Zazen … A path of love that calls us home from the very first step, the first breath, even the first distraction.
There’s an old English term for what birds do when they spread their wings, catch the wind current, and glide. It’s called stilling.
Birds can glide for miles without moving a muscle, their wingspan riding the stream of undulating air; lifting them, carrying them along; now and then a feather fluttering, wafted by the wind, while the bird rests and rides on the sky’s current in the native ease of stilling.
The image of a bird stilling resonates with the third essential element of zazen or seated Zen: stilling the mind.
Stilling the mind follows from the first two basic elements of silent sitting: finding a posture that is balanced and at ease, a posture conducive to attentive stillness; and following the breath, resting in the breath, allowing the breath to breathe you.
When body and breath are gathered into a posture of alert balance or straightforward ease, the activity of the mind comes into view. Thoughts arise, sometimes at a dizzying pace. Thoughts, sensations, stories, judgments – the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle of what we assign to our sense of a separate ‘I.’
How are we to meet our thoughts, including our habit of thought, in a way that invites stillness – that allows us to open the wingspan of our practice and ride the spacious current of the breath; to rest in the inexhaustible capacity of the present moment?
Can we experience thoughts arising such that they become less sticky, less entangling, less distracting, and more transparent, more cloud-like – maybe even beautiful?
Zazen invites us to discover and explore the stillness in all things – including thoughts. The practice is a path of compassion where nothing is excluded. A path of love that calls us home from the very first step, the first breath, even the first distraction.