Seeing the One Body

Are you in conflict and competition with those around you? Are self-promotion and defensiveness needed for survival?

The more we practice Zen and Mindfulness the more we become aware of what I call the One Body – the universal “Me” that is actually all of us. Not only we humans, but, as Dogen-Zenji put it, “… mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and stars.” All are part of this one mind, this one body. Distinct, yes, but still unified like your two hands being part of the same body.

As your awareness increases, more and more you interact with other people and things the way your two hands interact – washing each other when needed, painfully removing splinters when needed, clasping when needed, leaving each other alone when needed.

When you closely look at the boundaries that separate you from everyone else, how solid are those boundaries, really?

Weightless Awareness

Can you relax into your breath to the extent that you are no longer carrying any emotional burden, and none is carrying you?

Like setting down your backpack after a long hike on the trail, you can lay down that emotional backpack and breathe easy.

Anytime you feel overwhelmed, let out a big sigh. My favorite yoga teacher taught me this. Two-thirds of the way through it you’ve dropped everything, and when you inhale you’ll be refreshed.

Big sigh – now you’re weightless!

What is it, over there, rising beyond the horizon?

As soon as you call it a mountain, you’ve lost it. It’s now just a picture in your head, no longer the living experience.

Look at it again. There’s definitely something there. But again, even the clearest description is just a description. “Majestic”. “Immoveable”. “10,000 feet high”. Lost it again!

Maybe the closest we can come to expressing it is, “wow!”

Donovan paraphrased an old Zen phrase about this in his song: “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.”


Maezumi Roshi quoted a longer form of the original in his forward to the Blue Cliff Record: “Before attaining enlightenment, mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers. At the moment of enlightenment, mountains are no longer mountains, nor are rivers rivers. But after accomplishing enlightenment, mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers.”

What, really, is the difference between these two kinds of “mountains are mountains”?


Hi-Res Mindfulness

After a certain period of practicing mindfulness we begin to understand that it is a cycle.

At first, we may believe that being mindful is like getting into a pool of awareness – you get there and stay there. But we find ourselves straying outside that pool almost immediately, and inevitably we get frustrated because we’re unable to keep ourselves there.

Straying out of the pool of awareness is not a problem, but rather the natural order. We need to process the new things we’ve perceived. The problem is when we find ourselves in Storyland and get stuck there, mulling over our narratives, instead of continuing through the cycle and returning to awareness.

Once we’ve become comfortable with the cyclical nature of mindfulness we can move into the next phase of practice – increasing our mindfulness “resolution”. When you buy a new digital camera you find that it has more megapixels than your previous one. This make it “hi-res” – the pixels are so small that from your normal viewpoint you can’t even see them. All the lines appear perfectly smooth, all the colors blend into each other with no wave patterns. This is similar to what happens when we bring our mindfulness cycle up to speed and smooth our transitions between the stages of being fully aware of this place in this moment, retreating back into our mind to process it, then returning to awareness again.

How hi-res is your mindfulness? Are you returning to the clarity of this moment once a day? Once an hour? Every minute? How about every breath?


How much time do you spend in Storyland?

That is what I call the mental realm that contains our hopes and our dreams and our fears. Storyland is where we play back our internal movies over and over again. We can even give them cinematic titles: “The Monster in the Next Cubicle”, “The Golden Dream of Tomorrow”, or how about “Terror in the Household Chores”?

Some are silly, some are deadly serious; all are fantasies. Yet we treat these stories we tell ourselves as if they were true, and can even get physically ill over them.

The first step on the path to mental and emotional freedom is to recognize when you are in Storyland, and to mentally step back from it. Storyland is where you add values and judgments to things, and one of the lynchpins of mindfulness is to detach from those judgments. The technique in the 3-step zen method is to imagine that all those values and judgments are on a transparent overlay that you have projected onto reality, then peel that overlay back. You now find yourself in the open, in-this-moment mental realm I call Orientation. No longer floating in the haze of Storyland, you are clearly aware of your immediate surroundings without any judgment of them.

There’s nothing wrong with Storyland! But when you realize you are there, do you think it might be time to leave?

Right now my cat is asleep on my lap. The sun is brilliant on the bougainvilleas hanging off the garage roof. Two birds are singing out in the garden.

Then I think, “remember to be mindful!”. I adjust my legs and back so I’m sitting upright, then rearrange my mental state. Mindful! Mindful!

What happened to the cat, the flowers and the birds? No more awareness of them, just of trying to be mindful. Once again, too much mind!

So once again I let go of that mind. Now my cat is purring, the bougainvilleas are swaying in a slight breeze, and there is silence in the garden.

No Idea

Here’s a link to a nice collection of photos and quotes: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.266761626750503.60273.265946723498660&type=1

I especially like the cartoon in which one person asks another, “Why are you so happy?” The other throws his hands in the air and with a big grin exclaims, “I have no idea!”

You can quickly see the two meanings of this reply – “I don’t know why I’m so happy, I just am!” or “I am happy because I’m not holding on to any ideas!”

Both of these are fine – it’s great to happy, no matter how we get here! But the first “just happens”, while the second is the result of cultivation. When you pay attention, you find that the first case of happiness results from getting what you want. And further, when you lose that treasured thing, or get tired of it, the happiness goes away. But the second case happens when you are free of ideas of wants and needs. “I have no ideas, so I’m free!” This is a buoyant kind of joy rather than an “everything is going my way” kind of happiness.

This isn’t ignorance. Those who are blissfully ignorant are quite happy – until Reality sets in and they get crushed. This “no idea” means being free to deal with Reality exactly as it is right now – be 100% involved in taking care of business so that when you are finished with any task you can let it go.

I’m now done with my blog post so I can let it go and be happy!

%d bloggers like this: