Commentary: Mornings at the zen center began shortly after 4:30 a.m. with 108 full prostrations – from standing, all the way to the floor and up again. The activity, carried out in silence with the smells of incense and sweat in the air, took between 10 and 15 minutes depending on the enthusiasm of the leader.
Counting each repetition required cutting through the fog of “morning brain” and for most of us, this preceded coffee, although I learned some monks kept thermoses of tea by their bedside.
Over the years I came to appreciate prostrations as both meditation and as physical exercise.
It required gathering oneself in a way that was orderly and attentive, vowing to express life in a similar spirit. Similarly, the ancient Greeks associated physical fitness with mental soundness and ethical character.
These days I work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My daily habits have changed and some I will likely not resume during 2020, even as businesses are cleared to reopen in stages.
We are still learning how the coronavirus spreads and what it does to bodies. Research suggests that, without vaccine or lasting immunity, prolonged stays in confined spaces with recirculating air are highly risky. Respiratory droplets that may carry virus may linger in the air for hours. Among people engaged in strenuous physical exercise, some research suggests the prudent physical distance may more than double the recommended six feet.
Besides that, I’ve noticed how much money I was spending in taverns, as much as I miss them. For all the misery of 2020, a positive development has been money freed for long-deferred home repairs and improvements.
But here at home, I look at overgrown trees and a back yard of wilderness and clutter, and I see my own disunity: I work long hours; I am “industrious”; and yet I often neglect both my physical health and my habitat, and in front of my observant children!
During the pandemic, I’m less of a “gym guy” than ever and running in city parks for exercise has drawn complaints from my knees. On the other hand, if the goal is a healthy and active unity, there is fruitful physical work to do around here, and with time or energy left over there are children who can run me into the ground and will relish the triumph.
This is not a path to Olympian achievement or a ripped physique, but as I approach the age of 50 these ambitions do not stir me. The aim here is a way of living efficaciously in time of destruction and loss, maintaining habits that support vitality, alacrity and clarity of purpose.