Julie Honmei Snider
My name is Honmei and my practice is counting my breath. I have been practicing for not quite four years. My practice is not something that is separate from me. I try to do it all the time, even when I’m not meditating.
Last summer, I moved in to my zen center where I now have a small room. Someone questioned me on this choice and asked if I was being honest with myself. I wondered why it never occurred to me to ask why I spend hours a day, days a month, weeks a year working on my breath, facing a wall.
My teacher gave a talk recently during a retreat. He said how difficult it is to walk this path, what incredible effort it requires and how he’s been practicing 42 years and he still isn’t finished. He talked about wonderful things (that I couldn’t see) and horrible things (that I couldn’t grasp) and I filled with frustration and anger and doubt. Why couldn’t he just tell me what it is that is so great? Why couldn’t he just reassure me that I would get there? Did I really have to work forever? How can he have been practicing for 40 years and still not be done?
I knew all this mental chatter was not my practice. At some point it became obvious. He couldn’t tell me because I have to find out. I have to do it. I have to wake up.
In the Buddhist tradition, when you accept this path as your way, you seal it with 16 vows. For me there is no other way. I took the vows without reservation. I know that nothing outside of practice can satisfy me. I know too that there is a further commitment I can make. Buddhism calls it leaving home. It is to leave your old ways forever.
But I was afraid. Before I decided to leave, I wanted to see if I could.
In the morning I drove to work and tried to maintain a clear mind. The day passed smoothly. Things went well. As the week continued, I enjoyed the good feeling and pleasant circumstances. I began to become involved with them. I wanted to do things, continue in a certain direction, achieve and accomplish. Moments would come when I knew I could empty my mind, but instead I kept going.
It came time to go into retreat and I knew I had strayed. With my teacher’s talk on how arduous the path is, how much effort it takes, and how he was trying to encourage us, through all my doubt and feelings of inadequacy, I just tried to keep going and trust that something sincere was at work.
My teacher has said many times, it’s not a high jump. You don’t clear a hurdle and then you’re done. I don’t know when I left. I can’t say that I know anything or even whether I’ve changed. The only thing that comes close is to say my doubt is gone. I don’t have to look somewhere else. While I am alive, the path goes on.
This article was originally published online at 35>35 on October 4, 2011 by Shambala Press.