Zen, this novice’s experiences
Asking how on earth I write this article a friend helpfully suggested, “start at the beginning.” So, hello! My name’s Martie, I’m 22, an eternal student, and often told, “you’re not normal,” or “you’re a bit odd”. I’ve never really been one to be able to keep track of how long I’ve done something, but I’ve been attempting to just sit for about 3 to 4 months.
What made me start?
I think that’s like asking a plant, “What makes you grow, plant?” This beginner has a set of characteristics which go against the grain of the mainstream or ordinary. When you’re born like this, often without realising it you’re a mirror to the way people view the world and live. It’s both a blessing and a curse, but it makes the question “WHY?” somewhat of a theme in my life. I found “why” couldn’t be explain to me by the idea of God, I found “why” couldn’t be explained by pure logic or science. I found “why” couldn’t be explained by lamentation or numbness. I found that “why” couldn’t be explained by decadence, hedonism, or the cessation of desires. I noticed that “why” is answered somewhat differently when you just sit, though I didn’t know this when I started my practice. Maybe Zen appeased my sense of logic, maybe all my suffering awakened something in me or maybe I just liked how Zen stories made me laugh…. or deep, deep down I reallllly just think monks robes are just so COOOL!
So what made me start?
“What makes you grow, plant?”
“I just started.”
What makes me go back?
I think this is like asking a tree, “Why do you stay in the ground, tree?” Well, I think the Sangha is partly the reason I’m still going back. I am so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to get to know these wonderful people. To start with I kept going back with my eagerness, enthusiasm and the fact I don’t seem to get annoyed at my parents as much when I’ve meditated! I kept going because I seemed to be more confident, courteous and loving without consciously thinking about it. And yes I heard you all scream, “GAINING IDEALS!!!!” Amazing what counting your breath to 10 can do isn’t it? When I’m completely lost and every action seems to spiral; one disaster into another, when I’m becoming caught up in egotistically ideas, concepts, judgements and opinions, Zazen points this out rather brilliantly. Chanting and trying not to fall over when you’ve been sitting for 30 minutes becomes a lot harder when your mind’s enjoying itself floating around in the wind. However I’ve found recently Zazen IS “now” and “now” I’ve discovered is not easy; in fact it can feel desolate, painful; difficult. Maybe I’m a masochist, maybe I want to reach enlightenment and end all this suffering. Or perhaps Zazen is just what stops me looking at the railway tracks and keeps this beginner view firmly (if with somewhat of a headache and sore legs) on the wonderful scenery of life.
“Why do you stay in the ground, tree?”
“Because I am.”
What is it like compared to what I thought it would be?
Ha ha, this is the fun part! Well, I came in thinking I could sit in lotus within 3 weeks and sprained my inner hip, so the lesson that Zazen isn’t something you can learn in a month and then move on from became rather apparent.
I remember my first sitting being truly moved by the chanting. The ringing on the bell its deep low sound resonating the room like a wave calming, letting me know it’s time to get down to now. I remember the insane feeling of pressure to keep posture and the form, because I felt too embarrassed to wobble or move in case it could distract someone. The pain in my legs and the support of Sangha members is also bittersweet memory. All the “when to bow” or “how to walk” and “how do you put out an incense stick without blowing it”, not to mention the Eightfold Path, are topics I’m learning to embrace. I remember being very aware that Zen isn’t about being told what to do, it’s often about observing and then being told you’re doing it wrong (when a Sangha members taken pity after watching you make the same mistake for three sittings). I feel I was (in many ways, still am) a toddler thrashing about in a hushed glade. I was somewhat shocked by the overt, amazing ordinariness of Sensei (sorry Sensei!). I had images of Zen masters with bowls and sticks hitting people and talking in fascinating riddles.
One of the most interesting comparisons was that between what I thought Zazen leads to; I remember the first person to teach me Zazen posture and I remember thinking, when I first met him, “There’s something different about you.” I think seeing these people who have so much… life, or only word I can this of is “Muchness”? Like Sensei and the others went beyond my expectations. Think one of the most interesting lessons Zazen has taught me is that all this talking goes in circles… cup of tea, anyone?