Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free.
Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing.
This is the ultimate.
– Chuang Tzu
– Chuang Tzu
Someone recently asked — “How is that (seeking out teachers and reading the text of the Buddha himself) time and energy consuming, roundabout way?”
On the left, there’s the route I prefer. On the right, there’s the seeking. I prefer the route on the left. The one on the right may ultimately lead back to realization, but there are a lot more steps involved.
I’m considering turning off comments on this blog as a whole, because it lends itself to the stuff on the right. That takes up a whole lot of time and attention, which I could be spending on my preferred path, which is shown on the left.
If people want to follow, that’s great. But all the chit-chat… seems ultimately distracting.
Then life happened, and I drifted away from that practice. Some really tough situations showed up in my life that shook my faith to the core.
Someone close to me died.
Someone even closer to me nearly died.
Family connections frayed and snapped.
Friends both turned on me and disappeared from my life.
The company I worked for underwent radical restructuring, and I “moved on to other opportunities,” changing jobs every year or so for a number of years.
When I left that stable job, my sitting practice — in meetings and in my personal life — stayed behind. As did my faith. As did my willingness to trust again. All the peace I had found before… well, it simply evaporated, and I went into the kind of survival mode that scoffs at any kind of spiritual practice.
180 degree turn. In a completely different direction.
It’s taken me years to get back to it… in an ongoing process of fits and starts, of beginning and interrupting, and really questioning if this is what I want, if it’s what I want to be doing, and if I actually have what it takes to sustain a regular practice.
I’m back now. At least for today. And I can’t help wondering — just about every time I sit, or think about sitting — if I will be able to continue this with as much commitment as I had, 20-some years ago.
Looking back, I’m tempted to tell myself that I failed somehow, when I left my regular practice. I’m tempted to believe that I abandoned my practice and abandoned myself in the process… That I was a fair weather friend to sitting, and I didn’t have what it took to stay firm in my commitment.
I’m tempted to suspect everything I say and think and write about sitting, meditating, zazen… you name it. After my abandonment, and derision, who am I to even approach these things again?
And yet, here’s the thing — we all do it. At least, those of us who are fully involved in everything life throws our way. We all need to test our faith and our practice in the real world, in order to prove it out. To see if it’s really “a thing”, or if it’s just something we do to pass the time and get our minds off our troubles.
Looking back, I can see how I once used my sitting as a way to escape the discomforts of my life on a regular basis. I was present to some things, yes, but I was also getting high as a kite and skating past a lot of really grimy human experiences that I didn’t feel like dealing with. Coming out of those sessions with a buzz on, convinced me that all was well and dealt with
But that was far from the truth.
Many, many times, my sitting was far more of an escape, than a way to fully engage with my life. And that was a practice I needed to leave behind me. I needed to abandon the old way, and then really test it. Somehow I knew it wouldn’t survive, if I didn’t push it up against the truly unpleasant facts of life-as-it-happens, to see if it had what it took to just deal.
And what I learned was… It does. My practice, my sitting, my unitive experiences and connection with the unbroken wholeness of ALL… it’s a thing. It’s real, it has substance, it’s still a part of me. It’s very different now, than it was all those years ago, but it’s still there.
And test it though I may, it truly never leaves.
Which is good.
20-some years ago, I started sitting regularly, I did it because someone I knew and trusted said it had helped her grandson, who had been in trouble with the law and couldn’t seem to get his act together. She had him stay with her, one summer, and each morning at 6 a.m., no matter what the weather, they went outside and sat. And he stopped getting in trouble.
I’ve been in and out of trouble, myself, over the years, and this sounded like the kind of bad-ass practice that would appeal to me.
With some potential.
So, I started sitting regularly. And after a few years of intermittent intentional sitting, I had some pretty incredible experiences.
The kind of moments where everything folded into itself, ceased to be separate, and became one continuous Creation that had both no reality and every reality.
Which was phenomenal. It changed me forever, no doubt.
