I have been reading, The Other Shore by Thich Nhat Hanh a zen monk who has become one of the most influential spiritual leaders in the world today. In his book he talks of what it is in our lives that ‘makes us light’. He says, “when we become a monk, there may be people who say we are very foolish. But in truth we’re very wise. It’s because we let go of everything that we can have joy, happiness, and peace. It makes us light. There’s no more fear, no more anxiety”.
So, living in a world where being a monk is beyond most of us, what can we do to find that lightness in our own lives?
I read that passage on my way to start a three-day sesshin, at the International Zen Dojo in Wisconsin, USA. For those that have no idea what sesshin actually is, it literally translates to “touching the heart-mind”, and is a period of intensive sitting meditation (zazen) held at a Zen Temple or Dojo (house on the way). To me personally and others attending sesshin, it actually involves a daily routine of devoting yourself almost exclusively to a practice of zazen, with numerous 45 minute-long sits, entwined with short walking meditations, rest breaks, meals, and periods of work (samu), all of which are performed with the same intensity and awareness as zazen. Nightly sleep is not only kept to a minimum of 4 hours, but takes place on floor of the dojo, with the meditation cushions providing your nightly mattress. A daily hot bath is taken Japanese style, communally and outdoors, but this is of little concern, as it brings great relief to aching backs and sore knees. The training is intense and in many ways brutal, as it strips you bare of the comforts and luxuries, that we grasp and use to numb ourselves from our daily reality. Add this to the physical experience of the numerous sittings, and you have something like running an ultra marathon, without even stepping off of your meditation mat, and just like any marathon the baggage you cling to at the start begins to rapidly fall away as the race opens up and even more so, as the finish approaches. As you move into the final stages greater focus and concentration is required to take you beyond, the physical and mental discomfort that it is impossible to avoid. But for those of us who want to experience what it means to find real joy, happiness and peace, and live our lives in a lighter way, beyond the materialist world, it is a worthwhile experience. As I emerge back into what I might call my own reality and the world I live in, I find the simplest of things bringing great joy, the warm rays of the spring sunshine, feeling my feet firmly on the ground, and the simple comfort of the bus seat returning me to the airport, and with this comes an internal peace that takes us beyond the fear and anxiety of modern living.