7AM Zen Sits

by Joanna Ruiz



     It’s 7AM, and we are awake. 

     The daily online Zen meditation at Sankalpa begins at seven in the morning. That means we log onto Zoom before seven, and those of us who are early birds chat with each other a bit. There are usually around five of us at the start, but as the sit goes on, more people come in. There are often more than ten of us at the morning sit. We assign timekeepers to take charge of each week, so each of us takes a seven-day shift to lead prayers, time the sit, and ring the bells. 


     Shortly before seven, we quiet down, turn off our videos, and recite the Prayer Before Sitting. The timekeeper rings the bell to start the sit, and we then sit quietly for 25 minutes. Then timekeeper rings the bell again, and we recite the Four Great Aspirations.


     When Sr. Sonia, our roshi (Zen teacher), is around, she usually shares some thoughts, which she says are her own personal reflections on a mix of Zen and Christian teachings. She likes to sing, so sometimes she even sings. After Sr. Sonia's sharing, we greet each other good morning and then sign off. The whole session takes about 40 minutes or so.


     Sr. Sonia says that while we see each other only on Zoom these days, the presence and energy are real. I know that we all feel this to be true. Each person's journey into silence is theirs alone, but sitting with the sangha (our Zen community) generates an even deeper and more powerful stillness, full of good wishes for the growth of others. 


     For me, the biggest benefit of the 7AM sit is discipline. Because I'm the Zoom host, I have to get up early seven days a week to open up the Zoom room for the other sitters. If they can't get in at about 6:50 am, naku, I really hear about it! 


     I started practicing Zen at Sankalpa in 2018, and since then, its greatest gift to me has been patience and acceptance. Because you're sitting totally still for 25 minutes at a time, there's nothing you can do but be patient and accept whatever comes up in your mind, or whatever discomfort you feel in your body. This is similar to being in a difficult yoga position and your teacher is taking forever before releasing you from the pose. You have no choice but to just breathe through it. 


    This has carried over into my life. Whatever happens, I just tend to acknowledge it and kind of watch myself going through it, although I am definitely aware that I am going through it. Somehow, this approach has made me go through my days with less aggression and a tendency not to force anything to happen. Whatever you want doesn't necessarily happen whenever you want it to happen because let's face it, it usually won't naman talaga! So this patience and acceptance lets me be aware of everything, and I'm there for all of it—the good, the bad, the exciting, the boring, and so on.


     I smile to myself as I notice how sitting together every day at 7am has "tamed" us. Some who had a hard time waking up for the sit at the start now log in more often. Some who would leave the meeting right after the sit now stay longer. Like the fox in The Little Prince, or Hyakusho's fox in Mumonkan (a book of Zen koans, or riddles), we've come to know that the zendo, our meditation space, is a good place to be, and the sangha, our friends, are always there for us even if we're a bit crazy, the way most Sankalpeeps are. 


      So, any more Sankalpeeps up for a 7AM start?