A Practice Story: Why Bother?

Submitted by a student in the Meditation at Work Class

First, I’d like to thank you for bringing this class to Stanford and making it available to all of us. For those of us whose daily activities, energy and attention seem so dominated by work, and who feel that the demands of work most of the time seem to distract us from anything else, your focus on zen at work seems just right. We need to find our practice IN our daily activities — including work — because it seems unlikely (not to mention misguided) to think we can set aside a significant chunk of time and energy APART from our work, family responsibilities, etc. for that practice.

The discussions of work have helped me bring the practice more into my working day. There are still enormous gaps where I lose my awareness of the activity of the moment and don’t realize I have drifted off, but I am noticing more often in meetings, etc. when my mind has wandered, and I am working more consciously at bringing my attention back.

The main thing I am continuing to wrestle with is the following: as we have discussed in class, meditation takes an exercise of will or determination. It takes determination and self-discipline to take the time to engage in daily zazen. While sitting, it takes determination and self-discipline to bring the mind back when it wanders off. As to both of these exercises of will, I sometimes find myself insufficiently motivated. Why bother, I sometimes say. Since there is no difference between nirvana and samsara, since if I peel off the layers of the onion there is no self to be found, since there is nothing to seek after and no seeker to seek, and since even trying to achieve something gets in the way, what reason is there to practice? Particularly when I am feeling sleep deprived and burdened by the wave of emails, voicemails, faxes, phone calls, things I should read and projects that I’m not getting to that confronts me every day.

I think that the answer to “Why bother?” has to do with reminding myself that there IS no life other than my experience of the moment, that if I put off my practice until later I will never get to it because there will always be this mountain of demands, and that I will do more good and less harm in the world if I maintain as much awareness as I can as I move through it from moment to moment. I also think that putting more attention on my practice is likely to keep my batteries from running down so low.