A few months back, I was at the local Half-Price Books and found an old copy of Taking the Path of Zen by Robert Aitken. Normally I shy away from Western Zen books because they tend to be either self-help books with little actual substance, or too dismissive of traditional Buddhist culture. But it turns out this book was surprisingly engaging and helpful in understanding the Zen path. I realized at the time that I had misunderstood a lot from my half-assed encounters online, etc.
One thing that always really stood out was this quote:
All of us fear failure, to one degree or another, and prefer not to try something that seems too difficult….However, it is important to understand that Zen training is also a matter of coping with failure. (pg. 27)
I feel that in a lot of ways, my Buddhist practice and choice of path has been dictated by this fear of failure. You might even call it pride and arrogance. Later, Rev. Aitken writes:
In the same way, we train ourselves to find our true nature by ignoring the egocentric whims that say, “No, I will sleep in this morning,” or “No, I don’t feel like zazen just now.” (pg. 32)
I have dabbled in various Buddhist practices, including Zen, but inevitably get frustrated almost immediately, quit as soon as I felt lazy, or fear I can’t do it in the long-run, because I can’t bear to do anything less than perfect. Seen from the outside, this seems quite stupid, but that’s the kind of internal thinking we can subject ourselves too.
This time around though, I realized that the important thing is not to get caught up in over-thinking about this, and just do it. This is how I’ve learned to cope with failure at my Buddhist practice: don’t overthink it; just keep doing it. A few weeks ago, I forgot to practice meditation for 4 days, but I didn’t allow myself to get discouraged. I just picked it up again, and have been keeping it up for a few weeks since.
The nice thing is that the practice has gained momentum, and I have learned to enjoy the practice more, and see it less as a chore.
So, the problem was never the Buddhist practice itself, it was my own inability to cope with failure, but that’s all part of the growth that comes with walking the path. 🙂