I've found myself proposing/defending/explaining why I sit often this last week. Since this is another one of those grab bag ideas I've had for a blog post for a while, why not go into it?
Do I sit because I want to be enlightened, see my true nature? Maybe I want to be a better person, develop discipline, focus and patience? Do I need an excuse to improve my posture? What about just wanting to do an activity to fit in with a crowd I'd like to hang with?
Honestly, I can't really deny any of these. But are they causes or effects of my practice?
Let's start with the last and most shallow reason. I've always been a bit of a loner. The majority of my interests and opinions have generally not been mainstream. While it can be painful to sit on the sidelines for having different views, it's something I've more or less accepted. I'd rather be myself than try to lower my standards. But when I find a group there's no reason not to join. I certainly didn't start sitting to join a group, it's not a group activity. It's something I now have in common with them. Yes, if I stopped I would be missing the part that's most important and I wouldn't really fit in, but that's not why I do it.
My posture used to be awful, so this was actually a reason I began sitting. This was one of the real reasons I went to the Zen Center in the first place. A book can tell you what to think and how to sit, but it can't observe and give feedback or adjustments. I got neither of these things, but I did get encouragement. My poor posture was mostly due to weakness in certain muscle groups. Forcing myself to sit upright for twenty minutes a day strengthened these muscles. Now my posture is better, which in turn has improved my technique in Aikido, a physical benefit that I have pointed out to beginning students when they ask me if I meditate like we've been urged to do. My hips are also very tight, making it difficult for me sit appropriately. This has given me a further excuse to stretch those muscles which will also benefit me in Aikido.
Now a little deeper. Better person? Discipline? Focus? Patience? No one is without these desires. Have I noticed improvement? Yes. I didn't come to the table wanting these things, though. I've already mentioned in previous posts my issues with discipline and a little about patience. I've also mentioned how it's helped me improve my life. Focus, though. That's something I haven't really mentioned.
Since I was very young, I've had attention issues. I was diagnosed with ADD before it was cool and had graduated beyond Ritalin before it earned the reputation it has with the kids on the street. I'd taken uppers and anti-depressants. Tried therapy. They all had their benefits, but they didn't fix anything in the long run. We were grasping at straws and nothing seemed to hold. I was always able to focus on things I enjoyed doing, often more than was healthy, but became easily sidetracked when doing something not so pleasant. Since high school, I've fought against medication mostly due to adverse side effects. I really didn't like how the stimulants made my mind race.
When I began Aikido for the second time, after high school, I had my intense focus pointed out to me in a way that struck something inside. I became aware of what really happened, being in the moment. While I was unequipped at the time to harness this, it laid the foundation for what was to come. Paying attention to what my body was doing also sprouted mindfulness.
The mindfulness to see that I was sidetracked was there but weak, or I didn't know what to do with it. The discipline was lacking and until I had that the mindfulness did nothing but breed guilt and regret. Developing the habit of sitting I mentioned in my first post is what has helped there.
So then, what about enlightenment and all that. We're supposed to sit without thoughts of gaining and these can become traps for the mind. Dogen's thoughts on this are that sitting itself is enlightenment. I've had odd experiences since I began sitting that I attribute to my practice, but don't see them any differently than anything else thanks to this advice. Do I expect anything special? Not really. I'll treasure it if it happens, but I'll also try to let it be "scenery on the road of life" as Uchiyama Roshi puts it. It's not why I practice.
So why then, do I practice? A little of all of those reasons may be true. My life has improved since I began sitting. So has my posture. I've also made new friends in a community of positive individuals. I understand the human condition a little better and my perspective on life has changed. I also don't mind getting up so early anymore, sitting in the morning makes me more alert and awake then the extra half hour I'm missing out on.
I enjoy the way my mind calms down when I sit. Now that I think about it. That may be what really brought me to it. When I performed techniques in Aikido, my mind feels clear, the way you want a piece of glass to be clear so you can see what's going on outside. I wanted that in my everyday life. I'd tasted it at times, but I wanted to cultivate it.
This was the need in my life for something I couldn't put my finger on. I just happened to stumble across what I did at the right time and now I am where I am.
In trying to let moments be moments, this is what has happened.
So why sit?