Everyday Zen

It's easy to imagine that Zen is something very special. And yet it is in the nature of Zen to defy your expectations and concepts. If you imagine that Zen is something esoteric, then you will be disappointed when the Zen teacher turns out to be so ordinary. If you imagine Zen is some rare teaching, then you will likely miss how Zen arises in your daily life. When you get stuck in traffic and you're late for a meeting, you may become very agitated. When someone cuts in front of your car, you honk your horn or find yourself muttering colorful words. What follows is a string of thoughts and judgments about that person. You can't believe how rude and inconsiderate that person was. And the story continues in your head, long after the person has disappeared.

If someone says they will do something for you but they don't deliver, you will likely become frustrated and begin ruminating about how they are conspiring against you. The judgments arise and you will find yourself occupied with an endless string of invectives. If you continue to obsess about this person, it can easily ruin your day.

Zen is about how you find the path to freedom in your everyday life. The path is not so important unless you are lost. If you are lost, then take the closest path at hand. If you are lost in anger, notice how the anger arises in your body and in your thoughts. Notice how your heart rate changes and your blood pressure increases. If you are agitated and lost in obsessive thoughts, notice how these thoughts arise and disappear. This is the path of everyday Zen.

So this is why you need to practice meditation. Your habits and conditioning are very strong. Meditation can help you find the path in your daily life. You do this by trusting and opening. Opening is enough. You don't really need to understand this. Ironically it's more a matter of faith. Just have faith in not-knowing and opening. Then you'll find your way. Zen is not so complicated. This doesn't mean it's easy. But if you persist, if you continually practice mindfulness meditation, you will find your way. And you'll begin to appreciate what Ummon meant when he said, "Everyday is a good day."

Robert Althouse