As we marinate in the present moment, we let go of the urgencies of the self, the agendas of the ego.
Our marvelous mindfulness is a kind of marinating in the present moment.
Seemingly solid things, like squash or zucchini, with fixed boundaries, when placed in a marinade of olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, and garlic, and left alone for a while, the solid shapes slowly lose their fixed outlines.
As we marinate in the juices of the present moment, we let go a little of the urgencies of the self, the agendas of the ego. We dissolve a little around the edges.
Our simple mindfulness similarly permeates the boundaries of who and what we feel we really are, and slowly dissolves the socially consented views of separate identities.
Life is simple and straightforward–hearing the trilling and clucking of the geckos outside my window. Or the hum of the overheard fan and the gentle touch of the current of air it makes on the bald top of my head.
As the Japanese Zen teacher Soen Nakagawa Roshi (1907- 1984) said:
Every pine and bamboo, pure wind blowing.
It is simple enough to hear the birds singing or the sound of the bus going by on our street. Yet, if the sounds we hear are the words of people, we can find ourselves caught in a net of agreeing, disagreeing, correcting, or being troubled by what they are saying.
The Thai meditation master Ajahn Chah once explained:
When we sit in meditation and hear a sound, we think, ‘Oh, that sound is bothering me.’ If we see it like this, we suffer. But if we investigate a little deeper, we see that the sound is simply sound. If we understand like this, then there’s nothing more to it. We leave it be. The sound is just sound, why should you go and grab it? You see that actually it was you who went out and disturbed the sound.A Taste of Freedom, Ajahn Chah
Let’s not dismiss the marvelous transformative power of mindfulness just because it is such a simple process.
Let’s review: you bring your awareness to an “anchor” such as sensations in your body, the breath, or sounds. You bring your mind to rest there.
But, pretty soon, you will notice your mind has other plans. Each time you notice your mind stray from the anchor, you see where it goes and ever so gently bring it back to the anchor.
Each time you notice that the mind has wandered, that is the moment of mindfulness—not a moment of failure. As we gracefully return to our anchor, we marinate in the present moment.
Over time, this marinating seeps into deeper layers of this porous thing we call self. Marinating in the present moment, everyday life reveals the possibilities of being. And epiphanies happen spontaneously.
The contemporary Zen teacher Roko Sherry Chayat describes one here:
One of my teachers, Gempo Yamamoto Roshi, once did a pilgrimage in Japan, going from temple to temple. Once he was at the side of the road, pissing into the side of the road, and at the sight-sound of bubbling urine, he awakened to his true nature in this ordinary activity.
Mindfulness is marinating as the universe, as this true nature that we are, opening the boundaries of identity. We can say it is letting go of, or forgetting, the self, as the 13th century master Dogen put it.
Mindfulness allows the universe in. We are penetrated by all that arises, moment by mindful moment. A Mahayana Buddhist might say we are marinating as the Buddha-nature that we are.
Meditation is the universe marinating itself, right here on our cushion. It is only when we refuse to allow this natural marination that trouble arises and we reinforce the limits that we place on ourselves.
Though these boundaries seem real, our mindfulness opens them to reveal what we have always been—ease and joy right here and right now.
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