Zen is a Practice Way, by Norma Wong Roshi

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Zen is a practice way – rather than a belief. To reap its benefits and penetrate its secrets, you have to practice! We have been called the Jesuits of the Buddhist world – the hard core, disciplined practitioners who reject dogma, believe in nothing, and radically apply learnings in the everyday world.  And therein lies the rub… we have to practice with some level of discipline. This requires interrupting the pervasive habits of modernity – an increasingly difficult task as technology supports parsing our time into tiny, little bits.

Reflective, experiential practice stretches time and grounds us in place and space.  By engaging in even a small amount of daily practice – say, 30-45 minutes – we cultivate cellular memory that will come to our aid when we need it.  We are much more grounded, with more mental and physical capacity, when our breathing is “low and slow”, emanating from low in our bodies, below our belly buttons, in a slow rhythm of less than 10 breaths per minute in which the exhale is longer than the inhale.  But in the height of the drama unfolding in front of us, our minds race and our breathing migrates rapidly high in the chest. Regular meditative practice – with breath at less than 5 times per minute - builds a different cellular possibility when we need it the most.  Stop. Reset. Breathe low and slow.

When we reset, we make it possible for others to reset, as well.  I saw this play out recently at a convening of nearly a hundred. There was an emotional moment, and the room lost its focus. The speaker sought to push back her own emotion and move on, and I intervened with a suggestion to stop, and breathe. She did – and invited others to breathe with her – slowly, in and out, in and an especially l-o-n-g out. In the span of just a few short minutes the entire room was transformed. The emotional moment was not suppressed or swept away; rather, it was metabolized and therefore it mattered as those gathered became as one.  All of this possible in real time because the speaker has a regular practice, and the confidence to invite others in.

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