It’s a popular Zen saying: Wherever you go, there you are.
Omaha is home to one Zen Buddhist temple, affiliated with the Soto school and situated in an old house not far from Bemis Park in North Omaha. Meditation sessions are scheduled every day but Monday, and on Sunday, an extended session from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. includes zazen (seated meditation) instruction, three rounds of sitting and walking meditation, a service and a dharma talk (a lecture on a Buddhist topic). The Sunday session is a requirement for first-timers, so when a friend and I decided to visit a few years ago, we met early in the morning and left our shoes, per custom, on the temple’s porch.
We wanted to know how to meditate. We wanted to know how to quiet our minds and breathe a particular way because then, we thought, we would find ourselves.
I paid attention during the instruction. I bowed. I positioned and repositioned my hip bones and heels against a pillow and the floor. I tried to imagine thinking about nothing.
The key to Soto Zen meditation is just sitting–no thinking. Thoughts–and sounds and movements and other happenings–are observed but not considered. The idea is to remain as much as possible in the present moment.
Of course, when I got to the official mat and took my seat facing a blank white wall, I worried about the precision of my positioning. I wondered how my friend was doing. I took note of the rising heat of a summer morning in an un-air-conditioned house. A dog wandered into the meditation room and I tried to determine its location by the clicking of claws. I don’t like dogs. I was very aware of my fear of the dog. How close is the dog? Who let a dog in here? This is so not the place for a dog. It’s so hot in here. I’m so hot.
Of course, I failed. I considered and fostered every thought or fear or doubt I had and in so doing squandered the moment by removing myself from it.
We spend so much of our lives trying to locate ourselves, as if the self is somehow separate from our consciousness of it, as if we’ll suddenly know who we are and where we are if we can just find it.
But this is the thing: Wherever you go, there you are.
There is no separate self. We are self-contained. And if we don’t see that most of the time, it’s because we’re in our own way.
I think this is the point in 2 Samuel 7. God doesn’t live in a house on a road three towns over. Nor is God sitting out in the open on the same distant road waiting for us to build houses for him. There’s no separation between us and God. There’s no need for a house. The house is everywhere and God is everywhere in it. And there we are.