Like a hammer striking emptiness

Went to Appamada to sit with my sangha today. It’s been a couple of weeks, what with babysitting while my daughter studied for nursing school finals, weekend travel, a sinus infection sapping my energy…

It was good to be back and especially good to have practice inquiry with Peg, my meditation coach. (That’s her unofficial title. Her official title is Zen priest.) So good to see her face and be in her presence again. She is calm, accepting, direct, a bit playful, very smart. I just love Peg.

Right before I saw her, I’d been sitting in the side room where people sit when they’re waiting to do practice inquiry with her. It was on my mind that I have skipped meditating for several days. I was wondering why I meditate. It’s time consuming and some days, it’s just hard to get my butt on the cushion.

I’d finally gotten to a place where I no longer felt pain when I sat. After missing a few days, I changed my practice to where I do it on awakening.

As I waited to see Peg, I was comparing in my imagination what it’s like–how I experience myself in daily life–when I do meditate and when I don’t. When I don’t, I experience myself as kind of scatter-brained, in my head, trying to make sense of things, trying to be organized (hopeless), remembering, planning. Vata, vata-deranged.

The difference when I do meditate is that I’m also centered more of the time.

Being centered feels like at least some of my awareness is anchored in the present moment. There’s another dimension to my experience when I’m centered. I feel more grounded, more connected.

So when it was my turn to see Peg, I shared this brand new insight with her and told her that life is better when I’m centered.

She liked that and she told me that the motivation for meditation changes over time.

I liked that she told me that nowadays, after 40 years of meditation and 13 years of Zen practice, she enjoys every moment of her meditation.

She also said to just consider the brain another organ. Like the heart pumps blood, the kidneys filter blood, the lungs exchange gases, so the brain thinks thoughts. These thoughts are often opinions, preferences, judgments. That’s what the brain does. I don’t need to pay them any more attention in meditation than I do to the functioning of my liver.

So it doesn’t really matter whether I like meditating. Liking and not liking are thoughts, just the brain working. The importance is in the actual sitting, and not how I feel about it.

Our reading today was Jijuyu Zammai, Self-fulfilling Samadhi, by Dogen. Dogen is significant in Zen; orphaned early, he was a monk at 13. He wondered why we practice and seek enlightenment if we are endowed with Buddha-nature at birth. He eventually took that question from Japan to China, where he studied with a Ch’an master, later returning to Japan, founding the Soto school of Zen, and writing a lot.

In the Jijuyu Zammai, Dogen’s sparkling wisdom shines as he asserts that practice and realization are the same.

This being so, the zazen of even one person at one moment imperceptibly accords with all things and fully resonates through all time… Each moment of zazen is equally wholeness of practice, equally wholeness of realization. This is not only practice while sitting, it is like a hammer striking emptiness: before and after, its exquisite peal permeates everywhere. How can it be limited to this moment?

So. How’s that for motivation?

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