Spiritual Life is daily and repetitive

February monthly mindfulness

Spiritual life is daily and repetitive.

One of my friends, years ago, moved her family to Minneapolis and came to MZMC where Katagiri Roshi was teaching. She asked, “After a lot of effort to move my home and family here, I have come to study with you, what should I do?” Katagiri Roshi replied, ‘”Zazen is at 5 am.”

We do spiritual practices in our daily life repetitively. Sometimes they feel fervent and fresh and sometimes we just do them with a half-engagement. But there is an intangible quality in repetitive prayer and systematized attention to the “mystery” that can’t be explained. Paul Bosch writes, “Whatever you do repeatedly, has the power to shape you, has the power to make you over into a different person – even if you’re not totally ‘engaged’ in every minute!” Ironically, it seems that it is by the means of seemingly perfunctory daily rituals and routines that we enhance our connection to a bigger perspective and that relationship to the ‘beyond ourselves’ begins to nourish and sustain us.

Many of us come to Zen and Buddhism with a wish for an enormous transformative experience that liberates us. It is rather romantic and idealistic even though it is possible. Even if we have a rather grand experience, our task is to transform it into daily commitment to our practices and the way we view and behave in our life. All our grand religious experiences cannot be kept even overnight. Each morning, we wake up with the day of work ahead of us. This continuity of practice/realization is really emphasized in Zen. The present moment tasks and the rhythm of the day that we experience are the fundamental expressions of our ever-present enlightenment and our realization of “nowness.”

Do you have a repetitive daily ritual in your life that points your attention to the big, unbounded, open, view? In formal Zen, we have Service with its bows, recitation of sutras, vows and chanting. We have the ceremony of zazen that we do daily.

If you do not have this formal ritual, can you make one, however short, however long, that brings forth your intention to practice and to follow your North Star during this day.

Here are some ideas:

1. Make an altar and offer water, tea, incense or prayer at it every morning.

2. Use a waking up gatha, put your hand palm-to-palm and recite:

Classical version:

Waking up this morning
I vow with all beings
To realize everything without exception
Embracing the ten directions

Thich Nhat Hanh’s version:

Waking up this morning, I smile.
Knowing there are 24 brand new hours before me
I vow to live fully in each moment
And look at beings with eyes of compassion

3. Do Zazen.

4. Read to yourself a list or prayer of your own creation that reminds you what your spiritual practices are and how you want to lead your life in this day.

5. Read something inspirational.

Do these things over and over. Even something small, is planting a seed of wholesomeness.