Meeting Life’s Challenges with Palms Together

This fall, I am participating again in a three-month practice period at Zen Center Los Angeles. Traditionally called Ango, this is the time of intensified practice to strengthen awareness and concentration, built around a particular theme. The theme of this year’s ZCLA Ango is gassho. As its website explains:

Gassho is the act of placing your two palms together without a gap between your two hands. [It] is a gesture of greeting and respect. It also acknowledges an offering and is in itself an offering of gratitude and appreciation. . .

When we are in a state of gassho, all opposites are unified as one. The practice is to keep closing the gaps between yourself and everything else. For example, you gassho to remember that there is no gap between your home and your place of practice; no gap between yourself and differing points of view; . . . no gap between the past and the future; no gap between you and your unhoused neighbors, and so on. Whatever you encounter, bring it together with yourself in the here and now of gassho.

You may consider these possible ways to practice gassho at home:

• Before turning on and off your computer.
• Upon entering a room and upon leaving.
• Before and after your meals.
• Upon greeting your partner and children.
• Before using a cooking pot.

• Before placing trash into the garbage.
• When getting into your car.

In my Jewish practice, I usually gassho when I complete my Jewish morning prayers, or finish reciting the Amidah during services. It’s a way for me to express gratitude to G-d, to exit meaningfully.

My personal commitment in this Ango and the entire year ahead is to learn, as ZCLA’s Roshi Egyoku put it in her video, “to gassho to all situations in our lives.” I will focus on practicing gassho as a way to respond to life’s difficult situations, how not to react to them rashly, or with anger, but to treat them mindfully with respect – as a challenge, as an offering.

Here is when, why, and how to gassho in the Soto Zen tradition: