Daily routines don’t always follow a predictable schedule. Though if we can stick to some sort of schedule where we can fit in our daily practice it certainly makes it easier. I’ve been contemplating how to integrate practice into daily life when there is no routine or schedule. Plenty of Zen practitioners encounter this aspect of how to practise when they become a parent and a newborn arrives. Our usual routine and time to ourselves needs to become more flexible and accommodating to the needs of the child and spouse.
I’m presently sitting in a small cabin in a campground at Weipa on Cape York. Up until a few days ago, we never planned to be here. But in the world of pandemics things can change rapidly. My brother had a dream and had been planning for a number of years to travel to the Kimberley with his boat and then go exploring the coast, visiting rock art sites, the variety of ecosystems along the coast, and camp in some great spots. My friend Bruce and I would join him for the adventure.
A week before we had planned to leave covid infections had started in the community in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and watching the numbers unfold each day we realised it was going to be a race against time to leave the mountains before greater Sydney might be affected and also come under lockdown. None of us had been in Sydney in the areas where infections were occurring and we had not been in contact with anyone who had, so we made our arrangements and left 5 days ahead of schedule.
On day one we left at 4.30am crossing the border into Queensland that evening. As the virus quicky spread in Sydney, the border restrictions of other states came into effect fairly quickly as we travelled. WA closed its borders to anyone from NSW. This was followed not long after by the Northern Territory and then Queensland.
The plans were in a shambles and we found ourselves revising them a number of times before arriving on Cape York. It was interesting that despite our best intentions and planning, this trip did not look or feel anything like we had planned or imagined. I’m reminded of a quote I’ve heard sometimes, ‘life is what happens while we are making plans’.
Zazen has not been easy, long days on the road, late meals, shared cabins, and travelling with people who don’t practise Zen. A daily schedule has been non existent. Practice has not been easy under the continually changing circumstances, but I have been able to find ways to do it. In the midst of what seems like continual change and not knowing when I will be able to find a peaceful moment to sit, it is important to touch that which is unchanging in the midst of all the change. This moment is always here, and our challenge is to become intimate with this moment.
While travelling we take turns in the backseat of the car. This is a good spot to settle into just this sitting. Sometimes its just sitting, sometimes it just sitting with ‘mu’, or another koan. Despite the conversation there are always quiet times during long periods of travel, so these are opportunities to straighten the back and focus. Usually we awaken early and are up and getting ready. But if I wake first, I just lay still and practise sleepy zazen. Or stir quietly and sit on the bunk on my pillow before the others wake up.
Throughout the day, there are so many moments to practise being present, and even to deeply enquire. But it takes a level of determination. The scattered nature of things when our days don’t follow a predictable schedule or routine can make practice more challenging, no doubt about it. But it is possible. Even when we have a regular predictable schedule, often large parts of our day won’t follow a regular pattern or sequence.
So how can we practise with these parts of our day? As Hakuin Zenji says, ‘this very place is the lotus land, this very body, the buddha’. It is always right here, we just need to look. In a regular predictable routine, it is right here. In a chaotic unpredictable routine, it is also right here. Either way, “just this, just this”.
This essay written by Will Moon, apprentice teacher, was published in the SZC Newsletter August/September 2021