On a frosty morning eleven years ago, during my first training period at a zen monastery, a few of us stood huddled at the edge of a large gathering waiting for work assignment. As newbies we were drawn to each other for temporary shelter amid the demands of 16-hour days, comprising long hours of sitting meditation, silent work assignments (I recall endless shovelling of snow and chopping of onions), endless chanting in Japanese, Sanskrit, and English, bowing everywhere including forehead touching the ground, and, in between whenever possible, stealing cat naps on the floor somewhere because going to our ice-cold cabins would have used up most of those so-called rest breaks. In short: no time to reflect or catch up on sleep. No privacy. No rest.
So we enjoyed this tiny time-out, exchanging whispered stories and irreverent giggles. Until … as if out of nowhere, like a hawk towards the tiniest mouse sunning itself in the foolish belief that all was safe, the head monk seized two us by the wrists, looked at us with the bulging eyes Zen teachers seem to develop over time, and told us that “everything is practice — and that includes waiting for what comes next.”
Everything is practice. Not only meditating on a cushion 15 minutes each day, or twice a week, or for ten days straight. Not just listening to a CD on emptiness, reading a book on mindfulness, or chanting a sutra on impermanence. Opportunities abound to bring attention to this one moment, and this, and this. During last week’s retreat (see yesterday’s post), the teachers reminded us that “everything you say, think, feel, sense, and do is part of the curriculum.” The only time to be alive, apparently, is right now.