By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei 曦 肯
Being transformed by experiencing our human nature’s drive to seek the spirit and wonder of our own nature is a rather grand-sounding phrase, but that is what we are engaged in. And hard work it is too. There can be pain and weariness, and there are many doubts and questions along the way. It is not just sitting and thinking, but becoming dynamically aware, sensing with our entire body-mind. Our zazen posture is a posture of awakening. It is open and alert; we are aware of our breath as it moves through us.
The word meditation comes from the Latin ‘meditare’, which is the passive form of the verb, meaning “being moved to the center.” It is not the active form, which is “moving to the center.” Do you hear the difference? This center is our own essence. Sitting after sitting, letting everything drop away, we become more aware of our own personal center. We become more rooted in it. This simple act of sitting absolutely still, letting everything go, has far-reaching effects. Those of you with a dedicated meditation practice know the intent of what I am expressing, but my words are inadequate to express it completely.
Sitting still is not what some of us may have imagined a practice of spirit to be. We may think that it involves something more impressive. But those of us who do it, those of us who are ‘present’ at this moment, know that this is it. Sitting absolutely still, body AND mind are not separate. Our state of mind at any given moment becomes clearer in this condition of being present, completely present. And there is great healing power in this simple act. Of course we may experience some pain. The true taste of contemplation really cannot be understood unless we have some challenges. After our contemplative practice experience begins to develop and mature, we do not find the challenge over whelming. Our teacher works with us in order for us to learn not to move against it; we do not struggle with it; rather, we simply remain aware of our breath and work to change our condition. We become aware of what happens when we pay attention to it, and practice with positive intent.
When I begin to work with a new formal student I often ask, “Why did you come to sit? What is your reason? Do you have a reason? What happened in your life that brought you to the cushion? In essence, “Why are you here?” And most students say they came because they wanted to have some peace of mind. As we sit, there is some temporary peacefulness, of course. But we want to come to a condition of mind that takes us in the beginning through all the circumstances of our life, no matter how difficult. Then, no matter what happens, there is this quiet, truly peaceful space within. All of us with a meditation practice has gone though this phase of development. And still work, at times, to conquer our devils. So you see, it is an ongoing process, not an event. And I am so thankful that I have a Dharma Brother to talk these things through with. Please do not misunderstand. This does not mean we should inflict anything on ourselves. It simply means that if issues come up, we let it come, and we let it be our teacher. Thus, even our personal challenges can be a wonderful teacher for us. We work to cultivate a beginners-mind.