The long road … this is the practice

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In the Zen tradition, our practice has few rituals. Meditation techniques that are taught in Vipassana or the Tibetan schools of Buddhism seem exotic and detailed to us. When people who are used to Tibetan practices ask me what we do, I find it a little bit difficult to explain. (I hope I’m getting better at it, because I’ve found myself in that situation a few times!) I try to practice skillful means in choosing my words and my examples.

Sometimes when I have read about the techniques that are taught in other traditions, I felt kind of envious. Look, they have a plan, I thought. They have a road map. They know what they’re supposed to do.

I would feel dissatisfied for a little while — maybe a few weeks. I would read some Zen texts, talk to a teacher, grumble in my own head about how slow my progress is. But after some time, I’d ask myself what I was grumbling about. If I wanted to switch to some other school of Buddhism, I was free to do so. If I wanted to try some other techniques, who was stopping me? No one.

As soon as I realize that I have that freedom, I begin to settle down. I let go. I relax.

I accept and respect others’ practices. If they prefer to chant or to repeat a mantra, it is their practice. My practice is simply to sit. From time to time, this leads me into feelings of frustration and impatience. I’m not doing anything! Or, I’m not getting any better at it!

This is just human nature. People go through periods of deep frustration with their marriages, their jobs, their children. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been in the same job too long now. I want to go out and find a new job, a different kind of job. I want to move to a new city. I want to travel somewhere I’ve never been before.

If I sit with these frustrations and urges, I eventually come to see that they are only the result of desires. My mind has made these desires, and they have made me grumpy and dissatisfied. Desires are impermanent, just like everything else in this world.

This understanding has come to me through the action of practice.

It has not come because I read about it in books. It has not come because I went to the dharma talks and listened with great attention. It certainly has not come because I used logic or reasoning. It has not come because I wanted it (how can you want what you have never imagined?).

Breathe.

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