Settling down with Zen
Most of my knowledge about Buddhism has come from reading books without anyone else to talk to about their content. I feel that this "education" is probably lacking because even with the insightful truth of the teachings, they were still filtered through my very cloudy and very ignorant mind as I read them.
Almost every book I've read has stated that reading about practice cannot be a substitute for actual practice, and I feel instinctively that this is true. However, I am consistently unable to translate all of my book knowledge into a real, consistent practice. Because so much of the Buddhist literature I read says this, I become very discouraged. All the reading also causes me to bounce around from tradition to tradition, imagining that one is better than another based on whichever book I'm reading at the time.
I feel like the logical answer is "just go sit." As ridiculous as it sounds, I still cling to the idea that I should be thinking about something as I sit there, trying to gain some insight. Right there I already have a gaining idea. I want my practice and my life to be the same, and Zen says this is already so. I just feel like I can't see it.
Has anyone else experienced this problem, or does anyone have any advice for me at the point where I am? Thank you for reading.
settling down with zen
You already know what you need to do!
Like reading books on gardening, on cooking, on dancing, on auto repair--reading gives you a general idea--it gives you an orientation, like a map--but as it has been said (by Gregory Bateson, I believe), the map is not the territory.
This awkwardness--like standing along the wall at a dance party--will soon go away.
For starters you need basic instruction in sitting: basically there are three aspects in sitting: the body, the breath and the mind. Different places I've sat have had their own refinements in explaining things, so I would recommend, since you are sitting here, with Jundo, that you follow his instructions (I haven't fully explored the treeleaf site, maybe instructions are already here).
While it is not necessary to have a zafu, a gong, incense, in my case, I found it helpful to prepare for sitting with these things. It was so long ago it is hard to remember precisely, but I do know, the awkward feeling of being new comes back briefly each time I find myself in a new setting, with a new sitting group, until I get to know 'how they do things here' and I can settle in to the flow of things.
I've lived in spaces so small there was no blank area of wall: I've draped a sheet over a table so that when seated on my zafu, there was a blank space in front of me.
So far on the check list you have 1) instructions, 2) a place 3) things to use during sitting. Now you need to come up with an idea of when you are going to sit and for how long. This may not sound like such a big thing, but it is really startling to discover just how hard it is to find 10 minutes on a daily basis. Like a weight lifting program or jogging--you want to start with what is appropriate and later build from there.
Better to start slow and take on what you can keep up with and get into a regular routine.
Consistency is the word here, but it is not always feasible, so you look at your schedule and come up with an amount of time and a when.
Now the doing part! Lucky for you, and for all of us, we have this sangha and Jundo to come back to and ask questions privately or publicly as they arise.
Good luck in getting started!
At the risk of talking too much, may I say that I found in my own experience that sitting is a very dynamic activity. When I looked at a room of people sitting, they appeared to be still, but I've found that really it is more like looking at a room of burning candles. Sitting always looks so peaceful, but it doesn't mean the mind of the sitter is experiencing peace! Sitting is....sitting is....you will have tons of answers, everyone who has ever tried it will give you tons more. Sitting is ... just sitting!
Thank you Harry and Keishin for your thoughtful answers.