Being Kind to Ourselves

I was recently reading a really lovely teaching from our founding teacher, Shogaku Shunryu Daiosho, commonly and affectionately known as Suzuki roshi. This is from the book Not Always So:

“I want for you to have the feeling of true practice, because even though I practiced zazen when I was young, I didn’t know exactly what it was…if we do not have some warm, big satisfaction in our practice, that is not true practice. Even though you sit, trying to have the right posture and counting your breath, it may still be lifeless zazen, because you are just following instructions. You are not kind enough with yourself.”

Roshi then goes on at length about the importance of being quite sensitive with yourself, tender and care-full. I think this kind of spirit is quite easy to lose, and perhaps difficult to regain. It is very simple, but subtle and quite intimate: how do we know the right attitude toward our practice? We might call it our inner posture.

We might have pretty good outer posture, but our inner posture can be out of sync. Roshi tells us that the most important thing is to have a big, warm satisfied feeling in our practice. I think this might come as a kind of shock to some people, even (or maybe even especially) some longtime practitioners. I think it is possible for us to have periods of great enthusiasm, and periods of great doubt or even despair about practice. Or maybe we are just bored, listless.

Roshi indicates a wonderful sort of corrective prescription for a myriad of practice afflictions. He says to be warm, satisfied, and most importantly, kind to ourselves. Can we sit zazen in this spirit? Can we help build an atmosphere and community that encourages this posture, this attitude, this possibility? I think so. I trust our Way to show us how this can be possible, to help us to tap into that inherent capacity we all have to be present, to forgive ourselves and others, to be kind: to not just endure, but to live; not to just survive, but thrive even. Zazen should help us to express this, and not just be another program we are signing up for, or measure by which we find ourselves wanting.

I think we are doing a wonderful job collectively as a new sangha of creating a warm, welcoming feeling. I give credit and thanks for Taisan and I continuing to receive good instruction ourselves; to a lot of seasoned practitioners having joined us in the last months, contributing their warm energy; to our guiding and other veteran visiting teachers; and also to this space itself, where we come to meet. It is a yoga studio, and there has been this nice visible exchange of participants and even teachers from Hatha yoga classes joining us for our simple one-posture yoga. To put it simply, the vibes are good. I think this is building a wonderful foundation for our individual and collective practice bodies, in this time where kindness, patience, and warm heart/minds are increasingly in demand.

Keizan Titus O’Brien

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