was in denial. Seeing and being aware of these negative personality traits has allowed me to work on them and I will continue to do so.
And if my teacher ever reads this post she will give me 30 blows and tell me that Zen and meditation is not for self-help; it is a journey of awakening. And she’s right—in the grand scheme of things. But for my day-to-day journey in this world and for the benefit of all beings, it is a better world if I’m less shitty to myself and others.
And that is why I meditate.
Tyson Davis is not a Zen Teacher. In fact, his main practice is “don’t know.” So don’t take anything he writes as the proverbial gospel (or sutra as the case may be). He does think he is something of a Zen unicorn though, because he is not a Liberal/Progressive Democrat Buddhist, and he rolls his eyes when American Buddhist teachers and bloggers constantly inject politics into their religion. Because of that he started a blog, Don’t Know Zen. There he does what some would call tilting at windmills but he calls bringing American Buddhism back to the Middle Way.
Editor: Dana Gornall