Saturday, April 13, 2013

We don't need no stinkin' mats!

My jaw dropped when I entered the Dharma room last Sunday. There were no meditation mats there. I quickly scanned the room, then did a double take as I tried to process the surprise.

Where were the mats?

This had never happened before. We usually have about fifteen maroon mats stacked in the corner of the room, but only two remained--odd ones out, a red one and a black one. Before I got excited or anxious, I decided I should search the other rooms in case someone had moved the mats.


This was...interesting. Zen groups usually rely on mats like a mechanic on tools. Ordinarily I wouldn't have given the situation much thought, but our sangha had just posted an event on Meetup and we were expecting up to eight visitors. 

What a way to make an impression, huh? "Hi, I'm Andre. Glad you decided to join us today. Let me show you to your place ON THE FLOOR." 

The bare, matless floor. 

As I explained it later, it felt like I had invited guests over for dinner but forgot to buy plates. 

So what should we do? I wondered as two of our regular members arrived and I explained the situation to them. 

In our Zen lineage, we stress correct situation, relationship, and function. 

Where are we? What's going on? What circumstances are unfolding around and inside us?

What's our role in this context? How can we help?

In reality, there was no problem. What I was facing was a disparity between reality and expectation. People expect mats at meditation centers, but mats have no more to do with Zen than a toothbrush and a crocodile.

Zen is completely portable, and should in no means be limited to the seated position, or worse--the mat. Meditation is wherever we presently are; it's how we engage our minds and lives right here right now.

So this case of the missing mats was a great opportunity for practice, for all of us to confront and see through our expectations about meditation, practice, Zen and Zen teachers. 

Upon the suggestion of one of our members, we improvised: we constructed little seats from pillows and meditation cushions (thanks Tom and Andrew). Maybe it's not a magnificent example of Zen spontaneity found in the dialogues of the classical masters, but it was a humbling lesson in correct situation, relationship, and function. 

What do we do when we arrive at the Zen center and the mats are gone?

We do our best with what we have--cushions, pillows, and chairs. In the words of my teacher, "It's all good."

And it is, if we can only get past our preferences, opinions, and ideas. If only we can get out of our own way and just function.

I still don't know if the mats will be there tomorrow, but that's okay. Surprises are not only great opportunities to learn and practice, but they starkly reveal the true nature of life--always changing, changing, changing. 

Above photo borrowed courtesy of Creative Commons flickr user: timsamoff.

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