Lying as an Activity
By Charles Brooks
excerpted from chapter 18, Reclaiming Vitality and Presence
Normally in this work we travel along at an everyday pace. For most people at the beginning the attention span is short, and if they are not to wander off we must now and then shift direction. I believe this is the basic difference between our approach and that of zazen. There the student persists through thick and thin for the appointed time, hour after hour, despite all difficulties. Our work, which has a similar ultimate objective of full presence, takes a varying course, with many interruptions, changes, and times for rest.
What we use for resting is what most people unhesitatingly associate with resting: namely, lying down. And since we have only a floor to lie on, that is what we use - hoping, often vainly, that when people lie down they will neither get lost in daydreams nor fall asleep.
But it is by no means assured that in lying the student will either remain awake or come to rest, let alone both, regardless of the hardness or softness of what he lies on. So again and again, paradoxical as it may sound, we work on lying and resting itself. Indeed, we may remember that lying, which is the mode we have chosen for resting, is one of the "four dignities" of the old Chinese saying.
The reader, like the student, will almost certainly assume that work on resting means practicing relaxation. I must state, however, that in certain vital respects it is the opposite. For most people's idea of "relaxation" is a kind of limpness, or what Charlotte often likens to a flat tire, or a flower without water, and this is what the practice of relaxation very often produces. We have heard too much of the "tensions of modern life" and have too little recollection of the marvelous tonicity of healthy living creatures-for instance, our own young children. So lying for us will be an activity, just as standing is. And as in all our activities, we will aim equally at inner openness for our own life processes and at sensitive contact with the environment. Whether this leads to more fatigue or to more refreshment is something each one can discover for himself.