I'm writing this entry, to receive feedback and thoughts from the Treeleaf Sangha, but also for the newbie who had the good fortune of stumbling onto this site...like me, in search of "something".
I've gone through a religious identity crisis my entire life. My parents are devout Buddhists (Vietnamese Theravada/Zen), and particularly fond of Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings on mindfulness and kindness. I was never engaged though, except a brief study into Tibetan Buddhism years ago. I attended a Catholic elementary/junior high school where I suffer(ed) the inevitable Catholic Guilt that one hears about; having feelings of overwhelming guilt when questioning or acting in any way against the Faith. This constant friction between two worlds was a problem.
I found Treeleaf, and began reading Jundo's blog entries and watching his & Taigu's videos. Soto Zen and Shikantaza sounded very interesting. I then experienced a "confused" phase as I began wondering, "Why do I have so many questions when all I read are comments on "stillness" and "it just is"? The confusion was further compounded (completely unintentional!) by the more senior members that had a heavy philosophical bent to their comments. My mind was spinning. I was confused and I wrote Jundo asking for guidance. I hated that I felt "not in control" of this learning process.
I then began sitting. Twice a day. 20 minutes in the morning before work, and 30 in the evening (the .mp3 Timer is a treasure installed on my blackberry) with an hour on Saturday for Jundo's webcast. At first, it was difficult. Every minute felt like an eternity, thoughts were rushing in and out. Still, I continued to just sit.
With more practice, I began realizing that there isn't anything "to get". Just sitting is unto itself the practice. My striving for something was the root of my problem. Deep down, my goals of (tongue and cheek) developing a sixth "holy" sense, or an enlightenment of some sort would never be realized. I accepted this and moved beyond it.
Some days, Zazen is easier then others. I'm able to sit, just be, and it truly is a blissful state. Other days, it's not so easy. But, I continue to just sit and do my best to not walk away judging. Though some days are more difficult, those days are equally as perfect as the great ones, also. The act of sitting, and allowing my mind to just..let...go is truly wonderful (I can't seem to articulate this feeling into words)
Regarding "everyday" benefits, Zazen has calmed me down tremendously. It's a marked difference. My work and city are stressful, my mind was -always- racing..to this, or that..to the next meeting, to the next bill to pay, to my blackberry. I would develop headaches and not understand why. I've taken sleeping pills for the past 8 years because I was unable to fall asleep with my mind fixated on thoughts and constantly "on".
I no longer need sleeping pills any longer. My sleep is deeper then ever before. I'm more calm during the day and evening, less prone to emotional mood swings by daily events, and I find that I have greater mind equanimity. I do note that by the evening, my mind has begun to get "wired" and the evening Zazen resets it back into a calming and soothing state.
Not sure if this will help any other newbies out there, but I've stopped reading Buddhist books outside of the Soto Zen/Shikantaza school...for now. I found that having too much information brought me away from Zazen, and perhaps tantalized me with a "coolness" factor that quite frankly, I don't need. Zazen is boring, it's blissful, it's everything. I'm slowly, but surely, learning this.