Friday, March 27, 2009

Squirrel Watching as Meditation

They are ubiquitous here in the city. On days when the sun splits through every tree branch, and the air has warmed sufficiently for the comfort of feet, it seems like every turn of the eye brings sight of one.

Squirrels: bane of gardeners, cranky homeowners, speeding drivers, and hungry winter birds.

You might be asking by now, what do squirrels have to do with meditation?

In the Genjo Koan, Dogen wrote, now famously, "To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things."

Have you ever stopped and watched a squirrel? I don't mean for a few seconds, nor do I mean having an "awe, cute" moment. I mean stop, fully, and be with the squirrel, and yourself.

Try sticking with it for a minute, two minutes. If you don't move much and your lucky, maybe you can even go five minutes with the same squirrel. All sorts of things arise in the mind, especially if you're in the city. Labels. It's fat, skinny, sick looking, grey, white, brown, black, bushy. Judgements. It's ugly, cute, anxious, crazy, goofy, stupid, smart, thieving. Opinions. I like this squirrel. I don't like this squirrel. I hate this squirrel. I have better things to do than watch this squirrel. I love watching squirrels. Paranoid thoughts. What if it leaps on me? What does the neighbor think of me standing still here in the middle of the sidewalk?

And if this isn't enough, the odds are also fairly good that, during this period of watching, you have failed to "watch" some portion of the time. A car rolls by behind you. You turn away for a few seconds. The neighbor steps out of his door for a smoke. You turn away again. From somewhere unknown, a loud sound, and you turn away again. You become bored, and you turn away once more.

It's hard to stay fully with the same squirrel, the same old stories in your head, the life that you have at this moment. And to the extent that we can't stick with it, we miss an opportunity to dig in and really wake up to who we are. I miss a lot, you probably do too.

We are fortunate then, to have so many squirrels in the world to remind us to come back to ourselves. To come back to our lives right now, as they are. I bow to the squirrels for their teaching.

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