These days are perfect for walking. The mornings are as cool and crisp as the bite of a fresh cucumber, and the afternoons are filled to overflowing with sunlight, the air as dry as paper. On bright, brilliant days like these, I feel as if I could walk forever, my feet light and suntanned in my sandals, the way ahead of me smooth and wide as I settle into a long-gaited September stride.
It’s easy to feel healthy on days like today. It’s the second week of the semester at Keene State, and already I feel settled into a regular rhythm, rising in the morning with a clear sense of what I need to do and what can potentially slide. Slipping back into my weekday, academic-year schedule–the life I live in Keene on Monday through Thursday versus the life I live in Newton the other days–has felt like changing from one pair of comfortable, well-worn shoes to another. Here, in both places, is a schedule that has grown to fit me, a schedule that curls around the curves of my psyche like a well-worn glove. There is no burden and little effort in wearing a glove that fits, a glove that remembers the shape and movement of your particular hand. A good schedule, like a well-fitting glove, molds to the shape of your being; a good schedule, like a well-fitting glove, is as snug as a hug.
This morning I got up at 5 am without effort or complaint, as if my body already has been trained: “On Thursdays, we get up at 5:00.” It helps to have lived at a Zen Center, albeit years ago. Like riding a bike, the routine of getting up at five, bowing, and then sitting is something you never forget: you might fall out of the practice, but resuming it, once you’ve burnt off your initial inertia, feels like coming home, a single step into your own skin.
My routine in Newton is entirely different from my routine in Keene, and I’ve come to accept and even embrace that. It’s all about following my situation, recognizing that one morning regimen doesn’t fit all, nor does one morning regimen work for every morning. One of the most practical, helpful outcomes of my Zen practice is this flexible acceptance of routine. Every day at a Zen Center, you know exactly what you’ll do from 5 to 7 am, and every day on a Zen retreat, your entire day will be clearly and inexorably charted for you. On early days of retreat or when you’re new to Zen Center life, you might bridle against this routine, seeing it as monotony. In time, you’ll learn to embrace it, recognizing that nature’s most basic, life-giving, and creative rhythms–the inflow and outflow of breath, the regular beat of a heart, the daily cycle of sleep and awakening–are themselves monotonous. When you fight the schedule of retreat, it’s brutal and oppressive. When you grow tired of fighting and instead surrender to your situation, letting the schedule move you through your day as you simply show up at every allotted task, you find and tap into the Universe’s own energy, which can be spent but not irrevocably exhausted.
So at 7:15 I type these words, illustrating them with photos I uploaded last night; at 7:40 I’ll walk to campus to teach my 8:00 class to sleepy-eyed students. I will, in other words, simply show up for my life, not fighting or bewailing it. On a sunny September day that dawns in due time after its predecessor, I will naturally settle into the stride of clear-shining days.