Exert yourself. Whether conscious or unrecognized, that imperative underlies our everyday experience. Our livelihoods and indeed our survival depend upon our exertions. If we are to compete, achieve, and contribute to the common good, we must exert ourselves. Even the pursuit of happiness, as it is called, requires exertion. No rest for the weary, and no mercy for the slacker.
Yet even the highest achievers need their rest. The great pianist Vladimir Horowitz was once asked how he managed to play so many notes so quickly. “I relax between notes,” he cheerfully replied. As Horowitz well understood, rest and relaxation are essential, both before and during performance. They make strenuous exertion possible.
Quite often, people in need of rest and relaxation find their way to Zen practice. Viewed from a distance, the practice offers the prospect of unruffled calm. Yet, as newcomers soon find out, it is not always easy to rest or relax, even in a meditative setting. For those accustomed to multi-tasking, hyperconnectivity, and busyness generally, the simple act of stopping and resting can be as challenging as the most demanding activity. Admonished to sit still, the body rebels. A shoulder aches; a knee hurts; a foot wants to fidget. Efforts to correct one’s posture or relieve one’s unease often result only in new forms of discomfort. Wedded to incessant movement, the body wants to do, not merely to be. (more…)
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Peace Pagoda, Providence Zen Center
To live in a place is one thing, to inhabit it another. The word inhabit derives from the Latin inhabitare, which originally meant to dwell. “They shall build houses,” prophesied Isaiah, “and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them” (Isaiah 65:21). To eat the fruit of your vineyards, you cannot be flitting from one locality to another. You must dwell in one place for a while.
What is true of grape farming is also true of the practice of Zen. “Authentic Zen,” writes Dr. James H. Austin, a neurologist and longtime Zen practitioner, “has always meant inhabiting each present moment in the most natural, direct, and spontaneous way.”[i} And in his book Being Upright, the Zen priest Tenshin Reb Anderson employs the same verb to describe the practice of zazen:
For a sentient being to practice the ultimate good means not to move. How do you realize not moving? By fully settling into all aspects of your experience: your feelings and your perceptions. Not moving means to be fully congruent with yourself. You go down to the bottom of your experience, as all buddha ancestors have done, and enter the proverbial green dragon’s cave. Graciously and gently, you encourage yourself to fully inhabit your body, speech, and thought. You may even command yourself to be obedient to yourself, and to come all the way in and sit down.[ii]l
“Although no one issues the invitation,” Anderson further explains, we “invite the self into the self.” As both “host and guest of the self,” we fully inhabit our experience. (more…)
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