When I bow to the zendo altar, to the Buddha that will sit on my cushion, or to the Buddhas sitting opposite and beside me, I notice, for the time being, that each bow is incomplete. Somewhere along the way self-consciousness splits the experience in two and a small measure of disappointment arises. As I understand it, and that understanding will always be indefinite, my main practice is to label thoughts and feelings which separate me from direct experience.
When I’m reading on the bus and a group of children and their mothers are sitting beside me singing ‘Jingle Bells’, I notice my anger. When I’m working on the tills on a Friday and watch the queues increase and the next customer plant another full basket on my counter, I notice my weariness. When it’s 5 minutes to go before the end of my shift, I notice my relief.
A couple of years ago, while I was practising in the Tibetan tradition I decided to recite ‘The Practice of Vajrasattva in the Context of the Four Opponent Powers’ on the floor of my brother’s bedroom. I learnt two things: I’m not a visual person, and Tibetans really like their nectar.
I’m a pragmatic guy. What use is chanting mantras such as ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ or reciting an invocation to purify my karma if I have a frustrated young mother snap at me at the tills and I don’t know what to do? I need a practice that can work with life on a ground level. Mantras and invocations are supplementary.
I don’t need to know where my practice is going because it doesn’t need to go anywhere. It can’t go anywhere because my life can’t be anywhere else than right here and now, no matter how much I think. My practice is like gravity which grounds me in the stream of present moments though I slip away from that ground by varying degrees from time to time.