by Wonp'ung (Miyo)
If you’re reading this and you’ve attended service recently, you’ve noticed that we have new Liturgy books, which have a little more to them. There’s a lot in the new book that I’ve really enjoyed--a couple of things really stuck out to me:The first is the section about 20 minutes of Zen. It outlines how we can, quite easily, inject 20 minutes of a Zen practice into our day. Not too long ago, I would have thought “I don’t have 20 minutes.” Now, I’m thinking “I can spend 20 less minutes on FaceBook for sure.” This prompted me to add the ritual of 20 minutes of more formal practice at home - something in addition to my daily sit.
In the past this is something that never would have happened - coming from a secular background, and not having grown up going to church, and with parents who heavily mistrusted anything that resembled organized religion, Zen practice as outlined in the liturgy book would have been something I avoided.
Now, here I was, reading up on how to add a more ritualized practice to my day, and coming up with ways to build an altar! (Insert gasp here). The picture above is my home altar: Two candles, and two Buddhas on a window sill. I wasn’t sure at first if this was just too basic…but I’ve been assured it’s fine. Because our old farm house is tight on safe spaces for a permanent home altar, these all get put away in a cool wooden box that I found at a store, and are kept put away until I’m ready to use them again.As of this writing I’ve only been doing this for a week. While I understand where my old misgivings of ritual came from and why my parents (and others) have them, this ritual has become a valuable way for me to create a quiet, sacred space for not only meditation, but for contemplation and practice of the teachings. Going through the motions of getting out my candles and statues, removing my shoes before sitting on the mat, bowing as I light the candles and after blowing them out, all have become physical signals for my brain to adhere to the idea “now, we study.”
Another part of the new Liturgy book that I have appreciated is the section walking us through meal-taking. There are three pre-meal prayers offered in this section which made me happier than I really ever expected to be over something like that. “Saying Grace” is another ritual that the family I grew up with never did and turned up our nose at…but what I really enjoy about these prayers is the acknowledgement of the work and sacrifices made by individuals in bringing the meal to the table--from the person who prepared it, to the farmers who grew the food, the workers who cultivated it, and the drivers who brought the ingredients to the stores, the workers who tended to them, set them up and helped us acquire them. Without any one of those steps, I wouldn’t have the meal that sits before me.
I was so enthusiastic over these prayers and how they are worded, that I’ve made a laminated card to leave in my lunch box so that I may give thanks before taking my meals at work. No one else in my household is a practicing Buddhist, so I won’t be asking them to say the prayer with me, but I do say the prayer in my head before I take my first bites of a meal at home now.
I am truly grateful for these additions to the new Liturgy book! It’s brought some great new additions to my practice, and to my day.
by Wonp'ung (Miyo Wratten)
We all face those challenges in life: Something happens, and the daily routine we used to rely on goes into upheaval, including our daily cushion time. It can happen during the holiday season, work, or something changes in our homes, and if we’re really lucky--all of the above.
Currently, I’m facing a little bit of the “all of the above”-- I’ve got a new job that comes with a longer commute, and our house is undergoing some significant renovations that have us camped out in our living room for weeks, and living out of boxes and suitcases. Needless to say, this caused some turmoil in my daily routine--my usual sitting time was pretty much gone. Not because I didn’t actually have time, but because I felt that from the moment I opened my eyes until I laid myself down to sleep, I needed to be doing something…getting ready for work, packing lunches, sorting through clothes for myself and the kids, cleaning constantly because our space is much more cramped now and any amount of “mess” makes the space feel all the more cluttered.
I felt myself getting “prickly”--the word I use for how my mind feels when I don’t let myself sit down and meditate daily. It got to the point that I couldn’t see myself out of this cycle of never-ending commute, work, cleaning--it all had to be done, RIGHT NOW, NO TIME! TOO BUSY!
“Try meditating while you drive,” suggested Ven. Do’an. Well if that wasn’t just the most Zen thing I experienced...
How often do I drive, and just have the radio on? Fret over my long list of to-dos while driving on automatic pilot? How often do I drive, and get to a certain point and realize I have no idea how I got there--no recollection of the route because I haven’t been mindful?
The solution to this problem wasn’t so hard. I made it hard because I told myself it was. It strikes me that there are so many moments in our day when we go through the motions on automatic pilot, grumbling to ourselves about the tediousness of the task, distracting ourselves with TV or pausing to scroll through social media rather than paying real attention to what is happening.
