Wednesday, October 10, 2012
10 Good Reasons to Practice Zen: #1
Maru demonstrates things you can do in a bucket
Reason #1: You will seldom be bored.
Today we ate lunch at the healthy-food cafe in our health club, partly because my doctor warned me that my cholesterol has inched up these last six months over that magic number, 200. Furthermore, he explained, my "bad" cholesterol was up, too. I did not feel I needed to confess about my primary addiction, Lay's potato chips and Heluva French Onion dip. But it did make me rethink my cavalier attitude about that and bacon and cheese and eggs - you get the idea. I will work on this; I hate the idea of a statin drug, not without reason.
A lot of people wanted today's hot lunch, a turkey Reuben (which ended up bearing no resemblance to a real Reuben, of course), so I waited in line to pay. Right ahead of me was a fire-type woman who just could hardly stand the five-minute wait. She bounced away to get napkin and fork, came back, and then was pretty much bouncing on her toes with impatience, like your teenage boy, though she was well into her fifties, I thought.
The cafe's credit card machine is old-fashioned, so a credit transaction takes oh, maybe two minutes start to finish. As the woman waited for hers to process, she said to anyone, "This is so boring! I am so bored!"
Later I told Tom, "The thing about Zen is you are never bored standing in line." Now, this is true, and it is also true for sincere practitioners of other disciplines, I imagine. My tai chi teacher talked to us more than once about using time waiting in the checkout line to stand in wu wei, balance, and breathe. What I was doing in this line was practicing being there.
That's actually what we do when we meditate: we are practicing being with the reality of the present moment, which is to say, reality. During the early years of Zen practice we are taught to follow our breath, in and out, a way of focusing on the basic mechanism of the body. Later in Zen you can take up shikantaza, just sit there watching not only your breath but also your sensations and thoughts. You have many profound thoughts, like Ring the damn bell! or Nobody ever died from not scratching an itch.
Nevertheless, there are times in sitting meditation when you are bored. I suspect many people give up meditation for exactly that reason. We Americans are the worst, I imagine, so addicted to speed and exploration and entertainment and getting somewhere and having fun. We actually list our desires, the things we want to see and do before we die, which is called "the bucket list" after some movie.
Maybe because of these bad habits, one of our cultural icons is a man who built a little cabin in the woods and made a big point of simplifying his life. Henry David Thoreau. Google him and you get over 4 million results. I'm happy to say Buddha gets even more. He should - the Buddha didn't get bored and give it up after two years.