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Zen, Horseback Riding, and the Nature of Alignment


What is the nature of Zen training and practice? Sēretsu! (Alignment).


For me, whenever there's a noticing of discord... discontentment... irritability... crankiness... restlessness... dissatisfaction... disconnect... disconnection... inwardly and/or outwardly... I know myself well enough that, like a rider falling off a horse, I'm not in alignment in some way. For this reason, Zen practice and training are sometimes likened to horseback riding.


The body of the horse is the practice. We, as the rider... if we want to do so with a certain amount of skillfulness, must have alignment with the horse: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, aware that the point of contact with the horse isn't just our body on its back, but the reigns of attention and awareness we hold in the hands of our intentions.


The reigns of attention and awareness aren't to be held too loose or too tight... an attitude that's too serious or too lackadaisical. It's a gentle tension that allows for a healthy relationship. It's a relationship rooted in Loving-kindness.

That said, the practice of Zen can be uncomfortable as we build our skillfulness. We can have a lot of doubts about our abilities. This is especially true if we have a sense of falling off a lot... perhaps living in contradiction between our values and related actions.


For me, that looked a lot like saying one thing healthily yet doing another that wasn't. I could say, "I love you," and genuinely mean it in my head, but then the next moment, I ran from it, overtaken by insecurities and fears. I call that 'Sunday church syndrome.' We're good as long as we're in the pews, but it's project mayhem outside the building. Insecurity and fear can be incredibly disruptive to both living in integrity and wholesomeness... the absence of guilt and shame... as a result of greed, hatred, and delusion.


To gain my integrity, my sponsor and Zen teacher worked patiently with me on growing my maturity... which meant changing my perspective on things... being in surrender rather than strategic retreat... cultivating a healthy character rather than doubling down on my personal misalignments that resulted in suffering on a spectrum.


It's not something that we're doing when we start out, but at some point... if we really give ourselves to it... becomes who we are, just like a skillful rider of a horse. The rider and horse seamlessly soar as one.


That said... Zazen Zazen Zazen. We could practice together rather than alone, as Buddha and his sangha did. There's a real value to that. We could be better together rather than apart.


一Dignity and Grace Within Our Practice


Calligraphy Note: 整列 | Seiretsu | Harmonious alignment

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