The Physical Zendo is closed Monday, July 15th and Tuesday July 16th

Practicing Zen on our own Barry Magid July 19th 2008

Today's the last Saturday morning sitting before our summer break, so I thought I say something about how we go about practicing on our own. Of course, because our group only meets together twice a week, most of the time we're practicing on our own anyway. But a stretch like this summer break gives us an added opportunity to look at what we do and don't do when were on our own.

I'm sure you all know one version or another of the old story of the monk who asks his teacher, "What is Practice?" And the Teacher replies, "Eat when your hungry, sleep when your tired." It sounds simple, but for most of us is anything but. No doubt for a monk who probably spent his whole adult life in a monastery where every hour of everyday is regimented, it is an important reminder that ultimately we ourselves are the only ones who have responsibility for our own lives, and that our ultimate task is simply to live in harmony with ourselves and with life. But most of us are in a different place - it is as if we're the sort of person who suffers from a severe eating disorder, someone who eats or starves compulsively, someone for whom eating has gotten totally entwined with issues of self-image. self esteem, self-soothing, to the point where they've become unable to even recognize what it's like to be hungry, its's so wrapped up in all these others issues. For that person to be told "eat when you're hungry," is simply meaningless, completely useless advice. Until our lives settle down, trying to "act naturally" just leads to more and more confusion and we're buffeted all about by confusing conflicting desires and emotions. "Eat when it's dinnertime; go to sleep when it's bedtime," is much better advice!

And what could it mean to "sit when you feel like sitting?" That's a formula for disaster. Unless we maintain a regular schedule, and sit when it's time to sit, no matter how we're feeling or how convenient or inconvenient it is, sooner or later we're going to subtly transform our sitting into something merely comfortable, a way to relax, or calm down. That's how we WANT sitting to feel. There's nothing wrong with relaxing, of course, but it makes for a very shallow practice.

Even though we're not going to meet as a group next month, really there's no such thing as a vacation from practice. There's only a life based on attention, or a life of inattention. And the longer we practice, the less appealing a life of inattention gets to be. It's no vacation to let yourself simply be buffeted about by your inner confusion in the guise of just doing what you want.

So all you, please pay attention to your practice, and have a good summer.

If you found this talk helpful, consider donating to Ordinary Mind

This talk was brought to you by the generosity of people like you. Ordinary Mind Zendo is a non profit organization that depends entirely on the generosity of people like you for its continued existence. If sitting with us, listening to our talks, or supporting a Zen center in New York City is in line with your values, you can make a donation here.