Sometimes there is a great sky against which I can place practice. The zazenkai (aka Day of Mindfulness) is a sky like that. The day starts the day before as we gather the tools of the trade: assorted teas, hot water heater, bells, poetry, yoga mats, & cushions. I’ve learned to let the day unfold, no longer so anxious that I need to orchestrate every minute of the meditation. The room is a lovely open space nestled at the end of a side hall in the Eastern Orthodox Religion Department of a local university. Participants gather at 0915 and we start promptly at 0930 with an introduction to the space we will occupy for the next six hours. This time just after the intro, the meditation is derailed by Frank’s announcement that the parking is no longer free on a Sunday; half the participants have to head out and pay for their parking downstairs. This moment is what I fondly call a nodal point of equanimity.
There is a choice here. I can drop my vision to the ground and see only the slush and muck we’re about to fall into. I can raise my eyes and see the great sky against which practice can stand. This is the third turning of the wheel of the Third Noble Truth: the encouragement or reinforcement of useful, beneficial actions that lead to well-being.
We’re professional enough that glitches in the flow of a presentation tend to be met fairly well; the flow of a whole retreat day however is somewhat more challenging. What I have noticed is the loud, obnoxious chatter in my head that saps the energy usually required to think on my feet (or in this case, on my butt which is on the cushion). Sometimes, that chatter can leak out as a manic cheerfulness designed to reassure everyone that the world is not about to come to an end. I think there was a day when I realized that, not only was I not kidding anybody about how I was not coping, I was also assuming everyone else was having the same reaction to the event. On this day, facing the empty seats in the hall, I realized I had a powerful tool: a non-discriminatory agenda. It didn’t matter a heck of a lot if we started with a sitting meditation, mindful movements, or dancing a jig. We did 15 minutes of mindful movements which gave everyone a chance to return to the room and slide into the sitting meditation.
I’ve been noticing a lot of online commentary about practice not being magic. True enough. It can look like that though, so I find it important to remind myself that practice is a never-ending series of nodal points where a decision can be made. And the longer I practice the more seamless those transitions from one node to another might be on that big sky canvas.
Thank you for practising,