August 10, 2013 § 2 Comments
The morning sun brightens the floor and the air is still cool as I arrange the cushions. Practice has begun even before I sit.
Getting comfortable, my first instinct is to relax my shoulders made habitually tense from generational trauma. I check my breathing. Experience has taught that it is best to place the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth and inhale gently though the mouth. I don’t know why but breathing through the nose whilst meditating irritates my sinuses. I used to feel uncomfortable about this, as breathing through the nose is the preferred method in all books on meditation. Small thoughts can be as irritating as a mosquito in the dark. I was therefore quite pleased when I read in Khenchen Thrangu’s “Vivid Awareness,” that Khenpo Gangshar recommended breathing through the mouth.
As with most meditations, I notice my mind is initially calm but within moments my thoughts get to feeling abandoned and start asking for my attention. But to follow them would defeat the meditation and, besides, there is a distinctive feel that comes with just being aware that doesn’t arise when following thoughts. Just being aware has a subtle “soft” energy to it that is snuffed out by thinking.
One of the first books on spiritual practice that I ever bought was Paul Brunton’s, “The Secret Path.” It was early April and in spite of the evening’s forthcoming activities for which I should have been preparing, I sat instead with that book. In the first few pages Brunton described meeting a sage who spoke profound words but of greater importance was the “silent flavor of spirituality that emanated from him.” Brunton went on to write of “tranced stillness,” a “beautiful and serene presence” and “exalted moods whose fragile bodies are as gossamer.” I fell asleep.
Not fifteen minutes later I awoke with a profound energy filling my body. The energy accompanied me throughout the evening’s activities, at the end of which I went outside to gaze at the Milky Way. In those days the lights of the city were faint so you could still see that broad band of milky light spanning the sky from south to north. As I looked upward I could feel the energy fading but it had filled me for some five hours. The soft energy mentioned above is a toned down version of the energy I felt that April night.
Of late, my meditation consists of turning inward and focusing on my sense of self, that feeling or sense of an “I” somewhere in the mind. In zazen the stress is placed upon correct posture, just sitting and being present. We are not to engage with thoughts but every time we find ourselves lost in them the instruction is just to return to our posture and just sit. In so doing the mind will eventually stop resisting and begin to settle down, eventually reaching a state where nothing is happening.
When turning attention on the sense of self my aim isn’t to see the self. That isn’t possible, for consciousness can never turn around and see itself any more than an eye can turn around and look at itself. But in gently holding the sense of self in mind I find that I am slowly becoming aware that whatever I am, it isn’t a self. There isn’t a “me” being aware of some object I call myself. There is just observing.
I dimly see that there is no separation in just observing. Without the sense of self there is only just sitting, just breathing and just movement. Just observing is, then, not static. It is an unfixed, dynamic that is everything and no-thing. It is true nature, the true Self that is no self. And therein lies mystery.
So is zazen identical to observing that is never observed? If I say, “Yes,” then I’ve misled you into dualistic, conceptual thinking. So take Dogen’s advice and take the correct posture and just sit and be present.