buddhism

90 Day Commit-to-Sit: Week 6 - The Unforeseen Benefits of Living the Practice

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts aimed at capturing my experience following the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care’s 90 Day Commit-to-Sit challenge.  Each day, I have been sent an email that contains an excerpt from Maezumi’s Appreciate Your Life with a brief reflection afterwards.  My intention is to share my experience each week to foster discussion, illuminate the process of working on a practice, and reflecting on an excerpt that stuck with me from the week.

After two days in a row without a formal practice, I sat down this morning a little shamed and guilty.  The weekend had been a whirlwind, and I had not made it a priority to find time away to sit in the midst of out-of-town company.  In all honesty, I am still a touch protective/private about my practice – though my friends know I am writing this blog and that I have a regular practice, I still do not go out of my way to put it out there and ask for some time away.  Perhaps it feels selfish, or maybe I just don’t want to be that “in your face” about it with other people.  Whatever the motivation, I don’t excuse myself to sit when I have people in my home – which means sometimes it doesn’t happen.

However, today with the week staring anew, I decided I too would start anew and get to my cushion early in the morning – no more excuses!

This is what greeted me:

"Please do not forget that your life itself is the practice. Practice is no other than your life."

All my insecurities left me.  I gazed out the window, started my timer, and just began to breathe. 

As I sat there, I reflected on those words, that life itself is the practice, and I asked myself, was that true for me?  Has my practice worked its way into my life?  I thought back to my busy weekend, where I had been able to connect with friends I had not seen in a long time, and I thought on our conversations.  I thought about the honest and openness of our talks, of the genuine sense of connectedness and the ability to share where we were in the moment.

That was where I was living my practice.  

I believe that being able to sit on a regular basis and be with my thoughts has yielded a few different things, but of them, an appreciation for the important people in my life has surfaced time and time again.  Actually, I think that I have always known I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by some amazing individuals but contemplating this aspect of my life has given me the ability to verbalize these thoughts.  From my perspective, one of the differences of this weekend was that I felt comfortable enough with my own internal process to freely acknowledge that deep appreciation.  To allow for connection, bolstered by the afterglow of sitting and connecting with myself.

So here I am, picking right back up and sitting right back down!  I will continue to practice both on the cushion, and off.  As Maezumi points out, I don’t really think we get the choice.  Life is our practice, there is nothing else we have but this moment.

In the coming week, I invite you to ask yourself the same question:  Is your life your practice? Where is your sitting/meditating/writing/creating/contemplation practice effecting, improving and deepening your moment to moment living?  Looking on it now, is there somewhere you could invite it in?  So many possibilities! Until next week,

Be well, friends.

J

90 Day Commit-to-Sit: Week 5 - Examining the Other Shore

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts aimed at capturing my experience following the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care’s 90 Day Commit-to-Sit challenge.  Each day, I have been sent an email that contains an excerpt from Maezumi’s Appreciate Your Life with a brief reflection afterwards.  My intention is to share my experience each week to foster discussion, illuminate the process of working on a practice, and reflecting on an excerpt that stuck with me from the week.

There was something redeeming about opening my email a couple of days ago and seeing that I had made it to Day 30.  One of the reasons that I decided to write these blog posts was to create some accountability for myself, and to semi-publicly proclaim that I was going to actually follow through on a 90-day commitment.  As I write this, I sit with 32 days (having missed a total of 2) of regular meditation under my belt.  As these blogs hopefully convey, it has been a learning experience.  Each week brings new insights, new obstacles, new perspectives on the way my mind works and has allowed me to connect and speak to a community of people who also have an interest in meditation.

One of the things I have been exploring through this process is the idea that meditation “solves” some of the problems that we have in life.  These can manifest as stress, anxiety, bills, loss, grudges, worries, fears and a whole host of other unpleasant emotions.  When you dive into the literature on Zen meditation, however, it becomes clear that this  is not the intent of developing a practice.  Meditation is not an escape, but a return.  A return from the thoughts listed above, back to the body, the breath, the presence of now.  As Meazumi puts it:

“We have a practice know as the paramitas. Paramita means "to have reached the other shore." Dogen Zenji says, "The other shore is already reached." In other words, the meaning of reaching the other shore is to realize that this shore is the other shore. This life is the unsurpassable, realized life. There is no gap.

So if there is purpose to our practice, it is to realize that this shore and the other shore are the same. The purpose is to close the gap, to realize that there is just one shore, there is just one life. To reach is extra. Until you realize that this shore where you stand, this life that you are living, and the other shore, the life of the buddhas, are the same shore, you cannot appreciate your life to the fullest.”

As I see it, Maezumi is reminding us that when we sit, that sometimes we can get caught reaching for a better version of us.  A version that doesn’t worry, or fear, or love too deeply, or have the aches and pains of living. 

A version detached from suffering. 

In this same excerpt, he brings our attention the idea that reaching for the other shore allows us to convince ourselves that there is another shore.  That there is something outside of us that we can get to that will solve our issues.  When I sit to solve the problem of interpersonal strife or work stress, I am reinforcing the idea that I am that stress, that thoughts are things to be solved.  That they can be escaped by receding into practice.

