Small practices with Big Resonances

Until April 7th, Clouds in Water Zen Center where I practice and teach is in a Winter/Spring practice period. We are experimenting with an option for practice period that focuses on home practice. We are committing to do:

  • Begin the day by refreshing your intention. 
    • Bow once (a full bow), staying down for tharee full breaths to relax and focus. 
    • Recite the verse for beginning the day
    • Review your commitments
  • During the day, take time to relax and focus at least once. Wherever you are, sit quietly, note what’s happening in your body mind and feelings and focus on breathing. (5 or more minutes)
  • End the day by taking stock and letting go.
    • Bow once for three full breaths
    • Review your day and identify any regrets and joys you have about your behavior.
    • Recite three verses: atonement, ending the day verse, and dedicating the merit.

These small things, that anyone can do, have a powerful effect. I’m still always surprised! When I first started practice, I thought only major effort could moves the mountains of blockage that I felt. Anything less, small mindfulness practices for example, were, I thought, stupid and not effective. I remember the first time I heard about the three breath meditation, which is to pause anytime, anywhere, and breath three conscious breaths and relax, I thought “that can’t possibly work.” Too insignificant.

It took me many years to see that these small things have a profound effect. I have changed my intention from a concept that I was going towards a future that had a “Great Realization” in it, to an aspiration to have a “continuous line of immediacy” in my 24 hours. All of a sudden, these small practices that you do amidst the daily activities of my life had much greater significance. The small practice of returning to a direct experience of this moment becomes a deep and profound practice. This is it! The repetitive regularity of a daily spiritual structure becomes even more purposeful. 

This practice period’s instructions are the basis for a daily spiritual structure that can remind us of our true aspiration and our true practice. I think this simple structure is really the basis for spiritual life in all religions. A daily religious structure gives us the underpinnings for truly being able to manifest the present moment of “just this!”

I admire the Muslim tradition of praying 5X’s a day. They also add the power of doing this in community. The whole culture stops and prays together. Wow. Or in the Jewish tradition of the Sabbath, the whole community is bound together in worship even though you are an individual family in your own home. As I am doing the morning and evening bowing and chanting at home, my feeling is empowered by knowing that all the people who have committed to practice period are doing it too.

Keeping alive our intentions and working with the review at the end of the day really focuses our mind to the task at hand and supports our deeper vows. How easy to get “tossed away” as Katagiri-Roshi used to say, with the stories and busyness of our daily life. With this structure, we are actually emphasizing our spiritual intentions and re-enforcing them.

Seize this day to express practice/realization. Don’t wait for a future time, which strictly speaking, doesn’t exist. Strengthen the “remember” part of the famous instructions — Remember, Be, Here, Now.