The purpose of this training is in fact to lead us to a sudden clear recognition of reality.
Zazen is many things: here is another…
It allows us space in which to explore other ways of experiencing difficult feelings than our normal strategies. Typically most of us first try one of two things to deal with difficult feelings—either to fix whatever we deem to be causing them, or if that doesn’t work or isn’t possible or available, or for some reason is too daunting, we try to distract ourselves with food or communication or entertainment of one kind or another. (When depressed we might try neither, telling ourselves that it’s no good, nothing will work, it’ll always be this way, etc.)
But when we sit in meditation, we mostly aren’t able either to fix or distract. Meditation offers something else. From a spiritual point of view dis-ease or anxiety is actually valuable.
The big advantage in sitting is that sooner or later we may start to investigate just what un-ease or dis-ease actually is, as an experience, and how we even know it’s a difficult as opposed to pleasant feeling (which is worth investigating), and who it is making that judgment anyway—and just who it is experiencing having the experience of the feelings. This can turn into the very means by which we slowly, gently, sink into the heart of our sense of self. By truly relaxing right into it, by letting ourselves go, by falling into the middle of the very core of who we think we are, we can make a wonderful life-changing discovery, one that affects how we understand everything without exception.
It may sound preposterous to make such a claim. And yet it’s true.
Please just don’t forget this: Zen is real…
The purpose of this training is in fact to lead us to a sudden clear recognition of reality.It must be sudden because it’s a shift in perspective. It doesn’t have to be hugely dramatic, but it’s always sudden. And then to lead us on until a fulcrum tips and our center of gravity is no longer where it always used to be, in the heart of a misguided sense of self and reality. Instead our center of gravity can evaporate.
It happens. And it’s real. That’s why Zen still exists.
So at the very core of our longing and unease, we may find exactly what we were longing for.
None of us knows how long we have, as Dogen reminds us. Maybe we shouldn’t wait too too long. Some laid-back-ness is helpful for sure, but at the same time, we can keep going on the long and marvelous path, in a happy and somewhat lazy yet also determined kind of way. Not trying to get anywhere. But just allowing ourselves to do nothing but breathe and be.
Written by Henry Shukman, from our newsletter archives.