So, I took my meditation on the road--what I discovered is that it is a lot tougher than it sounds. So much of my drive was devoted to redirecting my thoughts which constantly wanted to revert to mulling over the day and my to-do list. How many years have I spent doing that? Far too many.It’s taken literally a few weeks, but my commutes are much calmer now--spending more time focusing on the road ahead, the feel of the steering wheel, the pedals under my feet, the changing light of the morning sky--and less on everything else that isn’t actually in front of me.
This led me to realize that there are so many tasks I do mindlessly--folding laundry while watching TV. Doing the dishes while--again--going over the day and the rest of the tasks that need to be done. These are all things I can choose to do in more meditative ways!
Slowly I’ve been working on taking the mindfulness off the cushion in other ways too, which is our goal for meditation after all. Walking the hallways in my building is another part of my day I’ve chosen to take on more mindfully, for example.
This seems so simple now, and here’s the truth that has hit me upside the head--taking mindfulness on the road has to be a conscious decision. It’s not something that happens because of the magical properties of Buddhism or of a mindfulness practice. It happens because I decide that I need to focus on my driving, on the feel of the clothing I’m folding, and the peculiar sound that dishes and cutlery make when moving around in a sinkful of water. It happens because I just do it by letting go of all the “yeah but”s and excuses that I whip myself into a frenzy with.
I’m not all the way there yet, but I can say that I believe adding the meditation time to my commute has helped me-I’m back to also meditating first thing in the morning like I had been but had gotten away from, and driving mindfully. I feel that taking that time to meditate during the drives helped me soothe the “prickly mind” that I was developing, which in turn helped me see that I do, in fact, have time to sit in the morning--even with everything going on.
Maybe next, I’ll try folding laundry mindfully too--but I’m at a really good part in Dr. Who, so I might wait a little bit ...
by Wanp'ung (Miyo)
It’s been a while now since I first heard Ven. Do’an Prajna mention the benefits of journaling meditation sessions during one of his Wednesday evening Mindfulness sessions at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Utica.
Like with so many things, I met this recommendation with resistance. “Ugh – one more thing to add to my list of things to try to fit into my day!” Thankfully, I reminded myself: “That’s what you used to say about meditation,” and now I somehow manage to find time to meditate at least 20 minutes a day, when it used to seem difficult to manage just 10 or 15 minutes, or even less.
So, I talked myself into starting one. Being one of those people who love a new notebook, I did buy one, although really all I needed were some blank sheets of paper and a place to keep them. I’m a teacher – I have tons of that – but I used this as my excuse to find a notebook I liked at Target, and started journaling.
On the first page of the book, I scribbled down the list of suggested things to note in our journal that Do’an handed out that day. Then, I started logging my sessions. At first it was pretty straightforward. As I went along, as he had promised, I started making connections. For example, acts of kindness – whether received or given – are connected to joy and happiness. A lot of us know this on a conceptual level, but the act of writing it down and spotting that pattern with my own eyes helped me really feel the connection to that truth.
Another example that is a little more personal is that I noticed in my many moments of anxiety, I tend to escape – a lot. During meditation, I will do a lot of story-telling or fantasizing – usually imagining outcomes of situations I expect to find difficult, or that I found troublesome earlier in the day. This helped me realize that I do this a lot during the day in my waking hours as well. I’ve grown much more conscious of this habit, and am able to curb it much more quickly. The reason I curb it? While I try to imagine positive outcomes – just the fact that I’m hoping for things to turn out a certain way, that anticipation, was the cause of some of my anxiety.
Magically, I seem to have grown a few extra minutes in my morning to journal my meditations now – just like I was able to grow some extra time in my day to meditate almost daily, no matter what is happening.
Connecting to nature has been proven to promote healing and well-being, going for a walk, taking in a view of the sun rising or setting, sitting in a park beneath the trees or by a pond are simple ways to connect to nature for even the busiest of people. However, our rhythm of living today is often in opposition to nature. We work against the rising and setting of the sun, constantly push our bodies and minds, ignoring the natural bio-clock of the circadian rhythm. Aligning ourselves with a natural rhythm can maximize any little bit of healing that walking in the park, or any other form of physically connecting to nature may offer. One of the easiest ways to follow a natural rhythm is to align with the lunar cycle.
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courtesy of the Scarboro Missions: a Canadian Roman Catholic Mission Society
A blog by Ven. Do'an Prajna and Lotus Heart Zen sangha members.
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