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Why Sit Zazen


zazen-2.gifWhy zazen? The Japanese word zazen means sitting Zen. On purpose we don’t use the word “meditation” because it has many connotations beyond what we mean by the simple and powerful activity of zazen. Zazen is not attaining any special states of mind. Rather it’s a dynamic, courageous, quiet re-engagement with our minds and hearts.

Zazen is a deep break from our endless cycles of activity and doing. It’s a whole body, experiential re-entry into the mode of being and, for those few minutes or hours, a release from the world of doing and activity. Our minds tend so strongly toward doing, towards problem solving and evaluating, that we are often not aware that there is another option for our minds and thus for our living. To just be. To just breathe. To just exist and appreciate this human life can be a very beautiful and healing experience.

What we find as we practice zazen, little by little over time, is that as we increase the amount of time spent in spaciousness, quiet and non-doing, our lives also become more spacious, quieter internally, and more peaceful. A non-reactive quality gradually develops in which we have more freedom in our responses to daily troubles.

Zazen practice also helps us to turn some of our non-adaptive habitual attitudes upside down and re-engage with the world in more healthy and productive way. Conventionally we see problems as things to avoid, solve, and remove from the equation. In zazen, we train in seeing the problems that arise as teaching and opportunity in a steady, endless, and quite wondrous exploration of the mind and heart. We come to appreciate problems as reminders of the depths of our human life and we enter into them like one enters a garden gate with our senses open and our mind stable and alert to the possibilities beyond.

Zazen practice also supports us in shifting our attitudes in all of our activity towards steadiness and sustainability. We practice steadily, gradually, little by little over time. We don’t expect sudden results (or any results at all) and we welcome change as it comes. We increase our ability to see our life as an unfolding and an investigation rather than as a project with a deadline. In doing so it is easier to be available to others, we suffer less, and are more aware of what we are actually doing, feeling, or thinking at any one time.

Naturally we will turn zazen practice into its own kind of doing and try to make it into a skill and incorporate it into our identity. We will feel proud (or embarrassed!) to be doing it. We will wonder if we are doing it right or wrong. It is common to try a bit too hard. This is natural and not in itself a problem especially if we stay in contact with teachers and peers as our practice progresses. A kind reminder here and there is invaluable in helping us to release into the true depths of our lives through Zen practice rather than turning our spiritual lives into yet another item on our to-do lists which we will never quite complete to our satisfaction.

Zazen doesn’t function so well in isolation. It comes to us within a rich matrix, or container, of practices such as formalized movement, chanting, bowing, and interacting with others in silent and harmonious ritualized ways – all done within a community setting. These rituals, which come to us through another culture, can take a little while to get used to and it is a good idea to suspend judgment for a while when starting practice. Ultimately no path is right for everyone. You may decide that Zen is not the path for you. Please enjoy this lesson and move on with our blessings and support if that is the case.

We hope you enjoy Zen practice with us at Red Cedar Zen Community. You are fully invited to participate in any way you choose to. Please know from the outset there are no experts here, we are all beginners exploring together and supporting each other as best we can.

Written for a new handout on zazen posture, forms and practice at Red Cedar Zen Community.

– By: Nomon Tim Burnett
– Photo by Vanessa Pike-Russell
– Source: sweepingzen.com

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