Sunday, February 01, 2009
Some years ago, I taught several series of classes at a local church, presenting the principles of ZaZen meditation in a manner comprehensible to and practicable by the Western mindset. The instruction began by encouraging participants to recall childhood memories wherein external social/parental influences were absent (ie: daydreaming).
As children mature and are more effectively socialized, they learn to respond to "appropriate" stimuli with "appropriate" behavior, the result being that they are conditioned to ignore or set aside such frivolous activities in favor of more "productive" behaviors. "Don't waste your time! Get up and do something... Clean your room... Do your homework!" The message is clear: Put aside childish things. And the comforting silence we once knew is displaced.
As adults, we westerners are usually taught to access that meditative state by struggling to suppress all external stimuli, which is very difficult. The more we attempt to set aside random thoughts, the more we focus upon them. "Do not think of a white horse." What image is in your mind as you read that admonition? Inevitably, a white horse.
An alternative - and simpler, more effective - method is to allow the stream of collective stimuli to wash over us unchecked and un-responded-to. The internal "conversation" merges into little more than mental "white-noise," and we once again experience the sense of stillness / peace that we knew as toddlers, gazing up at the clouds, and turning them into grand galleons. The "matters of consequence" that so fill our minds diminish into a communal flow, with no single thought being any more prevalent than any other. It is during this process that we are able to look objectively, dispassionately at our life, to make pragmatic decisions and take truly productive action. Thus, allowing the free-flow of consciousness becomes every bit as important to our well-being as is cleaning up our room or doing our homework. We act with integrity, freed from the "issues" that cloud our reason and, ultimately, freed from the expectations borne of past hurts and lingering fears.
The ultimate goal of the practice of ZaZen meditation (at least in our physical state) is for the galleons to dissolve, and for even our thoughts to fade into white noise. Such a state is called Shikan-Taza, or "just sitting." The elation of perceived "victories," as well as the hurts of perceived "defeats" hold little sway over us. They, too, have dissolved into a place of balance, and the discord that once ruled our lives loses its power.
Of course, this state isn't permanent, at least, not so long as we're here being humans and getting what we need from our human journey. What does linger, however, is our memory of that sense of peace, and our deepest hunger is to return to that stillness. In our anger, we recall that serene place. In our sadness, we remember moments of joy. And even in the manic elation that so fills us in moments of supreme "success," the silent seed of "just sitting" beckons. The more we heed that beckoning call, the less time we spend in the illusion of discord. We learn that the only "Truth" is a place that transcends even our limited perception of Love. And in that sweet space, we REALize how profound is the statement that Love leaves nothing undone.
And even when we're being fearful, obnoxious a**holes, the memory of that stillness lingers a mere heartbeat below the turbulence. Not demanding. Just sitting...