Student: For the last 8 months, I have been trying to make it on time for meditation at my local sitting group, but I have never quite managed to get there! I get caught up in work, the traffic is bad, something always happens. It is frustrating to arrive just in time to be met with a closed door and a "meditation in progress" sign. I don't know what to do. Could we institute a 5-minute leeway policy?
Teacher: Perhaps you might consider whether or not you actually want to meditate.
Principle: If I am suffering, I am choosing something over ending suffering.
The Zen teacher always gives the most surprising answers! A conditioned response could be sympathy for the effort, accommodating to be inclusive, critical to make a point, or care taking to cater to perceived inadequacy.
But the teacher models a compassionate clarity. Not making it on time to meditation, or not meditating, is a choice. There is nothing wrong with making that choice, but it is not a choice for freedom. Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate has a field day when actions are not aligned with intentions.
Spiritual practice is not a casual endeavor. It demands willingness to do whatever it takes to wake up. We are attempting to do nothing less than working out the salvation of a human being. What could be more important? And yet, the ego talks us into approaching practice as a way to accommodate the ego rather than transcending it.
The conditioned world is constructed for the ego's convenience and comfort. Whatever rules there are don't apply to "me." I can always seek better accommodation. I can cajole or complain my way into what works for "me." I am the exception. Everything is negotiable. I can pick and choose what I want to do. And if things don't go my way, I can show my frustration and take my business elsewhere!
Our practice structure succumbs to neither ego's blandishments nor its willfulness, and is often vilified as a result. It has been called unkind, hard, inflexible, anachronistic or downright ridiculous-by ego. But it is a sanctuary for the heart, a structure we can trust always to draw the line to protect what is compassionate for all. Every practice guideline, from the way we enter the Meditation Hall to maintaining the privileged environment, assists us in practicing the "how" of choosing freedom over suffering.
Within this practice structure, we play a very specific kind of game with very specific "rules." All who wish to play this game are welcome. In joining the team we commit to maintaining the integrity of the game we play. The door is left open for anyone seeking to change or play by different rules to find another game-no hard feelings!
For 48 hours, notice how ego is constantly angling for what it wants and how it tries to circumvent, change, control or fix Life arising in the moment. Watch its attempts to thwart anything (structures, suggestions, commitments) that threatens its position as the center of the universe. In each of these instances, what would your choice for freedom be? Record and Listen.
A note from the Guestmaster with a reminder of a guideline not followed is an encouragement to choose freedom, an opportunity to learn to play by Life's rules instead of karmic conditioning's.