I would say that my meditation practice is motivated by an observation and a belief. My observation is that my mind is sometimes tranquil, sometimes upset, and usually an admixture of states in between. It’s always changing—there are times when I am calm and content, and times when I feel ticked off and irritable. Sometimes I am completely absorbed in a project; other times I’m wrapped up in random internal dialog, Certain habits seem very powerful, such as having a morning cup of coffee or getting to bed by 10:00 pm. Yet when routines change, such as participating in a meditation retreat or pursuing an astronomy project, those same habits can lose their compelling nature. I am fascinated by the ebb and flow of internal experiences and have often wondered to what extent I have control over them. Can I train my mind to spend more time in the healthier spaces and to be less driven by unskillful mental habits?
My belief is that with a good teacher, an application of consistent effort and some measure of good luck, it should be possible to train a healthier mind. And then there’s the world, which often seems to have gone mad. How can we overcome our delusions and where can we find wisdom to guide our future? I believe that if wisdom is to be found anywhere, it will be found within ourselves, and that meditation is an essential tool for revealing this gift within us.
My earliest meditation instruction was with S.N. Goenka in Hyderabad, India in 1972. This was a ten day silent retreat with much of the day devoted to focusing inward. I was introduced to Zen meditation practice through the writing of Philip Kapleau. I have been inspired by the techniques taught by Shinzen Young. For the past 15 years, I have had the good fortune of working with Shodo Harada Roshi of the Rinzai Zen tradition.
I maintain a daily practice, sitting zazen for 20-30 minutes first thing in the morning and again, sometimes, before going to bed. Coupled with some yoga stretching, morning meditation feels like a good way to clear out the mental cobwebs and start a fresh new day. Meditation in the evening helps me fall asleep when I go to bed.
I usually attend the 7-day meditation retreats, or sesshins led by Harada Roshi in February, May and September at the Tahoma Zen Monastery. I sit a sesshin in December (rohatsu) culminating on December 8 which commemorates the Buddha’s awakening, and some portions of the 12-hour sittings that take place once a month at the monastery. The daily schedule at sesshins typically begins at 3:50 am and goes until 9:00 pm, with about eight hours of meditation. It’s a good opportunity for me to deepen my practice and reaffirm my commitment.
Next page: My Practice