The Zen philosopher Alan Watts put it beautifully when he said those who think all the time have nothing to think about except thoughts so they lose touch with reality and live in a world of illusion.
We readily head towards ideals set by others and fail to realise that, in doing so, we may be getting further away from our own truths. When was the last time you stopped to consider this? When was the last time you stopped to think about what you genuinely wanted from life as opposed to continuing to answer to that noise endlessly chattering away in your head? Ask yourself: “Why am I chasing something that has had its value applied by someone else?”
There is so much to absorb if we slow down and pay attention but we only interested in pushing our realities away; only concerned with doing whatever we can to avoid confronting that monkey in our heads. We continually want for more even though we never find ourselves satisfied. Doesn’t that in itself tell you something?
Just for a second, stop whatever you're doing and get comfortable. A zazen cushion works best for this. But if you haven’t got one, simply sit on the floor, the edge of the sofa, or the chair you're currently on.
Now notice your breathing. Really notice it. Watch your breath as it comes in and again as it goes out. There is nothing else to do. Don't think about anything else but the breath. Just watch it. Count to yourself as you inhale and again as you exhale if that makes it easier.
Thoughts will arise but no one thought or emotion is better than the next with this practice. The key thing here is to spend time sitting with whatever arises and breathing into it instead of feeling as if you need to distract yourself from it.
Recognise and acknowledge your thinking as just thinking before returning your focus to the breath. Do this time and time again, regularly. Remember, you are more than your thoughts. You are more than your thinking.
[N]otice your breathing. Really notice it. There is nothing else for you to do. Watch your breath as it comes in and again as it goes out. Don't think about anything else but the breath. Watch it. Count to yourself as you inhale and again as you exhale if that makes it easier.
It's important to understand that your mind will wander when you start doing this, but you're not doing anything wrong. It's what our minds are designed to do.
Imagination is a powerful thing. It is one of the reasons why we, as a race, have managed to put man on the moon. It is one of the reasons we can engineer magnificent bridges and dams in an effort to improve our human experience. It is why we can start vaccinating people from scratch a matter of months after discovering a new virus.
Through this practice, I realised that whatever I believed, whatever I was thinking, whatever I imagined, was the root cause of all my suffering. Whatever I was thinking separated me from, and closed me off to, how I experienced the world. Whatever I thought removed me from reality. There is a true, expansive space beyond your thinking.
I became aware that everything is connected on a level that I still haven’t found the right words to describe, even after all these years. I truly believe I transcended myself and, in the process, realised I already had all the answers I had been looking for. The truth is already there. The truth is silent.
To quote the Zen practitioner, Steve Hagen:
“There is nothing to prove, nothing to figure out, nothing to get, nothing to understand. When we finally stop explaining everything to ourselves, we may discover that in silence, complete understanding is already there.”
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