January 15, 2012 by Yugen
During the board meeting last Sunday a typo was noticed in the minutes from the previous meeting: instead of 'Zen Meditation Instruction' classes, Yokoji was mentioned as providing 'Zen Medication'. What was presumably an innocuous mistake by a spell-checking application (rather than an attempt to inject a little humor into the proceedings by the secretary of the board) resonated with me. Zen Medication. Take twice daily. If dose is exceeded, contact nearest Zen Center immediately as you may require intensive training. Possible side effects include stability, peace of mind, a feeling of good will to all mankind and the desire to help others.
For me, when I was drawn to Zen practice, it was because I had an idea that meditation might help me. There was nothing drastically wrong, just a general feeling of unease that permeated a number of my waking hours. I had made previous attempts at self-medication with books from the library about meditation and how wonderful it can be, but after dabbling with a few different techniques (there are so many out there once you start digging) I would always wonder if there was a better, faster, more shiny technique that I was yet to find. What eventually got me was a poster for a Zen group in Liverpool where I lived at the time. I went that night and attended pretty much every sitting they offered for the two years or so that followed. There are few things as simple and as powerful that I have found as a daily sitting practice.
To extend the metaphor to the point of either breaking it or at least tiring it out, when I don't sit daily, I experience definite withdrawal symptoms: slugishness, the inability to work efficiently, a loss of general Joie de vivre. In fact, I would go as far to say as I sometimes feel downright crappy when I miss more than a few days of zazen. My life starts to feel very small, like it has no breathing space and I find that I am easily swung around by the flailing whirligig that is life. I notice this more during the interim period here at Yokoji as we sit a little less so once we get to a solid two days off (Mondays and Tuesdays), if I don't sit, I really feel it.
I'm sure there are some dangers to talking about zazen this way, but on the plus-side, it is honest. When I sit, my life becomes clearer. When I don't sit my life is more confused and painful. It is that simple. For this reason, I am confident when I say that unless things drastically change for me, I will always maintain this practice. It is not that zazen adds something any more than it takes it away - for me it gently reveals my life as it is, as something much bigger and less me-centric than I habitually think of it.
On occasion, I wonder why I am here (at the Zen Center, that is - the more existential version of this question is what got me here in the first place), and when it comes down to it, I think that it is because I value the way this practice helps both me and others. Sometimes I get perturbed by Zen, its complex history and forms, and I feel alienated. I find it all too easy to make these kind of distinctions which cause me to doubt what I am doing. But like anything else, the only way to really know Zen is to experience it directly and intimately, at which point it pretty much disappears. When in the midst of practice, in the midst of life, there is no zazen, or Zen or Buddha or any of it. As soon as I close that gap, then everything is fine, but a hairsbreadth difference, and well, you know the rest...