This whole thing is so simple. It’s our mind’s deeply entrenched habit to want to make this more complicated than it really is. And we get little help from many Buddhist scriptural and other tradition-bound sources–if anything, studying, reading or listening may leave us with nothing more than a headache.
Meditation is simple resting: resting in observation and in direct experience. What happens when we observe? Our mind shifts from thinking to simple awareness. When thinking takes center stage, our attention is sucked into a stream of thoughts and associations.
Observation, or awareness, is the releasing of thinking. Thought actually takes effort, but we don’t appreciate this until we relax in the releasing of thought. It’s not that we try not to think, that’s not what I mean by releasing thinking.
Trying not to think is crazy making tension. We relax into an open, spacious awareness of thinking as it happens, if it happens (and it usually does). This relaxed observation takes no effort at all. It’s like slipping into a calm lake, making not a single wave or splash. When we shift form compulsive thought to relaxed observation many folks notice a corresponding muscular relaxation.
There is nothing magic or special about this observation. No trick or special technique. As the Nike folks say, just just do it.
Some of the most eloquent words in this area that I have read come from Toni Packer. Toni is a former zen teacher — her life was immersed in rituals and ceremonies and koans. Then the discovery came that nothing is required. Toni now speaks of opening, of listening without resistance or effort to the newness of every moment.
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, not knowing what is next and not concerned with what was or what may be next, a new mind is operating that is not connected with the conditioned past and yet perceives and understands the whole mechanism of conditioning. It is the unmasking of the self that is nothing but masks—images, memories of past experiences, fears, hopes, and the ceaseless demand to be something or become somebody. This new mind … is free of duality—there is no doer in it and nothing to be done.
The moment duality ceases, energy that has been tied up in conflict and division begins to function wholly, intelligently, caringly. The moment self-centeredness takes over the mind, energy is blocked and diverted in fearing and wanting; one is isolated in one’s pleasures, pain, and sorrow.
The moment this process is completely revealed in the light of impartial awareness, energy gathers and flows freely, undividedly, all-embracingly.
Awareness, insight, enlightenment, wholeness—whatever words one pay pick to label what cannot be caught in words—is not the effect of a cause. Activity does not destroy it and sitting does not create it. It isn’t a product of anything—no technique, method, environment, tradition, posture, activity, or nonactivity can create it. It is there, uncreated, freely functioning in wisdom and love, when self-centered conditioning is clearly revealed in all its grossness and subtleness and defused in the light of understanding.”
Toni Packer, The Work of This Moment, p.61
“Sentient beings are in essence buddhas
It is like water and ice. There is no ice without water,
There are no buddhas outside sentient beings.
What a shame, sentient beings seek afar,
Not knowing what is at hand. It is like wailing from thirst
In the midst of water.”
–Hakuin Ekaku, 1685-1768