True Nature

Describing the Zen sitting meditation of zazen in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki said, “Our way is not to sit to acquire something; it is to express our true nature. That is our practice."

People meditate for many reasons: to relax, to improve their health, to clear their mind, to be a better person, because they think they should, because someone else thinks they should, to escape their suffering, even to endure suffering. Suzuki Roshi suggests that all of these reasons are beside the point. To sit zazen is to “express our true nature.” To sit and be, not thinking, planning, worrying, regretting, but to be awake and open to the moment.

In our usual level of consciousness, thoughts come and go, and then they come back, because we are attached to them through fear or desire or some other emotion. We have multiple mental programs running simultaneously. We may be proud of our ability to multi-task, but as we try to hold many tasks in mind we may lose coherence. We are not able to do just one thing with our whole attention. While brushing teeth, we are planning our day. While buttering toast, we are thinking about last night and anticipating what will happen tonight. While we do this thinking, our emotional mind responds to it. Each thought triggers a corresponding emotional response. Think of a ferocious bear and the fear program runs. Think of your first teddy bear and a more comfortable emotional subroutine runs. As we try to manage our many thoughts, our emotional brain centers are trying to sort through them to determine which emotions to run. Our mental/emotional processes can become most confusing and sometimes may draw us into a cycle of anxious thought leading to anxious feeling leading to more anxious thought to the point of panic or exhaustion.

In meditation, we can decline to participate in the runaway thinking/feeling game. We just sit. As our mental processes gain coherence, so do our emotions. When we sit with intention and sincerity, but without agenda or craving or aversion, we are free to express our true nature.

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