I have said many times that in my recovery, I had to learn to stop thinking so much, and just “do.” This morning, while reading a passage in Suzuki’s Not Always So, it reminded me how well he makes this point: “In our zazen (sitting meditation) practice we stop our thinking, and we are free from emotional activity. We don’t say there is no emotional activity, but we are free from it. We don’t say we have no thinking, but our life activity is not limited by our thinking mind. In short, we can say that we trust ourselves completely, without thinking, without feeling, without discriminating between good and bad, right and wrong. Because we respect ourselves, because we put faith in our life, we sit. That is our practice.”
Last year when I had Parkinson’s and was considering sitting zazen, I looked up articles and videos so I could get a sense of how to sit (correct posture, mudra (way of holding hands), etc.). Sitting on the floor for any great length of time was impossible. Sitting with my back straight was impossible. Sitting in a lotus or half lotus position was impossible (something I never had been able to do in life). Holding my hands in a special mudra for any great length of time was impossible. Counting my breaths from 1-10 and starting over at 1 and doing it again…finally, something I could do.
So I improvised. I sat at the front of a hard, straight-backed chair, feet on the floor pointing straight, hunched forward with hands on knees. I set my timer for 10 minutes, closed my eyes about 75% and started counting my breaths on the exhale. When I reached 25 or 26, it occurred to me that I must not have been paying attention because I was supposed to go back to 1 when I reached 10. So I started at 1 again. After a few 1-10 sequences, I looked over at my timer to find that I had about 7-1/2 minutes remaining. I thought I was going to lose my mind. I looked at the time a few more times over the next few minutes. My initial thought was “what a waste of 10 minutes; why in the world would anybody sit zazen for 30 or 40 minutes.”
However, as was my way in my recovery, when I started something new, I stuck with it for a month so I could properly assess its usefulness. It took me quite a few days to make it through 10 minutes without looking at the timer. I had really good reasons for doing this, too. “I am certain I have been sitting here for a long time, but I am so focused on my counting, I did not notice the timer when it buzzed.” “I feel like I have sat here twice as long as yesterday, so the timer must be broken, I better check the time.” It is embarrassing to say, but this is just the beginning of a long list of reasons for looking at the time during the 10 minutes.
Then, one morning, it occurred to me that I needed to shoot down every excuse to look at the timer because part of what I was trying to accomplish was not over-thinking things and not worrying so much about the future. It hit me that worrying about the time prevented me from being in the moment. My mind was in a “what’s coming next” mode…instead of living in the moment, I was preoccupied with the future (and sometimes the past). More or less, I think we all suffer from this with Parkinson’s — a preoccupation with how we got Parkinson’s and what will the future be like with Parkinson’s. Doing, instead of thinking too much, is how to be in the moment.
This was an important realization for me. I became better equipped for embracing the disease. Think about it: In the present moment, you have Parkinson’s. At some time in the past, you did not have Parkinson’s. At some time in the future, you may not have Parkinson’s. However, if all you do is think about it, you stop living. You end up caught in the “life was so good before, and the future looks bleak” mentality of Parkinson’s. WHAT ABOUT NOW…WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW?
As Dan Millman put it, “We can control efforts, not outcomes.” I have found in life that although I believe this statement to be true, the harder I put forth my efforts and the more consistent I am with my efforts, the more likely the outcome will be a desirable one. WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? What are your efforts for Parkinson’s recovery?
Over-thinking generally creates fear, and Parkinson’s loves fear…it thrives on your fear and joins in the drama of creating terrible things for your future. One of the ways to stop this fear of the future is to stop thinking and start doing. Many times, Suzuki writes about taking the purpose of zazen practice into everyday life. In the passage I quoted above, Suzuki writes that we sit zazen because we have faith in our lives and we respect ourselves. Take this into your everyday life. When you are doing the Recipe for Recovery, do it instead of thinking too much. Don’t do it wondering if it is working. Don’t do it wondering how soon you will recover. Don’t do it just because somebody tells you to do it and you are wondering if they are wrong. Do it because you respect yourself and have faith in yourself to recover. You are worth it!
All my best,