Overcoming Defeat with 28 Days of Zazen

By Cassandra Tribe, Rhode Island Aikikai – Eastside

When we begin to incorporate the practice of Zazen in our lives, we train to become warriors able to overcome defeat using the weapon of body, mind and soul. The power that we draw on is found not just within ourselves, but also comes from our connection to our community and the world at large. This is not an esoteric ideal that has no practical application off the zafu. The defeats we face are very real and exist in every aspect of our lives. These defeats exist as three forms of resistance to change that you develop as an adult that makes commitment and follow through difficult if not impossible to achieve. It is why keeping a resolution is difficult. It is why we seem to reach a plateau in our ability to learn. These forms of resistance are called, quite rightly and not very nicely, the three defeats or the three forms of laziness.

The first is the laziness of beauty. We fall into a trap of having an ideal of how things should be or look in order for us to be willing to put the effort into practicing or engaging with them. We judge people by their appearances, their age, their accents; class, income, rank, school, education and past; we judge spiritual practices by whether or not they meet our fantasy or experience of what we think they should look like, we put off engaging in exercise because we don’t have the “right clothes or equipment,” we break our diets because one particular meal is so good, we put off studying something or even starting our own businesses because we cannot afford to do it the way we want to do it – none of that is real, they are all excuses not to commit, not to put in effort and therefore – not only are you not effective in keeping your promises to yourself and others, but you become paralyzed and do nothing, except perhaps, complain. They are excuses; fantasies that you choose to believe are real obstacles.

The second form of laziness is that of losing heart. Most people have experienced this as a kind of procrastination or sensation of being frozen. Maybe you sit at a computer, knowing you have to do something for work and yet either you seem incapable of the focus or when you try to do it, it just takes you forever. Maybe you experience this form of laziness because you just never seem to be able to get started at all or you wait until the last minute. You spend your time talking about all the changes you want to make or the new habits you want to acquire or the things you want to do and nothing ever happens. Somehow, you have lost heart and then this kind of heartless existence has become both okay and a habit. You have given up your will and ability to control your life and instead – you lie still, and life passes you by.

The last form of laziness is that of comfort. If something is not convenient for us we will not make the effort to do it. If the day is too hot or too cold, we will not do what we planned to do. If it is raining or snowing – we will not go where we need to go. If the food is not tasty enough, the parking not plentiful enough, the distance walking not short enough, if it is too late or too early for how we are used to living our lives or the people who tend to be there are not the “kind of people that we like and get along with” – we let go of all our intentions of bringing change into our lives.

When we live our lives by fantasy, our realities become full of pain and conflict and suffering. It seems like every time we try to do something, there is something in our way.

That something is ourselves. There are very few obstacles in life that we have no way around.

The Sufi poet Rumi put it best when he said that “in 28 days a robin can bring life from an egg, imagine what you could do in the same time if you loved as much?’

The idea of 28 days being the time period needed to bring change in your life is one that has not only existed in nearly every tradition of religion, ethics and philosophy but that has now been recognized by the medical and psychological arts as a verifiable length of time needed for a pattern to take hold in your life.

Meditation has been proven to reduce stress, improve mental, emotional and physical health, increase focus and clarity of thinking, improve self-discipline and self-esteem and on and on. If you want to bring change into your life in any area, it is best to start from this solid foundation. With increased awareness, confidence, calmness and self-discipline – you can accomplish anything you want to.

Choosing to enter into a commitment to do 28 days of Zazen will provide you with the means to begin to overcome laziness and defeat in your life. In the Zen Studies Program, we have created a seven-day-a-week morning schedule for people to participate in because during this 28-day period it is essential that you are sitting at the same time. It is easier to begin your day building your foundation then try to do it later after you have been bombarded with tiring tasks and responsibilities.

Morning practice allows you to enter your day with strength. You are building reliability. You are building discipline. You are building the willingness to commit to yourself without having to have control. The act of sitting for 28 days is an act in which you are giving up the illusion of control – of being able to determine the purpose, appearance or form of what will happen – and accepting that all that you have and can know is yourself. You are focusing on your greatest asset in the simplest of ways. You are sitting with you and willfully letting all other illusions and distractions fall away.

The practice of Zazen involves much more than sitting quietly. It takes a great deal of study and discipline to get to the place where you can sit without words and be in silence. But the study and depth of the practice is something that is acquired. You begin with developing the habit and discipline of sitting in silence and sitting still. You develop the habit of showing up and doing this even when it is boring or it is the last thing that makes any sense to do.

Hopefully, you have a teacher that will act as a steward of your practice and provide you with the training to bring depth and meaning to your sitting. Even without a teacher, you can begin to build the practice and become ready to be taught. Patience is the essence of Zazen. Patience is a discipline of action. When one is patient, one does not wait passively. One takes action to prepare for opportunity. Patience, perhaps, is the most strenuous and tiring of all the ethical disciplines to practice but it is necessary to realizing life.

I encourage and recommend people to commit to 28 consecutive mornings of Zazen practice in community. The practice is very simple and it is done in complete silence. There are no teachings or lectures; it is simply a shared moment at the start of your day in the company of others who are seeking to free themselves from their resistance and habits of not living the life they want to live. You can do it alone but it will be much, much harder. Having the support of a community that shares the same type of commitment and is willingly putting in effort will help you to succeed in meeting this goal.

28 days. It takes effort. It takes some juggling. It takes commitment but more than that, it takes you being willing to make a choice and to follow through with the action. You can start your 28 days any time, there is no set schedule for that – these are your 28 days, you know when you can do it. And that is very important – do not let anyone tell you to do it or schedule for you when your 28 days start. You must be ready to make the choice to change. It is not something that someone can assign to you. If you begin and then miss a day, simply begin again. It is a hard commitment to make and to make with the full integrity of your being. Your resistance will work double time to find a reason for you not to do this, but it can be done.

Keep in mind this one thing, as you consider doing this practice, that I promise you that on the 29th day – the day you can sleep late — what you will have learned about yourself, about who you are and about what you are really capable of accomplishing will be greater and more satisfying than any fantasy you have now of what life can be like and what you are capable of doing. The practice of Zazen is an invaluable part of excelling in any art; whether that art be martial, creative, healing or simply – the art of living. It is simple and complex; challenging and easy; exciting and sometimes boring. It is nothing more nor less than a true reflection of life itself.

Cassandra Tribe is the master of the Zen Studies Program at Main Street Martial Arts in Providence, RI. She is a Certified Meditation Instructor, Level 3 Reiki Master and 6th descendent of Mikao Usui Rōshi. She was granted Inka Shomei by Master Adele Malone of the Kaigen Sangha, UK in 2005(Kaigon/Rinzai lineage). Cassandra studied at the Omega Institute during the 80s, received private instruction from Seosga Hyeung Kim in Korea from 1998-2001 and is in community with the Miccosukee, Mi’kmaq and Zia of the First Nations. She holds a Masters of Divinity, is an ordained Chaplain certified by Hague Apostille and has additional certifications in Sociology, Social Work, Psychology, Grief Counseling, Alzheimer’s and Thanatology. She is also a poet, artist and human rights activist. Learn more about Master Instructor Cassandra Tribe and Zen Studies Rhode Island at zen-studies-rhode-island.com or mainstma.org .

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