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Why Are We (Really) Practicing?

Why are we doing this? Though we might each give our own particular answer to this question, I think we can say that there are two basically different perspectives from which we answer. the first, says that we are all suffering in one way or another, and that by practicing we are looking for some solution to our suffering. We might not expect an answer or antidote to the suffering itself, but at the very least we're looking for some way to understand the nature of our suffering and who it is who suffers. From this perspective we label our thoughts, notice the patterns of our resistances and bodily tensions, and learn to go ever more deeply in to those old hurts that have shaped our core sense of our Self and its defenses.

But from other perspective we sit simply because sitting expresses something very basic in our nature. Sitting lets us feel fully alive, the way we feel when we stretch ourselves to the very limit of our physical capacities or our talents. This kind of sitting has all the exhilaration of climbing a mountain - not for the view at the top, but for the sheer joy at the exertion of the climb.

Each of these perspectives needs to be balanced by the other. If we just sit in order to work on our problems, there is the danger that we turn our sitting into one more self-improvement project, another therapy or goal we set for ourselves among all the other driven, goal-oriented  activities of our daily lives. But if on the other hand, we manage to just sit in deep joyful concentration, without digging in and doing the serious emotional work of practice, we risk our joy being confined to our time on the cushion, and our lives outside the zendo will remain in turmoil. Neither perspective is more advanced than the other. Beginners may quickly feel a great sense of relief and peace at their first taste of quieting their mind in practice, and the most experienced students and teachers all have unending emotional work ahead of them. Sometimes one perspective will be in the foreground of your practice, and sometimes the other.

So dig deep. Enjoy your sitting.