I started my A-to-Z Challenge with Alcoholism, so it is fitting I end it with Zen. Without my formal sit practice in my twenties I don’t know if I would have come to my ahahs regarding alcoholism before I sank into oblivion. Zen, and my brother Stephen who introduced it to me, inadvertently saved me from a whole lotta pain and suffering, and possibly, an early death.
At the time I had been meditating a decade. I was used to watching my thoughts, and so I heard and felt the shifts most alcoholics do not hear and feel when drinking. I felt the subtle shift to anger in my body after drinking, which scared the shit out of me, and saw clearly there was nothing in the environment or the day which might have caused it. I heard my shrink, Paul Tobias, saying I was an accident waiting to happen. Oddly, at the time I wasn’t drinking a lot, and so, not one of my friends or relatives believed me when I came to the realization. I didn’t have blackouts, didn’t drink all day, was not abusive though I was cranky, and never got drunk. At the time I was mildly “addicted” and so, it was not too hard to stop. A few false starts, and having to learn to dance sober. The last was much harder than it sounds.
I am a zennie, though I also embrace the Tibetan Buddhist teachings, and my formal teachers have all been Tibetans by chance. The tonglen practice of sending and taking is very much about developing compassion, and is my only formal practice now. Pema Chodron is the best beginning teacher (books below) and she, too, straddles the Zen and Tibetan world, though she is a Tibetan Buddhist nun.
The thing about zen or sit meditation is that you can adapt it no matter what your chosen faith or religion. Zen meditation has little to do with beliefs. When you bow to Buddha, you are bowing to the buddha nature inherent in yourself, which Gautama Buddha taught after he discovered the path, and he is not a god, but a great teacher. I know Catholics and Jews who do sit meditation. My altar is quite personal, and contains Guadalupe, Samantabhadra, “weeping” buddha, Ganesha, Quan Yin and Mahadurgha. But my sit practice is pure Zen.
I will write more about zen and my path in the natural course of my writing, so will end it here. Namaste, it’s been a fun ride!
Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living (Covers Tonglen and the Lojong);
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times;
and her page on Amazon.com.
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