Monday, October 19, 2009

Clean Sheets and Trash Cans

Last week, sangha member Debi Papazian said, "Sometimes zazen is like taking a hot bath and climbing into clean sheets. Other times it feels like rolling down a hill inside of a metal trash can."

I had a "climbing into clean sheets" zazen period this morning. It was raining gently outside. My dog Ripley was lying on the floor next to me. The Japanese incense that I burn on my altar, sandalwood, smelled particularly fragrant. I bowed, rang the bell, sat, rang the bell, chanted the Bodhisattva vows, and bowed again. I felt completely and absolutely present, rested but awake.

But I've had the "trash can" experiences recently, too. One evening a few weeks ago, I came into my office to sit, feeling no more or less ready than I usually do. I sit for 30 minutes; I have a yoga timer that I set on the corner of my altar, facing away from myself. I settled myself on the cushion, lit the incense, and turned on the clock.

Within minutes, I had a tormeting itch on my face. I tried to relax out of it, let it go. But I had to give in and scratch. It was driving me crazy. Then my legs started cramping. I waited, but had to move. It felt like I had already been sitting for hours. I broke my hardfast rule not to look at the clock - oh, god, I still had 23 minutes left!

My legs cramped again. I moved. Then I just got squirrely, restless, my whole body twitching and needing to reposition. I looked at the clock again. Only five minutes had passed. Arghhh! I decided I could wiggle as much as I wanted, but I was not going to get up off of that cushion until 30 minutes had passed. It was a tortuous period. And of course, my mind was not at rest, either. It was going like crazy, with all kinds of messed up thinking.

I wanted to kiss that alarm clock when it finally went off.

What does that tell you about Zen practice? It's a helluva lot like life. Some days everything goes your way, and some days nothing cooperates. But no matter how badly you want to get up off of that cushion, you still have to sit through it.

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