Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Recently, I met with our head teacher to talk about my practice (as well as some zen center board-related issues. Fairly early on in the conversation, she asked me point blank,"Why don't you do 'group practice' anymore?" The question was followed by a number of possible reasons she had come up with, but at a certain point she stopped that and waited.
I paused. Looked inward a moment. And then said, "Well, I'm not sure what you said is true. I'm still coming to Sunday services. Attending classes when I can. Etc. What you're really asking about is sesshin, right?"
After confirming this, I basically responded, "I feel called to practice in the world right now." And then I went on to tell her about how, for example, I meditate and/or do chanting practice before (and sometimes during) protests and rallies. And that I do a lot of "public" zazen, meditating on buses, park benches, in fields, in my garden during spring and summer ...
But really, what it comes down to, is that for the most part, I'm over worrying about what constitutes "being a good Zen student."
For most of the past three or four years, I have been skipping out on retreat practice. I have done a few half day retreats and some more intense periods of practice with others at Zen Center, but none of the multiple day or week long sesshins. It's kind of blasphemous to admit, given that I've been on the path over a decade now, and past the kind of initial fears folks have about meditation retreats before experiencing a few of them.
Lately it has occurred to me that doing meditation retreats is something that many Buddhist communities - including my own - view as part of being a dedicated practitioner. Which is totally understandable. Buddha's path to enlightenment flowered open after intense, sustained meditation. However, "dedicated" is really just another word for "good" when you look at it closely.
For a long time, I got hooked when it came to wondering what my fellow dharma brothers and sisters were thinking about my absence from retreat practice. It's kind of silly - wanting to be "seen" as a "good student" - because in the end, Zen isn't about that at all. Being respected and elevated within a community doesn't mean squat when it comes to breaking through greed, hatred, and ignorance. And yet, like the rest of life, outward markers easily get mistaken for wisdom and depth.
It's so easy to forget all that when you've spent much of your life trying to be liked and cared for by others. I occasionally still get tripped up by this stuff when I'm at zen center, talking with my dharma friends.
Odds are, there will be another period in my life when lots of inward reflection and retreat practice of some sort will call me.
For now, I will go with what is moving me. This experiment of practicing in the middle of the swirl of daily life.
There's a natural ebb and flow movement between "inward" and "outward" that, once you recognize, you can allow yourself to move with it.
Form and emptiness, emptiness and form. Every breath can be a sesshin, if you allow it to be.