Then I changed jobs, I started an official career doing professional work, and things changed in my practiced. I continued to sit semi-regularly, and things were still good. But I was getting busy. And the professional world was really starting to intrude on my practice.
So, I changed how I sat. I started sitting at work — not taking time away from my work for a few zazen moments in a quiet room, but sitting in the midst of work. In meetings, especially, when tensions were starting to flare, and I was really losing my cool, I would sit.
Adjust my posture.
Breathe slowly and steadily.
Focus on what was happening, then and there, keeping any distractions away from my attention.
And I can tell you, those sitting times were some of the most productive ones I’d had in a long time. It became regular practice for me, to attend meetings with a zazen frame of mind — centered, focused, just sitting and being fully present for that 50 minutes or so, not allowing any aggravations to get hold of me, not allowing any fleeting anger or tension or discord to turn into anything more than a passing sensation.
It made me better at meetings. It made me a better team player. It made me a better individual contributor. It made me better at life.
Sitting anywhere, anytime, whenever I needed to… it just made me better.
I have been away from it for a while, which happens with me, now and then. I’ve been sitting zazen since 1991, when I first learned about it and was taught by an old unofficial zen master who lived out on the land a few hours from where I grew up. I really took to it, because it was a common-sense extension of my meditative / contemplative practice, which was starting to take on a broader, more spiritually inclusive and ecumenical feel.
I have sat with intention since that time.
My personal pattern since 1991 is that I’ll sit daily for some weeks or months — sometimes for 5 minutes, sometimes for 15… sometimes only once a day, sometimes twice or three times. And it’s good. Then, for some unaccountable reason, I’ll stop.
And go do other things.
I get busy looking into what life has to offer me. Or I feel like just sitting is not what I need to be doing with myself for a while.
And I do other things.
Then I come back. Because I’m getting too reactive to things that I know are fleeting and will pass. Or I’m feeling off-kilter and getting pulled out of whack by everybody else’s stuff. Or I really need a sense of silent focus in the midst of crazy-busy times. Or I just miss it.
The times that are crazy-busy are the times when I benefit most from taking the time to sit. I can spare the time. Especially when I think I can’t spare it.
That’s how things are right now.
Things are just a little bit nuts at work. Everyone is in a state of turmoil, and I’m no exception at times. I know that my state of mind is not helping matters any. There is a lot of static flying around — gossip and politicking and undermining in the face of organizational upheaval. There are a million different things that can — and do — pull me off balance and really trash my cool. And I know full well, it’s because I’m not completely centered… not convinced in my heart that all is Well, and that all things — including this — are fleeting and will pass.
So, I’m sitting.
Whenever I can. In the morning when I wake up, before I get into my day… either counting or simply sitting.
During the day, when I can step away and just sit and breathe for 37 breaths.
In the evening before I go to sleep… sitting cross-legged on the pillows on my bed, the comforter pulled around me snug — because it’s still cold… breathing and sitting and counting, and just letting the day fall away to make room for the present.
It reminds me of who I am, of what I am.
It reminds me that nothing that happens outside of me is actually responsible for my inner state of mind, heart, body, and spirit.
It reminds me that at the core of my being there is a glowing coal of ecstatic wholeness that burns steadily and cannot be extinguished, even though I may allow it to be covered up by the many layers of anxiety, stress, strain, uncertainty, distrust, and plain old poor habits of thought and action.
It reminds me that I can peel away those layers — just let them go — and find once again the Truth of who and what I am, always have been, and always shall be.
And it is good.
Every work day when I am in the office, I drive 45 minutes to work. That drive takes me through some gorgeous countryside.I have been making this drive nearly every work day for the past three years.And yet…I rarely see it. I am either listening to music or lost in thought.
All this beauty rolling by, each day. And I miss it.
This week, I have turned off my music. I am looking around. I am hearing the sounds of the turning wheels of my car, watching the scenery pass me by, noticing the changes from day to day, smelling the scents of wood fires burning into the wintery Springtime, noticing how my posture can use some help as I drive.
I am seeing where I am.
And it is beautiful.
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