Another brilliant day of grey skies, and thus richer forest color and birdsong, at the Zendo today. But did I notice? No. Why is that? Ah, this was one of those days where my mind was spinning in a million directions of worry, concern and regret. We've all had sitting periods like that.
It's easy to want to escape from those moments on the cushion, but I attribute them to be flags of concern, reminders to myself to sit still more often, because evidently there is a lot happening in my life that is a little too much to bear. "My mind runneth over." Perhaps like many others, my present way of dealing with these overwhelming things is to ignore them and just move on... Keep moving! Don't Just Do Something...Sit There! Sylvia Boorestein has a knack for creative Buddhist book titles, and that one has always been my favorite. I have yet to read it, but the title has certainly been a mantra for me on days like this. My other mantra is "I take refuge..." This phrase began my journey of dedicated practice, and over and over it continues to inspire me, especially when times are hard. Like today.
"I take refuge in Buddha. I take refuge in Dharma. I take refuge in Sangha." These are the Three Jewels of Buddhism, and the basis of the vows one takes when practice deepens. These are also what is represented by the three bows I make before chanting the Heart Sutra on Saturday mornings, and the three bells rung at the end of our practice. But what are they?
Refuge can mean many things. What came to mind today for me was refuge as an oasis, a calm-in-the-storm, a moment to step out of the downpour under a shared umbrella of kindness. Refuge in the Buddha today then meant taking shelter in the idea that this, too, is a part of enlightenment; that beyond my judgments and worry, there is perfection in this exact moment. This moment is awake.
By taking refuge in Dharma, or the teachings of Buddha, today I chose to have faith in the act of sitting down in the midst of all my worry. The zafu itself, the moment, crowded as it was in my thoughts, became a rich teacher by my allowing it to be so. I didn't get up and run. The zafu was my refuge.
Taking refuge in Sangha often points to the community of practitioners one shares space with. And, it can also mean the teachers that have imparted Dharma in one's life. So today I took refuge under a large umbrella of compassion, upheld by all the multitudes of generations of teachers and students that have come before me, all of them with equally complicated human lives. Today, I took refuge in being fully human.
So I fell back on that cushion today, and allowed my mind to simply overflow, relaxing in the refuge of the heart of my practice. And guess what? Without me chasing after them so hard, those awful thoughts calmed on their own, and by the end of it, I was merely half as harried as I had been when I first sat down.
Ah, the power of the humility of "I GIVE UP!!!" Have a peaceful week, everyone.
Always a tricky question to answer simply, it may be best to remember that Zen is not an "is" so much as it is a "does". The word zen is actually Japanese rendering of the Chinese word chan, which in turn is a Chinese rendering of the Sanskrit dhyana. However you say it, Zen most directly means "meditate"; and in the Soto lineage of Zen, emphasis is placed upon the practice of sitting meditation above all else. It is viewed as the direct expression of enlightenment-- which our founder Dogen Zenji noted is not something one must attain, rather something to be directly expressed through the practice of zazen. In Soto, we face the wall as our ancestor Bodhidharma faced the wall of a cave. Our practice is supported by our posture: Erect spine, soft gaze, hands folded in the Zen mudra, legs solid, and breath continuous in an effortless effort.
What is Zen? The answer is one best experienced directly through one's own practice.