Lately I've been sitting facing my wife and child as they sleep. Last night I started sitting long before either of them were asleep. Our son refused to sleep. He kept getting up and crawling over his mother, crawling to the edge of the mattress to get at his toys and books, kept "talking" and laughing. I just sat. I didn't ignore them. That would have been impossible anyway. I just sat.
Sometimes I laughed or smiled with them. At one point I got up to hold my son down while his mother changed his diaper, which he didn't like and he didn't hesitate to show his displeasure to us. Sometimes my wife and I would exchange words. While she sang to him while trying to rock him to sleep I got up and wordlessly held out my arms to offer to carry him. She gestured that it wasn't necessary and continued to rock him. I kept on sitting.
The point I'm trying to make is that lately I'm beginning to loosen up the mental separation I have between Zazen and everything else. Sure, I have to practice Zazen and I have to do it a certain way, sit a certain way, etc. That's true. It's also true that everything else is Zazen. Shikantaza is just what? Just sitting.
It was so different for me two years ago.
Two years ago I decided it was time to stop merely reading Zen books and online Zen articles and time to put what I had read to practice. So I decided to try sitting daily for ten minutes every morning upon waking up (I tend to rise earlier than my wife so I figured that was the best time). I had read about counting the breaths as a practice for beginners so I decided to work with that.
One morning I was sitting when my wife woke up earlier than usual. She started getting ready for the day, fixing the bed, changing her clothes, etc. Of course, she kept passing by me, which I found really distracting. I mean, there I was trying to count the breaths and my attention kept drifting to her and the sounds of her activity. I felt more and more annoyed. Especially when she would occasionally stop and watch me. The final straw was when she literally bent down in front of me and said something like, "hello" in a manner that I usually find cute and endearing. In exasperation I said something like, "I'm trying to concentrate here!"
In Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love" she describes an imaginary conversation she would have with her mind every time she would try to concentrate on her mantra. That's very similar to the conversation I kept having with my mind while counting breaths:
Me: (inhale, exhale) One, (inhale, exhale) two...
Mind: Wait, try breathing a bit more naturally, from the diaphragm
Me: okay. (Inhale, exhale) one...
Mind: NOT TOO DEEP!
Me: right, right. (inhale, exhale) one, (inhale, exhale) two...
Mind: Good, just eight more and then we're back to one. How many more minutes before the alarm rings? Hey! Bring your attention back to the breath! We're drifting here!
Me: Okay. (inhale)
Mind: Man, at this rate we'll never reach ten. We'll be stuck at one until the end of the session.
Me: AND WHOSE FAULT IS THAT!?
Me: (inhale, exhale) One...
*wife stirs in the background*
Mind: She's awake
Me: Yes. (inhale, exhale) One, (inhale, exhale) two
Wife: Good morning!
These days my mind is as noisy as ever. But that's okay now. Nowadays it's just:
Mind: blah blah blah blah blah blah blah
and that's okay - it's just the mind going "blah blah blah blah blah." Our son cries and it's just our son crying. I get up to pick him up, and it's just getting up. Life interrupts my Zazen, but where is this interruption?
My allergic rhinitis likes to kick in during morning Zazen. So my Zazen is usually punctuated by "AAAACCCHOOO!" I like to call it Sneezingtaza™. Just sitting, just sitting, AAAHHH AHHHH, just sit - AAACCHHHOOO! Just sitting. Just sitting. Baby cries. Just sitting. Crying gets louder, baby is pissed off. Get up, put him back to sleep. Back to the makeshift zafu and pillows. Just sitting. Just sitting. Where is the interruption when life is just this, zazen is just This?
There is no interruption to Shikantaza, even as I am interrupted. There are no distractions even as I am often distracted.
You probably will be doing so, but I will say it anyway: please feel free to comment, correct, praise, object, agree, disagree, etc. Although I wrote this originally for my blog, I didn't want to just put it there and leave it at that. Sure, some people who read it may post their comments there, and they may even have good points, but it wouldn't be the same as having a conversation here at Treeleaf.