Saturday, October 22, 2011

Family practice

Yesterday was sesshin. I couldn't attend; my home life is way too hectic for me to leave for 10 hours on a Saturday. Coincidentally, my son was running a very high fever on Friday and my wife and I were up most of the night soothing him, so I couldn't have attended anyway.

Normally when family obligations "got in the way" of a retreat, I would mope around, thinking of all the good sitting I was missing. Talk about backwards--while I was at home, I was dreaming about how mindful I would be at the zendo! Helllllllo, wake up pal! You can be mindful anywhere; you don't need to be at the zendo to do it.

Yesterday was different, though. I knew that my place--even with my son's fever aside--was with my family. They need me now, and I genuinely want to be there for them. Not out of some paternal duty; I want to help them any way I can: changing a diaper, giving a bath, brewing yet another pot of coffee.

That was my practice yesterday--being a dad, a husband, a sleepy guy who was up half the night. Not "supporting my family," but being a part of it.

The whole time I tried my best to stay mindful--especially when my nerves were splintered from exhaustion--maintaining awareness of my body, mind, and speech. It was an ordinary day, nothing special. I didn't have any profound insights, but then again, I don't think Zen is about inducing some special experience. Sure there's kensho, but lately, through koan practice, I've been more concerned with fully engaging my life than with having some transcendental, non-dual experience.

Practice is portable; you can take it anywhere with you. In fact, I would argue that that's what genuine practice really is--wherever you are at this present moment. What's going on right now? What's your mind up to?

So I didn't get to sit sesshin, maybe next month. Maybe not. But what I did get was a chance to hold my son while he was crying, when he needed me the most. I felt what it was like to be exhausted, frustrated, and confused at 4 AM. That's what life was like at the moment. And I sat with it, in the midst of all that emotional chaos.

It was great practice.