Earlier this month, while I was at yet another doctor visit, I complained to her: I am always tired. Like, I can go to bed at a reasonable hour, and then sleep in 'til 10 the next day! And even then, I'll wake up exhausted. Me? I'm sure I have lupus SLE; her? She's conservative in her practice, and also in her diagnoses, so I have lots of things (connective tissue disease, Raynaud's, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, sacroiliitis, seizures), but not yet SLE. "You should meditate," she said, matter-of-factly, her eastern-European accent making it sound even more final (and dismissive?) to my American ears. "Don't stay up late, and meditate, for the stress." At this point, I laugh: um...I am a zen priest, I say. To which she laughs, replying, "ha! Professional hazard, not doing what you are supposed to do. Doctors too. Haha!" ~Busted~.
So earlier this month, I made a final decision: I will sit zazen again. Somehow. I will do it.
I took to heart a conversation I had not long ago with my teacher, who at the time was laid up in bed with an injury. I asked her, how do you do it? How do we sit like this? She laughed gently and admitted, "You know, even if it's for 5 minutes, you go there." And she shared with me her attitude toward posture, and I figured, eh-- I think I can handle that for 5 minutes!
That next morning, before I began anything else, and with all of my can-do-it-in-bed knitting and research projects strewn about me, I steeled my reserve and I endeavored to sit. I do believe you'll note by the above photo, it was not a traditional posture in any sense of the imagination. In fact it was anything but. In my mind I called it Slumping Zen, a cheeky reference to a most excellent site run by a friend of mine. Yet as the humor of my situation faded, a deep, deep grief surfaced, and I think any one of us who has experienced formal practice will recognize why.
At some point in my more focused study, all those years ago in the temple in which I lived, I learned that the posture of zazen itself is enlightenment. It is one of those central-to-Soto tenants that, after hours and hours of sitting shikantaza, turned into my full modus operandi. It had finally clicked: zazen isn't just an expression of enlightenment, it is enlightenment. I got it.
Or so I thought!
It may have been "just a thought" but, really-- when you reach the point that you stick with your posture no matter what, even on days that it isn't, you enjoy it. It becomes a source of such deep joy that you return to it again and again, without even thinking about it, because you go there.
And on the flip side of that, I discovered early this month, is the deep grief of losing the utter elegance of formal zazen practice.
But as I had "steeled my reserve", of course I stuck with the damn thing, and on the other side of it?
;) I can't tell you. Not because I'm being overtly mystical or anything-- really, I don't remember, haha. (One of the 'perks' of my conditions.) And, the bits-and-pieces of that first 15-minute sit remain with me now more as a structural understanding, and a forgiving, of my body, my limitations, and more importantly? Of my unlimited nature.
Now it is 13 days later, and I have to confess, I only sat like this-- 15-minute increments of slumping zen-- for 7 days. (Hey! Practically a sesshin!) I may have made one other serious attempt at it the other night. But for me, like many of you, try as I might, life has a way of taking off with guns blazing right upon waking; no time for zen, slumping or otherwise. And so ensues the guilt of no-zen, right? Or so I thought, and the point hit home-- through the center of my heart-- this morning. I was reading an old essay about a Dharma talk given by my teacher, Kobun Chino. I was hoping to find some kernel from him, some excellent lozenge to cool my guilt of not-sitting. And though his words indeed were soothing, the wisdom of his very life struck me suddenly, like lightening: Kobun died while he was attempting to save, and comfort, his drowning daughter. Kobun died with the one-pointed focus of being a very, very good father.
Parent. Priest. Invalid. Not-Doing. Being. Zazen. Not-zen.
Fortunately we are already sitting at ease in the self-joyous meditation of the Buddhas. Isn't this a great boon?
-Dogen Zenji, Bendowa