Although Scotland is no longer in lockdown, I don’t intend to resume having in-person sangha meetings anytime soon. I think the lockdown has ended too soon, and some people have not yet been vaccinated, so I’m not about to have people sit together in meditation in an enclosed space.
Also, the online meetings have been going so well, I intend to continue having them even when we’re on the other side of the pandemic and in-person zazen resumes.
I’ve been doing kinhin (walking meditation) by myself at a spot near the River Kelvin, in the park near the Kelvinside Allotments. Whether I do it depends on the weather, so I haven’t done it in a couple weeks, but I hope to be able to get back to it soon. If you’d like to join me for 40 minutes (or less, whatever you can do) of kinhin, masked and physically distanced, in the morning or evening, let me know and I’ll give you the details when I figure them out. And please let me know if you have any suggestions for other places in the city for outdoor meditation, walking or seated.
According to Lacan, the I which speaks and the I which is spoken of are not the same. The one observes and describes the other.
Zen practice reveals to us that we are not the I, the self, the aggregate of traits we describe and identify as “I” or “me.”
As we study the self, we may find we do not like, or even have much in common with, that self, the same way we experience some other people. Or we may like and relate to that self we are studying, the same way we experience some other people. But we are none of those people we can analyse and describe, including the self.
One of the most common practices in Buddhist meditation, including Zen, is to simply pay attention to your breath. When you realise you have been distracted by a thought, you label it “Thinking,” then return your attention to the breath.
It is a useful practice, but I question the accuracy of the label. Using the word “thinking” suggests you are in control, doing something, producing the distracting thoughts. But, as practice goes on, you will find the thoughts are there whether you are actively thinking or not, and trying to stop thinking and quiet the mind is just one more activity to be distracted by.
What if you let the thoughts be, just allow them to make their noise, like the background noise in a public place, a chatter you hear but do not pay attention to? You will find that the correct label is not “Thinking,” but rather, “Thoughts.” The thoughts just happen, and they are not your concern, and so you notice they have distracted you, and you return to the breath.
At today's sangha meeting, we discussed the dangers of judging our meditation, of thinking of it as something to fail at. How some people say, “I can't meditate,” when what they mean is that their meditation isn't what they think it should be.
It never is. And that's okay.
The only way you can do it wrong is by thinking you're doing it wrong. If you're meditating, then whatever your mind is doing — being focused, being distracted, happy, sad, angry, bored — is what it should be doing.
Today is publication day for the French translation of my book on Zen practice, Kill Your Self, published by Pocket as La Vie Apres L'Ego. A deep bow of thanks to Mikael Demets, Charlotte Lefevre, Elise Boulay and Ghizlaine Guevel.
I wonder if what those who make Zen our lifelong practice have in common is that when we're young we experience what John Tarrant Roshi describes in his book Bring Me the Rhinoceros: “None of the usual solutions to life that were on offer meant much to me.”
Even before I'd heard of Zen, the things that were supposed to be important seemed trivial, and based on a crazy assumption of permanence. I annoyed my first girlfriend by saying life was only varying degrees of suffering. So, when I heard about the First Noble Truth, it was a relief.
I suspect that's the difference between lifers and those who come to it for comfort or support during a period of crisis (not that the one is better than the other, just different).
Some people in the Buddhist world like to talk of “noble silence,” or, even, “Noble Silence.” Silence is neither noble nor ignoble; it's silence. If we try to make it more than it is, we make it less than it is, by imposing our small story on it, so that we experience not the silence, but our ideas about the silence.
Our weekly online sangha meetings have been going very well, with — thus far — people in Scotland, Cornwall, Italy, Croatia, France, and various American states doing zazen together. Our little group ranges from newcomers to people who're in their second decade of practicing together. It's been going so well, I think this ought to be the future, or at least a large part of the future, of Zen practice.
Yesterday's online sangha meeting went well. People in various time zones sat zazen together, then I gave a Dharma talk. I was impressed by the video and sound quality of Jitsi (it works better in the app than a browser). So we'll continue to meet on Sundays at 6 pm Scottish (UK) time. If you want to join us, let me know and I'll send you the link and the password.
Note to lurkers: there was at least one person yesterday who left their camera and microphone off. We're a sangha, not a sideshow, so that's unacceptable. From now on, anyone who's not visible will be bumped from the meeting.