Life and Practice

For most of us, work, family, relationships, friends and holidays are usually of primary importance in our lives, with ‘spiritual practice’ low down on our list of priorities. I say this not as a judgement but as a pragmatic observation; however, I am interested in why this is the case. Even if we do wish to engage with ‘Zen practice’ and bring it into our everyday lives, the question arises about how do we do this. For me these two questions and their answers may be linked.

For example, a common experience is that although we may be trying to integrate practice into our lives, we feel we are not succeeding. Why is that? One source of this sense of failure that I see is that often our hope or belief is that ‘real’ practice will make our lives trouble free. It will be the complete solution to our doubts, fears and worries. However, practice in this sense is not a universal panacea, nor is it designed to be so. If we have the expectation that it is, and then discover it is not working, we may either lose faith in the point of practice or we think we have failed because we do not do enough (or sit hard enough, or train with the right teacher or right tradition etc, etc). Neither approach is conducive to long term practice.

For me, another perspective to take on the dilemma is to flip the usual questions of how do I prioritise practice and how do I bring practice into my everyday life. Instead ask the one question, “How do I bring my everyday life into my practice?” From this perspective, I now embrace the view that the life I am leading now, with all its attendant problems and joys, is in fact my real and authentic life, the life I have been looking for. Work, relationship, etc are my practice. Dedicated spiritual practice now becomes not something to ‘improve’ life, but a way of appreciating its moment to moment sacredness. Zen then becomes a tool to help in fully engaging with our lives and to developing the confidence to commit fully to all that life brings. Along the way we can also cultivate goodwill towards ourselves and others and develop a more panoramic, spacious view of life. All of which contribute to remaining sane and to having faith in the sacredness of each moment.

Practice now becomes intrinsic to my daily life and, just as importantly, life becomes intrinsic to my daily practice.

I wish you well.

Keizan Sensei