Forgive the absence, dear ones; it's been a busy summer. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled Zen Adventure in the weeks to come. In the meantime, though, a friend, who is a new mom herself, asked me: "how do YOU practice in this new phase of your life?" I think there are more than a few of us who would sum it up as "I basically daydream about meditating while I'm vacuuming, and I feel guilty..." But as I wrote my response to her, I realized that while the practice itself may look different, the intention, concentration and effort are very much the same.
lol-- laughter and guilt. That seems to sum it up for me these days!
This morning I sat, actually, for the first time in many weeks. (Alright, technically we should call it "months" I guess, at this point!) My last great effort was my At-Home Retreat, which was in May if memory serves. What was interesting about that time was the amount of teachings that popped up in least-expected places, not the least of which was an admonition from my Teacher (Kobun roshi) on some random website I found, to "not feel guilty." To practice zazen when you practice zazen, and not sit zazen when you're not sitting zazen-- not to pine after it when you're not doing it.
Simple enough, but the rest of the message got my head straight: "The best way to live is to consider the people who relate with you in your day to day life and emphasize how they feel about your absence. Their tremendous kindness makes you able to join this sitting practice."
The other interesting thing that happened in that week was that true to any sangha in deep practice, the fissures in my marriage began to show. My annoyances and resentments toward my husband were painfully present and in truth, it's why my Retreat lasted only a week. I think of it as a ripening time, where I allowed myself to really open to what was happening here in my family-- and I understood, finally, what a great mirror we are for each other, in all our guises.
So in a way, I feel like the Great Cosmic Zen Master stepped in and hooked us with a good whallop from the kyosaku ("encouragement stick"), because that's when everything began to unravel. Which is excellent now, from this vantage point at least: attention has been received where it was most needed, and we are all working together now, rather than each in our own separate corner, trying to get it right on our own.
I dunno. I miss sitting, I miss the discipline of living at a temple and waking earlier than the rest of the world, that sense of the night-creatures heading back to bed and the morning earth drowsily rolling through sunrise. I miss being a part of that and part of a quiet group of folks all really dedicated to... something, their own inner hope. When I say I'm a priest now, usually my mind follows up with, "Yeah, right..." so that I don't really even know what it means anymore. A friend recently posted, "How are you of service?" and that focus has shifted from, "I'm going to be the next Joan Halifax and save the whole, big world!!" to "I'm going to go fold socks!"
But seriously, I don't doubt for a moment that this service is important. It's a physical manifestation of chanting the Heart Sutra, is my take on it. Bringing a new human into this world is the hardest work there is. You CAN'T get lost in your ideals within this practice-- it won't LET you. And you cannot escape it, even on the worst days. It's all you have and you know it. It is an excellent, excellent teacher and opportunity in the way that Temple living cannot be, because in Temple life, truly the back door is always a little ajar...
So, there you have it. My practice these days consists of a healthy attention to Right Thoughts, with Right Speech and Right Action following as the branches off that trunk. (That just means I spend a lot of time in my head, talking to me'self ;) I've taught my son how to make an incense offering and bow, and we do that quite often because he likes it. Once in a great while, we actually sit zazen together, and oh there is NOTHING sweeter than sitting zazen all of 54 seconds with a toddler!! And each night I soak my tired feet and use that time, right there locked away in the quiet bathroom and perched on the closed toilet, to sit zazen. I read a lot of Buddhist blogs, and I write on my own blog, concentrating on the relational aspect of all of life. And each day I'll make an offering on my altar, giving thanks to my teachers.
When I first moved to Boston, I decided to make an adventure of my practice and visit each meditation center the area offers. There are a lot of places, it's rather like a mini Buddhist mecca! Alas there are no strictly Soto sanghas here, so it's been a lot like visiting different "countries" of Buddhism.
The other nice thing is the local Insight Meditation Society offers a GREAT program for children called Little Buddhas, so we're attending that monthly as a family.
So, that's it for me- how about you? What does your practice in the Family Sangha look like?
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.