I often come back to the question “Why do I practice?” Yesterday I picked up an old copy of the Mountain Record from 1990. Having just received the precepts, I had been asked to write a piece for the sangha section. Really, I can’t understand why they printed it—I sounded so self-absorbed. I concluded by saying that I wanted to be like Soen Roshi, who I had encountered when I was a teenager. I guess I saw Soen as someone totally comfortable in his own skin.
It occurs to me that this piece was written shortly before Eliza was born, followed in two years by Nelle. In those two years my practice shifted. I can’t say that I was just motivated to be a good father, but sitting on the zafu had a new meaning: all of us were there.
The kids have moved away now, and again there is a shift. Why do I practice? Although I know that I have a choice, sometimes it doesn’t really feel like that. I guess having discovered that it is possible to live my life in a way that feels sane and clear, why not live that way?
—Wally Taiko Edge, MRO
Sometimes I feel it so keenly: this life is all I’ve got. It’s everything. And by some mysterious miracle, I am at the helm. How should I live? When I am awake, it feels clear that this world—every crazy, beautiful inch of it—is utterly sacred. But while I trust that this is true, I fall far short of living in accord with this truth. There is a glaring, painful gap.
I aspire to close that gap, to realize this sacredness in my actual, ordinary life. Although I am often self-absorbed and fearful, what I want is to open my heart to reality completely, to give selflessly, and to respond with great courage and resolve to the anguish and injustice. It is clear to me that this path will open as deeply as I can open myself, and that in this opening, I am taking up the profoundly human work of closing the gap between the heart-thrilling perfection of this world and the heartbreaking anguish. And doing this with my very own body, heart and mind.
—Danica Shoan Ankele, MRO
In 1973 I happened to meet one of Suzuki Roshi’s monks. He taught me to meditate and said, “Do it every day. Don’t think about wanting to do it or not.” I took his advice. I had no idea what I was doing, what it was about, but it felt like home. What kept me going was not a feeling of aspiration—more a feeling of desperation. I was trying to make sense of the pain and suffering in my own life and that I found all around me, everywhere I breathed, looked and went. Over the years, momentary experiences of ease and joy started to permeate my zazen and, on occasion, even parts of my life, and so slowly the desperation has transformed into a kind of longing. I have hope that what the Buddha taught and what my teachers live can permeate my life. When I least feel like practicing, when the world is the darkest, I look to the people who seem the most connected and alive and clear—they are my teachers. This reminds me, and I connect with myself and start over again.
—Susan Seien Wilder, MRO
What do you really want?
Don’t ask the question unless you’re willing to risk everything.
It’s easy to say what we like, what we enjoy, what we want as far as immediate needs and desires. But ‘what do I really want?’ is a question that rubs down to the bone. It makes me real. When I’m lost in a cloud of worry, confusion, despair, anger, lust, frustration, boredom, and all my other creative variations on greed, anger and ignorance, asking the question, ‘what do I really want?’ opens the chasm. I go into free fall, released from the safe ties of the things I bind myself to. In the midst of the falling, unable to hold on to anything, I find a deep knowing of the joyous love of life.
What do I really want? In asking, I risk seeing the unsatisfactory ways I try to cope, to get by, to make it okay that I’m not actually doing what’s most important. I risk safety. I risk everything.
Aspiration—the clarity to keep asking, and to ask with all that I am. Asking never settles for a new identity. I’m not trying to get somewhere. Just wanting an honest life.
—Amy Shoko Brown, MRO