As most of you know, zazen or seated meditation (“sitting”) is the core of our practice. Zazen helps us quiet the mind, temporarily reducing and sometimes eliminating the chatter of our various internal voices. When they quiet down, we can objectively reflect on that which is actually present. In that space, we have an opportunity to discover who, or what, we really are—as opposed to what all of that monkey-mind chatter tells us we are.
As wonderful as that opportunity is, however, we often struggle to find time for zazen. We are not monks living in temples, supported by our local communities, with only our spiritual practice to attend to. No, we have to work jobs, take care of families, homes, cars, pets, neighbors, and so on. Most of the time, we think we are busier than we want to be. Often, our internal voices tell us with convincing, work-a-day authority that we don’t have time for zazen. Zazen, these voices seem to say, is yet another thing we have to add on top of a stack of many other things that is already too much to manage. Sometimes it seems like we need a bigger warehouse so that we can forklift in thirty minutes of zazen.
We do have another voice, however, that speaks to us with a different message. It says that zazen is not a thing added to all of the other things in our lives. In fact, this other voice continues, life is not at all like a stack or a pile or a boxful of things that we have to somehow force into what is already a bulging life-space. This other voice says that life is just living, moment by moment. Each moment contains the same amount of living space and living time. You cannot put more into it or take anything out of it. It is what it is, so why not relax?
Of course, it’s very hard to believe that this voice is telling us the truth when the baby’s diaper needs changing at the same time that that pot of bean soup on the stove is boiling over and a long-awaited phone call has now to be answered. But the difference between someone who sits and someone who doesn’t is that the one who sits isn’t anxious and hysterical about those dirty-diaper-soup-pot-and-phone-call-all-at-once moments of life. That person instantly sees which thing—the diaper, the soup, or the phone—will be attended to first. Which one do you suppose it is? There is a right answer here. But if you think of life as an ever-accumulating tsunami of things and tasks, you’ll just be guessing, trying to triage your way out of the impossible. You also can’t just evade the question by saying it doesn’t matter. So what are you going to do?
And to return to the central question, how will you find time for zazen while doing everything else you have to do? Those who sit can see in an instant when they will do it. How have they managed to figure this out? How will you?
Gendo Roshi is Spiritual Director of Great Wave Zen Sangha.