Daily Sitting and the First Noble Truth

Everything  that comes up in our sitting is helping us. Zazen is a great blessing. What arises in zazen is always a path to healing.

When Buddha gave his very first teaching, he began it with the “First Noble Truth:” that existence is dukkha –suffering, unease, restlessness, dissatisfactoriness. But he didn’t mean something along the lines of: isn’t life awful!? Rather, he meant: if you want to get better, the first step is to realize that you have a problem, and to accept it. His assessment was not pessimistic but realistic. All of us will experience pain, loss and ultimately death. Life rarely lives up to our expectations, and even when it does, anything “good” we manage to create will inevitably change and be lost. This causes not just dissatisfaction but anxiety.

All good therapy starts with a premise: see your problem for yourself. Get the diagnosis, accept it and receive the treatment. Cognitive therapy does: it requires us to experience the misery underlying our self-defeating behaviors. Dream therapy does: the dreams try to show us where we are stuck, unhappy, self-harming. No doubt many other kinds of psychotherapy do the same. Buddhist training does this too. We begin where we are. And to do that, we must see where we are, and accept it. Which is often easier said than done.

Let’s say for example we are experiencing a painful reluctance to sit daily, but this heavy or prickly reluctance dogs us when the prospect of doing it looms. So, naturally, we get busy with other things and justify our postponement of the sit.

That would be a case of not accepting where we are at.

Acceptance on the other hand might look like this: I really don’t feel like sitting and the prospect is painful. That’s where I’m at. That is what I’m experiencing. Rather than banish this unpleasant feeling, and bury it beneath other activities, I accept – even reluctantly – that I am having this feeling; and I allow myself to feel it. In other words, I accept that it’s OK to sit even with a heavy or restless sense that I’d rather not be sitting.

We could bring a pen and notebook with us to our cushion at home, so that if important tasks occur to us while sitting, we can note them down for later, and not worry about forgetting them.

The first step for us in this case is to accept that it’s OK to have feelings of reluctance about sitting – and it’s OK to sit with those feelings coming up. Everything  that comes up in our sitting is helping us. Zazen is a great blessing. What arises in zazen is always a path to healing.

The healing comes through our accepting that there is a part of ourselves, a natural law to which we are subject though we may not know it, which knows what we need. Where we are stuck is always right where we can learn. Whatever we don’t want to accept, has the power to expand our range of acceptance, our breadth of experience, and the openness of our consciousness. It can help and guide us, but we have to let it win. If we do, our lives begin to move ever more in line and in step with the Way.

Through the process of accepting where we are, we are learning to accept ourselves as we are, and so live with greater ease and peace, and less friction – less dukkha, in fact, through accepting our dukkha. To see and to accept naturally leads to surrender; which leads us through “the gate of ease and joy” – which is exactly what Dogen Zenji called zazen.

Message from Henry is from our April 5, 2021 Newsletter
Image: Balloons by Peggy_Marco, from Pixabay.com
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