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ancora imparo *

Ever since opening my home to meditators I’ve been wondering about what’s called ‘form.’ How, for instance, should I teach meditation to relative beginners, people who’re mainly interested in meditation as a way of dealing with stress and suffering. And what rituals, if any, should we follow? Starting with what I was familiar, I instituted rituals around entering and leaving the room (the zendo), taking our seats, serving tea, ringing bells, and so on. All along I was uncertain as to the purpose such form for a lay group, especially so since several people who regularly sit with us used to do so in formal teacher-led settings.

Three years ago I asked my monastic teachers for ways to train as a meditation instructor. As I suspected, there’s no such thing since residential Zen training aims to prepare priests and meditation is simply part of a seven-year curriculum. However, my teachers suggested I see what I might learn from Jon Kabat-Zinn and the MBSR program.

Two weeks ago (see previous posts) I finally met Jon and told him who’d sent me. Noting the absence of such familiar form as incense, bowing, chanting, statues, candles, robes, etc., I asked, “What would my teachers say if I practiced this way. What if I were to let go of the trappings of Zen?” I don’t think they’re attached to any of that, he replied … leaving me to wonder what it is that I’m attached to.

I’ll say more about the MBSR-style of meditation in future posts. For now, I’m test-driving it in my daily practice … and watch the many thoughts that come and go.

* ancora imparo — Michelangelo’s motto, “Still I am learning.”


2 responses »

  1. I guess for me, I’ve never really related all that well to ritual and ceremony. Something in me rebels against hierarchy and dogma and the trappings of “religion”. Yet I must say I feel moved to offer a heartfelt bow at the end of a teacher’s Dharma talk or when leaving a meditation space. I like to light incense at the beginning of sitting.

    For me it’s important that the rituals not be empty acts of doing it, just because, that they come from some reverence. I suspect everyone has different comfort level with these things.

    I love the informality of where I sit now and that the instruction allows for differences of what works for people in terms of eyes open or closed, where to focus the mind. It seems important in that we are all wired a bit differently to accommodate this. The root question in my mind is “what is important here and what is the point of practice?”

    Nice for your Zendo visitors that you are exploring these questions.

    • thank you for sitting alongside me and us, carole. incense became problematic as our numbers grew, as several memebrs are hyper-scent-sensitive. we continue to bow, some more than others. To me, and those to whom I explain when they ask, bowing is about reverence — not to anyone or anything, but this moment and this act. i’ve given up ‘full bows’ as depicted, due to a lasting nerve pain at the very centre of my right kneecap. i’ve stopped wearing my rakasu (that mini-robe in the zen tradition), lest it sets me apart from others in the room. thank you for writing!


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