…simply because there is no ‘there’. Yoga and Zazen have been a constant in my life for some years now, one of the biggest lessons I am learning is that there is no endpoint. Both Yoga and Zazen are non-attainment practices, in different, yet very similar ways.
A blank wall today is a blank wall tomorrow
I remember being startled when listening to an interview with Gudō Wafu Nishijima in which he stated that his practice that day was the same as his first ever practice. This statement was coming from an 80 plus man who had been doing seated meditation twice a day for the best part of 70 years! What?!?
I now think I know what he means. The practice of Zazen (personally I practice the Soto Zen variety) is pretty darn simple; you sit facing a wall, with your spine erect, your hands in the universal mudra and your eyes open. That is pretty much it. You are not trying to empty your mind; you are not trying to achieve anything. You just sit there and let the thoughts come as they will. What you try and do is not cling to them. But they will come. Think of your thoughts as passing clouds, you might get distracted by one, follow it for a bit, but when you realize you’re doing it just stop, and come back.
That is it. No, REALLY, that is IT. So many people tell me that they tried meditation, but they are “not good at it” as they keep getting distracted. That noticing that you did get distracted, whether it was for a few seconds or ten minutes, IS the practice! So yeah, success!
In all its simplicity, Zazen is a subtly transformative practice. You start seeing things a bit differently, you start noticing changes in your behavioral patterns.
When asked “In your life, how have you noticed that Zazen is actually practically working?”, Nishijima replied: “I have become a little better than before.”
This is remarkably similar to what my son tells me: “I’m happy you do Yoga and Zazen dad, because you’re a bit less of a poo-head.”
The myth of bendiness
Similarly, so many folk tell me they are “no good at yoga” or they “can’t do yoga because they can’t even touch their toes.” I can sympathize! It is so easy to get dragged into the whole postures thing! Achievement, achievement, achievement! That is so embedded in our culture. And to some extent trying to achieve some postures is OK. It’s all about balance. I attended a workshop with the fabulous Jambo Truong this summer. During the workshop, with some help, I managed to get into my first handstand AND into my first forearm balance. I was SO excited and happy about it! Then I suddenly thought “wait; this is not ‘right’! I shouldn’t be this excited about postures!”, when I told Jambo, he laughed and went: “look, there’s nothing f*&%g wrong with a bit of dopamine!”. And he is, of course, right, as long as there is balance. Yoga is so much more than postures, and we must be vigilant that obsession with achievement doesn’t become a distraction from the real practice.
One of my favorite aphorism from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is 1-12 where he tells us that the two ingredients necessary to our journey of uncovering the true self are Abhyasa (consistent and prolonged effort ) and Vairagya (dispassion or non-attachment to the results). These seem almost antithetic but it’s when we find the balance between the two that our practice will flourish.