My first contact with Zen was through a book (Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by S. Suzuki, I still recommend, if someone asks me for a “good book on Zen”). It gave me some good initial ideas, what “Zen” is about (mainly practice, not theory, mainly daily life, less something holy, special, enlightened …), and I started practising at home, on my own.
But soon after, I got stuck. Problems with my daily sitting emerged, mentally and physically. And unfortunately, I read more books on Zen to solve my problems. The advices given there did not help me much, and even worse, I tried to live up to what was described there. Eventually, I got the impression, that the only real and justified way of practising Zen is to become a (possibly Japanese) monk in a (possibly Japanese) Zen-Temple.
Fortunately, at this time I relocated due to my University studies. Having no money to rent a flat, I lived for a couple of months in an Aikido Dojo, with a busy daily schedule, including Zazen in the early morning.
I did not like getting up so early and sitting for long hours, but I had no chance! Before 6 a.m. I had to roll up my sleeping bag and get my pillow ready. Then the teacher came, and we did Zazen … he did not give much advise, except correcting my posture and explaining how to breath properly. But that was just right, after all the “Zen” I read. And having someone around, day by day, every morning, sitting with me, was an enormous help! Suddenly, there was no more doubt that I wanted to sit, and that it was good and somehow important to keep up this practise without questioning too much.
Years later, I met my second Zen-teacher, with whom I very closely worked for almost 13 years. It was an enormously intense exchange, which often brought me to my absolute physical and emotional limits. Today, in spite of all the hardship and suffering during those years, I feel very grateful for his dedicated teaching!