You can’t push the river, the Zen masters of old would say. And wow, how I have tried—reading, studying the Dharma, going on retreats, even fasting from time to time. And it’s still little ol’ me, unenlightened and pooped out from so much effort!
I’ve often reflected on the line from Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, who, addressing his Zen meditation students in the 1960’s, once remarked:
Each of you is perfect just the way you are … and you can use a little improvement.
So, OK, I can handle each statement separately just fine, but when combined into one sentence, I admit it’s been a head scratcher.
You can’t push the river, the Zen masters of old would say. And wow, how I have tried—reading, studying the Dharma, going on retreats, even fasting from time to time.
And it’s still little ol’ me, unenlightened and pooped out from so much effort!
So I go back to that line — If I am perfect just as I am, what’s the improvement I need, and how do I “get” it?
let the river flow
Maybe “I” just need to step aside as let the river flow and let go of all the pushing.
Pema Chodron reminds us:
All the qualities of your natural mind—peace, openness, relaxation, and clarity—are present in your mind just as it is. You don’t have to shift or change. All you have to do while observing your mind is to recognize the qualities it already has.
She drops a few clues there: while we don’t have to do anything differently, like pushing for some final, blessed shift or change to happen through all our trying, we are asked to “recognize” the qualities we already have—in our own minds!
your mind right now, just as it is
That’s a big one. She re-orients our efforts from trying to “get” something we supposedly don’t have to recognizing that elusive “something” as qualities already in our own mind, just as it is.
Perhaps it follows we just need to “observe” our own mind, it’s moods, it’s likes and dislikes, in fact, all its weather patterns just as they are.
And in this observation, we relax, and let go of trying to modify or tweak this mind or its experiences in any way.
Maybe it’s all the effort-ing that hides these natural qualities. And is it this over-exertion that keeps us going round and round the hamster wheel of a practice that seems to be going nowhere?
U Tejaniya and relaxed effort
Alexis Santos, a meditation teacher who practiced as a monk under the guidance of the Burmese meditation teacher U Tejaniya Sayadaw, discovered on his own an image that helped him get off this wheel of over-exertion.
His teacher, U Tejaniya, emphasizes what he calls “relaxed effort.”
like a sunflower naturally orients itself toward the sun
The image of a sunflower came to him and helped him establish awareness with the “right attitude” — which really means understanding deep down what “relaxed effort” is all about. Alexis writes:
“(The sunflower) …just rests there and faces the sun and, in this very open way, receives everything it needs to grow and flourish as a flower. It doesn’t require straining to get light into itself.”
Can we allow our awareness to turn toward the all the experiences, thoughts and emotions that arise just like the sunflower turns toward the sun?
The sunflower doesn’t try to get the right sun light, or more of it, it just turns to receive what comes.
Can we practice like this, relaxed and open to all experience, without trying to tweak anything?
A few lines from Sayadaw U Tejaniya:
Do you know that right now you are reading? Yes? Good! That’s awareness. How much energy did that require? Was it tiring or difficult? No? So, you can meditate!
simple, natural awareness
It’s just this simple, natural awareness which sees the very subtle perturbations caused by striving, wanting or trying to create something—as deeper layers of holding or attachment.
Can we just hang out in this simple awareness that knows effortlessly the experiences unfolding in the present moment, like a sunflower turning so gently and naturally to face the sun?
Wishing you well on this wondrous journey.