Zen Garden

At the Japanese Gardens in Portland.

Discipline. I’ve been thinking about that word a lot this past week. We’ve been reading “Zen Mind Beginners Mind” at my meditation group and the first chapter was about posture, specifically the correct posture to use in zazen. This correct use of posture helps make the practice (focusing on the breath) easier. As we talked about this we realized that it takes discipline to practice zazen. So this past week I’ve been really thinking about discipline and what it is and how it can help me in other ways.

The book talks about the correct way to sit, which is lotus position. There are various reasons why this is that I won’t get into. Unfortunately, I can’t pretzel myself into lotus position.  I want to sit in lotus position but I can’t sit in lotus position.  Thus, I’m going to practice sitting that way for a few minutes everyday with the explicit goal of being able to sit that way for the entirety of my zazan practice. I probably will only be able to do it for a few seconds at a time at first but, eventually with practice, I will reach my goal.

For some reason (maybe I’m just dense) this has been a revelation to me this week. It is so simple (at least in theory). Daily practice produces results. And it doesn’t matter how you feel about it. You don’t have to feel like doing whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. You don’t even have to be good at it. But if you practice everyday you will eventually be successful. That is discipline.

Zazen is a daily routine I’ve managed to established. Sometime last year I decided that sitting and breathing everyday would be a priority. If I can’t fit anything else into my day I will fit in meditation for at the very least 10 minutes. This practice  has helped me tremendously in the past year.  I can’t explain how it works but it does. The days that start with meditation are, generally, better days. I find that I am more mindful. Thus, if I want to be better at being more mindful I need to get my ass on the cushion every day for at least 10 minutes. Is it hard to do this? yes it is. The practice itself is not hard. It’s actually the easiest thing I’ve ever done. It’s just sitting and breathing. But getting to the cushion can be very difficult. I can talk myself out of zazen very easily. There is always something else to do.

Logically, it is very simple and it is logic that can be applied to many areas of my life. This is the part that is the big revelation.

For example, I haven’t been practicing the ukulele. My excuse has been that I don’t have time. In all honesty, it’s a good excuse because I really have little time left at the end of the day when all is said and done. However, I want to be able to play the ukulele in my story times next fall and I’m not going to be good enough to do this if I don’t practice. Thus, I have to fit some time into my day to practice. If I don’t practice I don’t get better. So this morning I tucked in a quick 10 minute practice session in between my shower and breakfast. yay!

Raf and I were talking about Karma the other day and he mentioned the metaphor of the apple tree used by Jack Kornfield in “Buddhism for Beginners.” Karma is not a mystical idea. It is really very simple. It is like planting an apple seed. If you plant an apple seed you will get an apple tree. And not only will you get an apple tree you will also get lots of apples AND more apple seeds. I suppose action is like the seed. And the effect of that action is the tree (and the effect of an action can go on and on, like the apple tree – but that’s a blog post for another time).  This idea of discipline is similar and just as specific. Daily practice is the seed. Daily practice produces skill (the apple tree). Simple.