In Zen Buddhism the term practice encompasses the conscious engagement in one’s spiritual unfolding: whatever we do, think, feel, sense, like, dislike: everything is practice. I remember a morning in 2000, during my first month of monastic training, standing in a cluster of new residents, chatting and having a bit of fun while awaiting the day’s work assignments. Suddenly, diving into the throng like a hawk towards prey, the vice-abott descended on us, took hold of my wrists, looked at me with piercing eyes, and told me that waiting for work is as much practice as the work itself.
During the last few days my practice has been a roller coaster ride. I’ve felt torn between dualities: whether to walk away when my interim part-time job ends or apply for the new full-time position. The details are more complicated than that; still, my muddled mind managed to reduce it to a choice between “this” or “that.” All along I trusted that there had to be a wiser course of action, that I simply couldn’t see it yet. Co-workers came to my aid, listening deeply and assuring me of their loving support. And then, quite suddenly, a shift occurred when a friend asked what was truly important to me. Instantly, I felt the restraints falling away and a range of possibilities emerge.
The historical Buddha is said to have gone from one ascetic practice to another in his search for spiritual awakening. Eventually he ceased looking outside, turned inwards through prolonged silent meditation, and found the Middle Way: a path of moderation between extremes.
photo: My teacher Chozen Bays (left), co-abott of Great Vow Zen Monastery, and senior novice Jikan, a friend of many years, during work practice.