Essential teachings on awakening: the path of Zen

Days 3-4, Silent retreat at Esalen

Silence. Not a comfortable social state for this one. Recall times in the past when silence meant someone felt hurt or angry. Or the relationship had frozen up, nothing left to say. When in fact, so much needed to be discussed.

This silence, though, is a gentle one. A healing silence. This is a campus-wide silence, including staff, to facilitate the several meditation retreats being held this weekend. I opt for the path of Zen, having more than a little exposure in my past. And when I saw this in the Esalen catalogue, it seemed perfect for addressing my state of anxieties.

Indeed, cultivating a practice of observing the body, the breath, the thoughts and feelings helps one stay grounded in the present moment. That’s the theory anyway. My experience on the meditation cushion is a bit rougher than that. Obsessive thoughts come charging through my head, with their accompanying emotions. I’m focussing on my breath, and it seems stilted, shallow, the breath of a stress condition. As the retreat moves along, I find myself relaxing more. Breathing more naturally, able to observe my thoughts and feelings. Stay present.

The teacher is Pamela Weiss from the San Francisco Zen Center. She’s doing a great job explaining the rudiments of Zen and the meditation practice, in layman’s terms, with guided visualizations to help center and focus. Tips on posture as well. I just may continue this once I get back home. She shares many koans, teachings, and this gem, an interpretation of the Genjo Koan:

To study the Buddha way is to study the self
To study the self is to forget the self
To forget the self is to become intimate with all things

The teachings expand in later sessions, to include centering in the heart, wishing compassion on the self, on others, and on the world. A peaceful path, the path of Zen.

I will likely not devote myself to formal practice of Zen, yet I’ve incorporated the philosophy over the years. Indeed, my practice of bicycle touring brings me similar centering and focus, and a commitment to dedicate my life to service once again.

From the Tibetan tradition, the Four Immeasurables:

May all beings be happy
May the causes of their suffering be removed
May they always be joyful
And may they all remain in a state of equanimity

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