spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
Porcupine at Mer Bleue /Robbie’s Photo Arts
My meditation coach asked me not to take any more classes, not to study Buddhist teachings, at least not in the short term. Whether this prohibition against studying Precepts, Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path is a lifetime ban depends, I guess, on what kind of progress I make in the practice of sitting, rather than approaching Buddhism head first.

When she told me to limit my mental participation, I reacted with an attitude of defiance. How dare anyone tell me what to do!! And when I registered for a class at the East Bay Meditation Center for February and she objected, I said I had not taken a class in January; that must count for something. She did not think so.

Explaining why I have a coach in the first place and why she would limit my intellectual pursuit of Nirvana and suggest that time put into sitting was time better spent, I will save for another day.

Right now, what interests me is how I employed defiance in the past, and how that propensity to defy authority, even authority I have chosen, no longer seems useful.

At a recent Spirit Rock workshop, not a class, the 100 plus of us over 55 explored what resilience means to us as we age. I knew going to the workshop was not an act of defiance, as we were not studying Buddhism; we were sitting and sharing personal experiences.

We were asked to look at our lives and tell a story that demonstrated our ability to bounce back from a setback. In other words, what strengths of character do we bring to our aging? I chose to focus on what I once considered a character strength – defiance. This translates as “If it doesn’t feel in my best interest, telling me what to do is not going to work, even if you are a person in authority”

At the workshop, in groups of three, each of us told a story of a time in our past when we were resilient. I chose the account of how I did not drop out of college in the late ‘50s although the Dean of Women at the small Christian college told me that unmarried and pregnant, I was not welcome and had to leave school. I refused. Even as I recounted the event, I began to question how defiance translated into resilience. The other two in the triad had the job of telling me what my story revealed about my strengths. They said they saw in my story “courage, perseverance, determination, and integrity.”

Although I don’t mind looking back at that incident from the perspective of positive personal qualities, my own sense of what happened has more to do with a fierce unwillingness to be told what to do than with any recognizable strength. Back then, defiance kept me in school and eventually being graduated. I would call that skillful defiance.

But what about now? How skillful is it to deliberately defy the person I chose to teach me? In talking to my meditation coach about taking classes or not taking classes, my habitual mind expressed itself: “You can’t tell me what to do!”  And, in response, she continued to remind me as I strung together arguments to justify taking the classes, that I chose her to be my teacher. Again and again she would interrupt my attempt to justify doing what I wanted to do, “You chose me.”

I spent several unhappy days resenting being told what to do. I complained to my therapist, wept to my friend, attempted to justify the feelings of defiance that worked so effectively throughout my younger life. Eventually, I decided that continuing to resist what I am told to do may not be in my best interests. Perhaps defiance is a tool in the emotional tool belt, so to speak, and not always the most useful the same way a hammer is not always as skillful as a screwdriver or pliers.

So for now no more classes or searching for additional information. I will just sit. As I continue on my spiritual path, I will let go of defiance for a while, trusting the meditation coach I chose. I am not sure where this will lead; I am willing to see.

1/22/2013 03:15:29 am

I too have deeply believed in defiance. I followed Anais Nin's proclamation: Whoever tells me what to do is like anyone else who tells me what to do. It was a feminist distrust of the rules of the world we live in. When I started Mindfullness Meditation some 30 years ago, I could not really call anyone my teacher. I distrusted giving away my power. That has changed and I am dedicated to being a student of the practice. I did knew one thing then as I do now, that what I needed to do was "just sit". I never read anything, took any classes or wrote anything about the practice. I needed to get in touch with profound aspects of being on earth like the existence of a body I lived in and through. That took a long time and continues. Occasionally I read about the practice now and I do enjoy dharma talks. Even every once in a while I speak of meditation to others. Mostly and not enough, I "just sit".

Alison Rittger
1/23/2013 08:08:38 am


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