The Essential Art of Zazen

Last night I went out to meet a friend for dinner so we could catch up with each others’ lives. She suggested a Thai restaurant that was convenient for both of us, and, as it happens, not too far from Zen Center. I first ate there in 1999, in the week I spent in San Francisco that changed the course of my life.
When I arrived, my friend was not there, but sitting by the door were Leslie and Keith from Tassajara, and Robert from City Center. I heard the latest fire news and other stories while I waited for my friend, and in return told them what I have been up to since I last saw them.
It is just about a year since I came back from my summer at Tassajara and began my process of transitioning out of Zen Center – and coming up for the first anniversary of this blog quite soon. What I am noticing at the moment is that the pendulum is starting to swing again.
Just about the first thing I did when I started my transition was to stop getting up every morning to sit in the zendo, as I had been doing almost constantly for fifteen years. Instead, I sat two or three times a week, and that has continued through much of this year. When I first moved out, I sometimes experimented with sitting in the way Dogen talks about for his monks who slept in the sodo:

‘Toward the end of the night… the assembly gets up gently, not rising precipitously. Do not still remain sleeping or lying down, which is rude to the assembly. Quietly take your pillow and place it in front of the cabinet, not making noise as you fold it. Be careful not to disturb the people on the neighboring tans.
Stat at your seat for a while, cover yourself with your quilt, and do zazen on your zafu. Strictly avoid shutting your eyes, which will bring forth drowsiness… Never forget that passing away occurs swiftly, and you have not yet clarified the conduct of the Way. Do not distract the assembly by stretching, yawning, sighing or fanning yourself. In general, always arouse respect for the assembly. Do not cover your head with your quilt. As you become aware of sleepiness, remove the quilt and with a buoyant body, do zazen.’ (Bendoho)

Right now I am feeling that I am not sitting as much as I need to. The old stories take hold in the body, and my recent sits have not been enough to shift that energy. This afternoon, sitting quietly on the BART on the way home did not allow for the upright posture that seems to stretch that stuckness and start to dissolve it from the front of the body. Perhaps, as the mornings stay darker longer, I will again try to rise quietly and sit upright, wrapped in my quilt to start the day.

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