The good thing about Zen meditation and training is that they can be practiced in any situation that you meet in daily life. You don’t have to wait until you get to the Zendo or to a retreat for the right conditions to appear, and you don’t have to make special arrangements or pay a lot of money in order to practice Zen meditation. The only arrangement that you need to make is with your own attitude.
According to this teaching, it is helpful to take the view that whatever happens in your life, if you pay attention, there is a teaching there. It does not matter if your external conditions are favorable or unfavorable, good or bad. No matter what the circumstances, you can always practice meditation and mindfulness. By doing this you can use everything you do and every situation you encounter, no matter how small and insignificant, large and overwhelming, as an opportunity to let go of aggression and cultivate loving-kindness.
The idea is to not always wait for people and events in your life to line up before you launch into meditation and mindfulness practice. In fact, the best time to work with your mind may be when conditions are not so good. If you wait for just the right moment, when conditions for practice are perfect, you will wait for a very long time. There is no such thing in Zen practice as, “I’m not ready yet.” You will never be more ready than you are right now. You can think up any number of reasons why it is impossible to begin Zen training right now, and you can produce endless fantasies about how you will start your training when your external situation changes. It’s easy to tell yourself that when this problem goes away or when that health issue resolves itself, you will be able to begin your meditation practice without a problem. But, conveniently, these barriers never seem to go away, so you end up avoiding practice completely.
There is a saying in Zen, “Even the slightest twitch will surely break the rhythm.” It may seem that the slightest little difficulty is all it takes to throw you off course. But if you let circumstances toss you away, it is difficult to bring yourself back to meditation practice. Luckily, Zen practice is completely impartial. If your situation is not so good, you can breathe that in, and if it is excellent, you can breathe that out. In that way, instead of being a victim of circumstances, blown here and there as if in a tornado, you can cultivate mind training no matter what is happening.
Suggested practice: Pay attention to what causes you to turn on and turn off your meditation and mindfulness training. When does it arise naturally and when does it completely disappear? What external circumstances are most apt to toss you away, and how can you utilize those same circumstances to return you to practice?
This column is a long series of short essays exploring the meaning of the Lojong Slogans. It is inspired by the work of Judy Lief.
Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-3390.