I have come to realise that this is not the case.  That as Maezumi points out, I was (and am) already that other version of me.  I am that version of me because there is no other shore, and as such no other me.  The grass isn’t greener on the other side because the other side is make-believe.  The stress we try to escape in practice is a pattern of thoughts that you can not get away from, because things that are not real can follow you anywhere.  Instead, we turn to those things and sit with them.  We look at them and try to internalize the thought there is no other shore, and in doing this, we sit with who we are here-and-now.

To be clear, I am not saying that there are not real problems and concerns that we face in our lives.  There can be many, and they may pose real risks and hardship.  However, the thinking portion of these problems exist only in the space between the neurons and atoms of our mind.  The anxiety of returning to work tomorrow steals from me the option of being here right now, fingers on keys, contemplating mindfulness and enjoying the view from my living room window.  There is no meditating practice that will banish my obligation from work.  There is, however, a practice that will “close the gap” between the ideal me, who doesn’t worry, and the experiencing me, who is here, enjoying my afternoon.

My goal moving into this next week is remind myself that there is no other shore. That this is the moment I exist in, and that it is my sitting practice that can bring me back to that.  I do not sit to be another version of me, I sit to actualize that I am (and that is all there is).

This week, I encourage you too take some time to look at where you might be reaching in your own life.  How much of your time is thinking about who you should be or could be.  What would happen if you looked around to realize that you have everything you need in this moment? That you were already standing on the other shore?

Be well, friends.

J

90 Day Commit-to-Sit: Week 4 - The Complexity of Peace and Learning to Live

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts aimed at capturing my experience following the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care’s 90 Day Commit-to-Sit challenge.  Each day, I have been sent an email that contains an excerpt from Maezumi’s Appreciate Your Life with a brief reflection afterwards.  My intention is to share my experience each week to foster discussion, illuminate the process of working on a practice, and reflecting on an excerpt that stuck with me from the week.

This was one of those weeks where everything just felt like it got away from me.  I sat and practiced -  though my partner was unable to join me a few times - but I went through bouts of feeling like sitting was an obligation instead of a privilege.  I kept feeling rushed to sit. Trying to eek out a little time to just breathe and contemplate the daily excerpts.  I kept thinking of the quote, “If you can’t find 5 minutes to sit, then sit for an hour” and silently beating myself up for not making the time to find space.   I found myself waiting for a majority of my sits to just be done, so I could move on to the next thing I was supposed to do.

I don’t have an answer for this, the truth is, I am still working on the process of finding that balance – I’ll keep you updated.

What I can tell you is that I was taught a lesson about finding peace this week, a lesson about how I was living.  I was taught this lesson from my old, needy dog, Edi.

 First, the excerpt from Maezumi:

"Remember the four steps of practice that we described in the beginning: listen to the teachings, reflect on them, practice them, and finally experience them in your life. Examine your practice. Refresh and encourage yourself. Realize your life as peace itself, your life as it is now. We do not need to expect anything; in a sense we do not need to try to do something about being peaceful. The reason is simple: peace is already here as your life. Isn't it fascinating? Realizing constant change and no fixed self, you yourself are peace. Then being peace, how are you living?"

How am I living? Is a pretty constant question for me.  So, after reading this excerpt, I chimed the bowl, adjusted my body and sat.  As I mostly failed to clear my mind, I thought about this question.  What does it mean to live peacefully, to live as though this moment was the only real thing that I was experiencing, that everything is in flux and change and that stability is an illusion?  Shouldn’t that allow me to just let go of the things that bother me?  The self-criticism, judgement, and go-go-going-ness of my life.  Is there a place in there for the peace that Maezumi talks about?

As I delve into these seemingly unanswerable questions, I hear the familiar tinkling of tag-on-collar.  Edi, our black lab-collie cross has decided to come join us for a sit.  Not just that but she has decided to come and nudge her nose into and under my partner’s arm, creating a force-petting situation.  I open my eyes and look over, and see that despite my partners’ resistance, Edi is winning. 

Her insistence on getting pets is one of her defining traits. 

And here is where I learn my lesson.  Instead of being peace and living my life in the way that I think encapsulates this ideal, I tell Edi to go lie down.  She doesn’t even acknowledge me.  I repeat the command and she responds by panting heavily but holding her ground.  So, in my quest to not be interrupted from finding peace, I lean over and nudge her back, repeat go lie down!  This time she acquiesces, backs up a foot and plops down onto the ground, looking at me, with very cloudy but loving eyes.

I turn back to my cushion, and think How am I living?

The irony of the moment then dawns on me, and I am rocked by it’s implications:  In sitting to contemplate peace, I just separated myself from an animal that has, as far as I can tell, unlimited and unconditional reserves of love.  I feel pretty dumb - my intensity of practice blinded me to the experiencing of which Maezumi speaks.  I sit with that a while longer.

So, this is my takeaway this week.  That we can get so wrapped up in our own stories about living in the now, that we forget that we are connected.  That we can be blinded by our own narratives so fully that the perspective and compassion and interconnectivity of everything is obscured.  That we can literally push love away while sitting and asking how to find it.

I have thought about this a lot since that day.  Edi has gotten a lot more attention, and a few apologies.  I have aimed to live my practice at the same time as I practice my practice. 

As you move through the coming week, I invite you to ask yourself: How can I invite peace into the moment to moment spaces in my day?  How can I move out of my head and into my life in a way that supports and pays tribute to the person I aim to be? How do I experience my practice – How am I living?

Be well, friends.

J