"What the hell am I doing here?" I wonder. What kind of father am I? Here I am staring at the wall when I could be home spending time with my family. Man, my priorities are backwards!
And most people would agree. But then again, sitting motionless for 30 minutes while staring at a wall would be most people's definition of cruel and unusual punishment. But not for us Buddhists. No, this is what we live for.
The question doesn't rattle me like it used to. The first couple sesshins I was on, the question tore through my nervous system like a jolt of adrenaline. "Get the hell out of here!" it screamed.
Now it's more like a gentle knocking. "Ahem, sorry to bother you. But do you really plan on sitting here all day."
"Why yes I do," I say back, and return to my breath.
Disappointed, the doubt crawls away and sulks in the corner for the rest of the afternoon.
How can something so simple--meditating--be so damn hard? And more to the point, why is it so important to meditate?
Sure meditating is now part of my "routine," to the point where if I skip a day it feels like I forgot to shower or brush my teeth: that I-don't-feel-right-unless-I-do-it feeling, which in other circles people might refer to as "addiction." But it's more than that.
At the end of sesshin, my teacher asked us to go around in a circle and talk about our experience. When it came time for me to speak, I talked about resistance and how we can open ourselves up to it. Moments later, after the last student had spoken, I realized something much more visceral.
It had to do with that nagging voice in my head asking, "Why are you doing this?"
The answer is: because there is nothing more important in the world for me to be doing. I am sitting for the sake of every being in the universe.
As I sat there, reciting the final lines of our closing chant, I marvelled at how incredible it was to have eight people so dedicated to practice that they would sacrifice their weekend to sit and stare at a wall. And not just there at the Zen Center of Philadelphia, but the entire Buddhist sangha--everyone who has dedicated her/his life to practice.
I realized how blessed we are to hold the Dharma in our hands, to have this precious opportunity to practice.
Later, this morning, I finished reading David Loy's Nonduality (an incredible book that I'll be writing a review on later this week), and, as if by providence, Loy ended the book with the perfect quote: "Perhaps the future of our [planet] depends to some extent on the quiet, unnoticed influence of those working to overcome their own sense of subject-object duality."
Sitting and staring at a wall, staying present and following the breath can make all the difference. In the end, I think it has the power, not only to transform the world, but perhaps--dare I say?--to save it as well. This is the Bodhisattva's Vow.
Zazen is so simple, and yet so difficult.
(Thanks to my incredibly supportive wife, a true Bodhisattva, who doesn't understand my Buddhist obsession, but still lets me run off on retreats once per month anyway. I couldn't do it without you.)
Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: holisticgeek.