How 12 Years of Zen Practice Changed My Life
Vast is the robe of liberation
A formless field of benefaction…
Every morning, this is what we chant at the end of a 40-minute period of zazen (sitting meditation). Every day, liberation is woven into my heart.
My Zen practice is especially present for me right now. For the past 10 days, I watched and supported as three cohorts of students in Upaya Zen Center’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Program made their way through various stages of this two-year training. One cohort presented their final projects and graduated. Another came for their second year and took vows to uphold Buddhist precepts, and a third group came to start the program and enter this stream of practice and service. In the midst of all this, three friends received ordination as novice Zen priests.
As I watched these powerful rites of passage, I thought about my own path and realized that this is my twelfth year of Zen practice.
In the spring of 2001, I moved to San Francisco Zen Center for eight months, marking the start of my journey in this particular tradition. Since then, I’ve had the good karma to live next door to Zen centers in San Francisco and here in Santa Fe for a number of years. I am deeply grateful to my teachers along this path.
Throughout those years I’ve learned a few pretty important things:
- Be wholehearted in everything.
- Don’t cut corners.
- Treat nothing like an object.
- Fluff your own cushion, clean up your own dishes. Don’t leave your mess for someone else.
- Stay with the pack! Nothing is more important than relationships and practicing to remember our interconnection with all beings.
- Heart and mind is one… there is no separation.
From the outside, Zen might look like a heady, isolated sort of practice. My experience has been completely the opposite. It’s helped me to become more embodied and to learn what intimacy truly is.
These 12 years have taught me the value of committing to a practice that has served as a vehicle for my own waking-up and liberation. (I’m very much still on the way there, this is by no means a done deal!)
I don’t think you have to be a Zen practitioner to do this – there are many pathways to self-insight. But I do know it helps to make a commitment, to dive deep into one thing and let it teach you about the nature of your mind and heart, and to remind you how connected we all are. It really can change your life.
If you’ve got an awareness practice, how has it changed your life? What gifts has it given to you? Please share in the comments below.