Starting a Home Practice
By Gary Enns
| 2022-9-10 | Saturday Morning Mondo |
First-time Visitor: “How do you start a home practice?”
Where you practice at home is probably the first consideration. Where are you going to set yourself up?
Especially when you are first starting out, a distraction-free environment is probably best, a quiet room or patio, for instance. All of us through force of habit are prone to follow distractions when they present themselves, so reducing these can help us to settle and focus.
That said, I will note that if a quiet place is hard to come by, don't let that stop you from practicing. You don't need to put on noise-proof ear muffs and a sleeping mask to cut off the senses. This is not sensory deprivation practice. Life is noisy, sometimes messy and chaotic, and Zen certainly isn’t about denying all of that. Even if you find a relatively quiet spot, cars may still rev by, kids may come and go, pouring cereal into bowls. The clock continues to tick, gardeners mow and blow, and garbage trucks clink and clank on the street.
These things, all out of your control, become the topography of your zazen as long as your Zen Spirit is right. As long as you are committed to accepting the here and now and remaining still and open to it all, these kind of phenomena become your teachers rather than your distractions.
Next, what do you have to sit on? I highly recommend a good zafu, but when starting out, you can use throw pillows, or firm blankets -- not squishy or lofty ones. If pillows, get some nice firm throw cushions or something you have around the house, maybe two or even three. If a blanket, fold and roll it to create a wedge for under the sit bone. You need height, six to seven inches or so. You don’t want anything that is going to flatten out too much, which would defeat the purpose of the cushion; if your sit bone is on or too near the ground, it's harder to get the knees down where they need to be, on the ground.
Probably a final essential to consider is consistency. When are you going to practice? What time of day works best for you, and how often throughout the week are you going to sit? It's probably best when first starting out not to leave this to chance. Instead, commit to the days and times, and follow through.
Everyone's schedule of practice is different, so settle into what works best for you. Maybe it is four times a week, or five, six, seven. There is no set rule. Will you practice morning or night, or both? Some make zazen a nightly ritual just before bed. They feel they sleep better after zazen -- certainly a pleasant side effect! More often, it seems, people practice early in the morning -- a great way to start the day, connecting with the universe, cultivating balance, stillness, before stepping out and being with others.
These three practical decisions are consequential, as they establish consistent practice in our lives.
Pervading all of the practicalities of location, time, and consistency is Zen Spirit, which energizes, motivates, emboldens. Zen Spirit means concentration, compassion, generosity, open-heartedness, open-mindedness, and acceptance of the here and now. These are not qualities that we strive for but Zen life itself, manifesting in every moment of our sincere practice.
Marko Kafé, Green Safu and Black Safuton at Monastery Kosan Ryumon-ji in Weiterswiller, France CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons.