I’m rereading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. I’m finding it refreshing in many ways. Suzuki has a helpful perspective on practice that I think aligns with The Warrior’s Way® method. He says:
“After you have practiced for a while, you will realize that it is not possible to make rapid, extraordinary progress. Even though you try very hard, the progress you make is always little by little. It is not like going out in a shower in which you know when you get wet. In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet, but as you keep walking you get wet little by little. When you get wet in a fog it is very difficult to dry yourself. So there is no need to worry about progress. Just to be sincere and make our full effort in each moment is enough.” (page 46)
I draw out many important points from this.
First, progress truly is in small steps, so it’s helpful to embrace that. I like the metaphor of getting wet. Go out into a rainstorm and you know you’re wet. But, go out into a fog, and keep walking, and you will eventually get wet. You’ll need to stay in the fog for quite a long time to get wet though. It’s similar with regards to practice. It’ll take quite a long time to master climbing, to get wet through and through with it, so that you embody the practice.
Second, since it does take a long time to master something, you should enjoy the little steps you take. The best mindset for this is to do the practice for its own sake. This mindset will help maintain your motivation, to take those small steps, to continue walking.
Third, Suzuki points out in the first sentence that you won’t make rapid, extraordinary progress. There’s a concept in Zen that puts this into a helpful perspective: seek the extraordinary in the ordinary. We can find something extraordinary in the ordinary small steps we take as we walk through the fog getting saturated over time. Seeking the extraordinary in the ordinary helps us value the practice and the small steps for their own sake. It also helps us find joy today as we walk, taking those small steps.
Practice truly is a long journey. There’s no need to rush it. Actually, there’s no way to rush it. Mastering any skill will unfold over time, as we put in the effort. Thus, Suzuki says “…there is no need to worry about progress. Just to be sincere and make our full effort in each moment is enough.” Well said Suzuki!
This Post Has 6 Comments
A highly appropriate selection and reflection about it. I’ve shared it with a fellow climber who is trying to lose weight and to improve in climbing and leading – both long term intentional projects. The reason all the fitness gyms know that January is a big membership month followed by sharp drop off in March is because relatively few Americans understand this, and quit their practice in almost anything when they are not seeing wished for results. Wished for. Wishing is not practice. Thanks for the continuously high quality of these posts.
Thanks Gordon. Mindset is so important to be aware of before doing anything, isn’t it? We need to develop an appropriate relationship with the mind so it works for us, not against us. a
Good reminder for the continuation of my practice. I recently contracted covid and spent over a week in bed with a voracious appetite, craving carbs; I’m confident my body asked for this in order to fight the virus so I gave what it needed but I’ve gained weight and feel sluggish. Coming out of the sickness I’m left fatigued, but gentle movements day by day help recuperate. Today my aim centers returning to strength training after two weeks of non movement and I look forward to focusing on the fog metaphor as I complete exercises.
I also think this mentality eliminates needless stress and pressure. Like Gordon noted, many gym memberships break away in March because people expect a sudden change. People tend to pressure themselves, stressing over making it to the gym, completing the workouts and gritting through potentially new and uncomfortable movement. This cultivates feelings of burnout- the focus of the practitioner circles dissatisfaction, discomfort and disappointment. I believe it’s most effective to meditate on performing the exercises well and correctly over anything else, then when I’m done I simply go on my way and try not to worry about training until the next session. This process includes planning my next training session while I’m still at the gym to keep me from obsessing over it until next time.
So true Amy. I like how you say “meditate on performing the exercises well…” That’s so important for many reasons. Quality increases, joy increases, which translates directly to feeling like we’re living a more meaningful and purposeful life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. a
There are 36 chapters in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Ten days for each chapter and 5 days of reflection.
I like that Rico. Spread out the teachings so we can become “saturated” in their meaning through intentional practice.