I recently had the good fortune to be able to attend a Buddhist Centre retreat in the idyllic setting of the Somerset Hills. Like many people, I have long been interested in Zen Buddhism without knowing that much about its practice – but I did know that meditation (or za-zen, from which it derives its name) is absolutely central to it.
The actual meditation proved very difficult. The idea of ‘mindfulness’, where you not so much empty your thoughts as become very focused on the here and now, is not one that comes easily to me.
I found myself being continually distracted by the soft smoky runs of the boiler igniting its regular puffs of disbelief in the background, and by the distant catcalls of children playing in the garden, while we sat inside, in postures of graduated discomfort and in complete silence. Hard to avoid the ticking clock in one’s head that counts down the days, the hours and the minutes, both in the past and the future, but never quite reaches the present tense.