Offered by David Mushin Keeber: At 4.30 am, I am again shaking off the wooly blanket of sleep, arising to my day. I am an early riser in order to have the quiet time to do my yoga practice before sitting zazen. The house is silent, save for the snoring of the dog, a slow rumble that melts into the tick-tock of my grandmother’s clock on the mantle. Both serve to mark the time as I stretch and then move onto the cushion.
But, some days I get up and rather than following my routine, I “just don’t feel like it” and instead read or sit at the computer checking email, news, Facebook. I justify my doing so with the thought that I sit a lot more than many others, or that I run the RRZC zendo and get good time on the cushion twice a week there, or some other odd excuse. And when I do skip sitting, I beat myself up for being a slacker. “Where is your discipline?”
I recognize my lack of sitting on those days. Zazen offers me a quiet center, and I want that quiet center as I head off to my day. We are not supposed to sit with any intention, but when I fail to sit I often find myself chiding my recalcitrant inner Mushin with, “You know you need to sit. You’ll have a better day.” I also find myself thinking of the growing fact that of my mortality as more and more frequently I have friends and acquaintances who pass along. “Time passes swiftly, opportunity is lost,” I say, kicking myself in the pants. Each lost morning bothers me. Whether frustration with myself, or even a sense of guilt when I meet with my teacher, Daishin Sensei, and face him with the little “secret” that I don’t sit every single day as I should.
There is an expression in our practice – “Seven times knocked down, eight times get up.” When I struggle with myself for not sitting, I remind myself of this phrase. For mye, it recognizes that life will continue to throw challenges at me whether in the form of hurdles placed in my path from forces outside my control, to those mountains I erect for myself that block my path. And not just once, but seven times, seventy time, seven hundred times… Yet, in spite of those hurdles, this practice also understands that we have the opportunity to meet each challenge, one by one, and continue on our path, eight times get up.
So, when I chide myself for my less-than-perfect effort, I remember that whatever the reasons I apply to justify my not sitting that day, I have the opportunity to make the decision to return to my seat and start again. I work to recognize that my excuses are just part of those seven times knocked down and part of my life, imperfect as it is. For me, recognizing that imperfection in myself and simply starting again is essential. It offers me the chance to start again, daily, as if with a beginner’s mind.
Someday, this life will end and so that eighth time up will be missed. That too is part of the experience of my life. But, if my intention is to get back up, even at the end, then this practice will still be real for me. How do you meet the challenges to your practice?