In Clouds in Water’s new design for practice period, we are emphasizing the spiritual structure of the day. What we do at the beginning of the day, during the day and at the end of the day. We are learning how to practice in the Now. Sometimes in a more gross level, the Now is “just for today”. In a more subtle level the Now is this moment’s functioning. Because we are humans, we have a day filled with human activity. How do we practice with that? Even in the extra-ordinary circumstances of a monastery, there is still the time in between sitting, there is still relationship with people, there is still our disturbing habit patterns to deal with. This is life as a human being.
Zen practice emphasizes two aspects of our life. One is penetrating into the eternal essence of life that runs underneath all appearances and the other is, with that vision, how do we lead our normal, everyday human life. Dogen writes, “after all, practice is a matter of everydayness.”
How do we integrate the tasting of timelessness and eternal essence and the fact that we live our form life every day, day after day?
One of the ways to do this is to work with the structure of the day. Most religions of the world agree on this point. Most spiritual practices, pray or meditated several times a day. In this way we keep our understanding of the vast mystery of life connected to our everyday actions. In Zen, we particularly learn the structure of a human day through the structure of a sesshin day. That sesshin example has taught me so much.
One of the Lojong slogans from the Tibetan traditions addresses this:
This is to say we have an aspiration at the beginning of our activity or our day, and we have a self-reflection and offering the merit at the end of our day or our activity.
So, in our practice period schedule, we are asking our whole community to have a moment of meditation and reflection when you get up in the morning, and a moment of meditation and reflection before you go to sleep. We will, as a community, use the verses for arising and going to bed, and encourage everyone to meditate daily. (You can get the verses and the format at www.cloudsinwater.org.)
As we go through the day, we can also use this slogan. I have found the transitions in the day from one activity to another to be very potent for spiritual practice. In the transitions, I can offer the merit of what I just previously have been doing and then offer the aspiration for what I’m going to be doing next. This pause and reflection between activities can really change our mind set. While I’m doing an activity, I try to meld my whole body and mind into the activity of the work without too much self-reflection, just doing.
I have edited a saying from the 12-step program with a Buddhist perspective about what to do as we go through the day. Here it is:
At the end of the day, we reflect on our day. We can review our actions. We can forgive and let go. We can see if there is some corrective action we should take in the morrow. Clouds in Water is including the vows, our repentance verse and the going to bed verse in our practice. We can begin anew and fresh in the next day.
This is a structure for life that can keep our aspiration, our vows, our mindfulness fresh and alive. As each new circumstance arises in our life, we can have a fresh approach to practicing our vows with that unique circumstance. Each day is a new beginning, each moment is a complete expression of the dynamic working of life.
We are, as Dogen says, practicing with the enlightenment at hand. That enlightenment is the recognizing and the expression of the completeness of each moment and our full awareness placed on life, moment to moment.