I live in a small house in the middle of St. Paul. The house has what is called “a three season porch.” In Minnesota, this means if you are lucky you might use it for a month of spring and a month of fall along with the summer. But with the help of a heating pad and lots of goose down, I am able to use it from April through November. I use the porch for my morning meditation, which, now that I am retired, often extends for hours.
The porch looks out on an old elm tree, one of the few Dutch Elm disease survivors in the area. Other than that, the view from my porch is pretty ordinary. Across the street are the simple houses of my neighbors with cars parked in front. In the morning, I watch the kids as they run off to school and the parents as they trudge to work. The elm is always full of squirrels and a variety of birds come and go. In the spring, large flocks of warblers occasionally descend on the elm during migration, and for a few days each year a pilgrimage of brown creepers moves through, each flying in low and ascending up the bark as if in homage to the tree.
Sometimes I think how nice it would be to look out over the ocean, or at least a lake or pond. Or perhaps look out on mountains, or even a great stretch of prairie. I do understand why people go to great lengths and expense to purchase a property where every day they can look out on such scenery. Yet, I love the simple view from my porch, which is why I try to extend its period of use as long as possible.
Decades ago I developed the habit of getting up in the early morning to spend at least an hour in meditation. Before meditating, I put water on for coffee and I complete a brief routine of yoga poses to help me become more alert and focused. Then I take the coffee, go to the porch, and sit.
Sometimes I meditate in the Zen manner, just observing the workings of my mind. Other times, I contemplate an idea. Either way, the time spent in meditation is always quality time. I find it interesting that in our society we speak of spending quality time with our children or our spouse, but not of spending quality time with ourselves.
Most days, I do not obtain any great depths of meditation, but every once in a while I get to what might be called the Ultima Thule of meditation: meditation done to perfection. If an explorer seeks the North Pole, once there, all further movement is movement away from what was sought. This is what the experience of meditation done to perfection is like, any movement is movement away.
On these mornings, from that place of meditation, the view from my porch is simply perfect. Each thing, each activity, is perfectly what it is, what it should be. With all the money in the world I couldn’t purchase a more perfect, more beautiful view.
We live in a society that strives to find happiness by making our external environment as interesting and comfortable as possible. Modifying our external circumstances is the main strategy of our society. It fills our days and drives the economy.
I have chosen the opposite strategy. I work at bringing my inner being into harmony with the environment in which I find myself. I still wouldn’t mind having the ocean or the mountains to gaze upon each morning, but I also know that the absolute quality of that view would depend more upon my state of mind than the external factors comprising it. Whichever view I had, it would only be perfect when viewed through the perfect mind of meditation.
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