In Zen Buddhism, when you walk, you are walking. When you sit, you are sitting. When you are going to the bathroom, you are going to the bathroom. Whatever you are doing — whether you’re sweeping the floor, listening to a song on the radio, or biting into an apple — you are fully aware of what is happening. You are caring for each moment like you’re cradling a baby in your arms. When you’re fully engaged in your life, you’re not separate from what is outside of yourself. You (the subject) and what is out there (the object) melt away.
When you practice Zen, you’re not only practicing on the meditation cushion. Zen is ordinary life. There is no real difference. What happens is happening with no clinging to what is happening. “Forgetting the self is the act of just doing the task, with no self-consciousness sticking to the action.” (Aitken, Robert)
When you lose yourself in storylines, you can return to where you are. You don’t need to beat yourself up, saying, “I’m such a bad person for thinking, for feeling upset, for worrying so much.” Just note that you have drifted away from the present. Then you can come back, over and again.
It’s natural to feel sad and mad, excited and bored, and on and on. You are a human. You don’t need to block out your feelings and thoughts and sensations. You’re not a stone or a block of wood. Instead of seeking distractions, rationalizing, intellectualizing, or forming judgements, watch what is here, now, arising and passing. Breathe and let go.
Anger comes, anger goes. Sadness comes, sadness goes. Peace comes, peace goes. Your shoulders may tense up, your heart may beat faster, your insides may hurt, a bird may chirp on a nearby tree, and two squirrels may chase each other over an acorn. There is no need to hold on. You can smile instead. You can smile to your fear, smile to your happiness, smile to your tears, smile to your indifference.
From looking at your fear, you can see the fear of other beings. Your desire for happiness is like so many others before and after you. Your joy becomes their joy. Your suffering becomes their suffering. When you are peaceful, you want others to be peaceful. Their peacefulness becomes your peacefulness, their happiness becomes your happiness, their suffering becomes your suffering. When someone is in pain, their pain often spills over on those closest to them. Instead of judging them, you can love them. You can tend to them in your heart because you tend to yourself.
“In Zen, we practice to realize what has always been true. We wipe away concepts and hang-ups, delusions and attachments, but as Hakuin Zenji says, ‘Nirvana is right here, before our eyes.’” (Aitken, Robert)
When you can see through your delusions, there is space. Freedom. You no longer need to blindly react. You are simply here, aware of what comes and goes. You see the phenomena of the past, present, and future — interacting, changing together, inside you, around you, inside and around you. Everything is a cause and an effect.
When you are sitting, you are sitting. When you are standing, you are standing.
You are standing on the soil, in the sun, in the air, near the sea, under the trees. You’re standing with the bees pollinating the flowers and the birds eating the worms and the caterpillars crawling on leaves. You’re standing with your ancestors and descendants. You are standing because of the stars that burst millions of years ago. You depend on so many things to be. In every moment, you inter-are with your ancestors, with your feelings, with your thoughts, with a mountain that is two thousand miles away.
Everything is changing with each other.
You are not separate from the rest of the universe. You’re an expression of it — going as far back as the Big Bang, as far back as subatomic particles forming into atoms, and possibly even before that. You’re made up of the sun just as the sun is made up of you. You cannot be without spacetime, without the rain, without the carbon dioxide that you exhale, without the roots beneath your feet. What is out there, what is in you, is an interrelated process.
What you cultivate in yourself is not only for yourself, but for others as well. You are already perfect, yet you have a lot of work to do. Through your lifelong practice, you can let go of what holds you back from seeing yourself as you are. But who are you?
We are already at home in this moment. Yet we spend so much of our lives denying what is here. We get lost in all our storylines, believing that we are permanent, that we are separate from other beings in the world.
We chase after ideas of happiness while fearing to lose what we have. We buy a fancy convertible, work in an office with a window, marry our high-school sweetheart, drink alcohol on Friday nights, climb up a mountain, write a book, study for a bachelor’s degree, make money on the stock market, and on and on. Nothing is ever enough to satisfy our growing desire. In the end, no matter how much we resist, we are all subject to old age, sickness, and death. We cannot capture life. It slips through our fingers, drifting away.
Rather than facing ourselves directly, we repress what causes us to suffer. We act out. We project our personal issues onto others. It is so hard for us to sit with our confusion, fear, and loss. It is so hard for us to soften our hearts to our grief.
“When we find ourselves in a situation in which our buttons are being pushed, we can choose to repress or act out, or we can choose to practice. If we can start to do the exchange, breathing in with the intention of keeping our hearts open to the embarrassment or fear or anger that we feel, then to our surprise we find that we’re also open to what the other person is feeling. Open heart is open heart. Once it’s open, your eyes and your mind are also open, and you can see what’s happening in the faces and hearts of other people. If you’re walking down the street and way off in the distance — so far away that you can’t possibly do anything about it — you see a man beating his dog, and you feel helpless, you can start to do the exchange. You start out doing it for the dog, then you find you’re doing it for the man. Then you’re also doing it for your own heartbreak and for all the animals and people who are abusing and abused, and for all the people like you who are watching and don’t know what to do. Simply by doing this exchange you have made the world a larger, more loving place.” (Chödrön, Pema)
We can react to suffering by hardening or softening our hearts. When we are genuine with ourselves, we can look deeply at our sorrow, our fear, our irritation, and transform that energy into compassion. Every moment, we are being tested.
“If we are wholehearted about wanting to be there for other people without shutting anybody or anything out of our hearts, our pretty little self-image of how kind or compassionate we are gets completely blown. We’re always being tested and we’re always meeting our match. The more you’re willing to open your heart, the more challenges come along that make you want to shut it.” (Chödrön, Pema)
There is no true distinction between what is within us and what is outside of us. When we cause other beings to suffer, we are suffering. When we love others, we love ourselves. When we are aware of life, we can use all of life as a humble lesson for our growth.
Our mistakes are opportunities for us to be more vulnerable and honest and kind. An irritating person is our teacher, a mosquito is our teacher, a crying baby is our teacher. We cannot be in this world without encountering the suffering of others. Rather than reacting, we can mindfully tend to where we are and who we are. We are gardeners who are planting seeds of compassion and love and peace. We can turn our compost into a bloom of flowers.
“We make a lot of mistakes. If you ask people whom you consider to be wise and courageous about their lives, you may find that they have hurt a lot of people and made a lot of mistakes, but that they used those occasions as opportunities to humble themselves and open their hearts. We don’t get wise by staying in a room with all the doors and windows closed.” (Chödrön, Pema)
When we understand our own suffering, we can understand another’s suffering as well. We practice not only for ourselves, but for all the beings who have felt pain, sadness, hatred, envy, and anger, because we have been them. We are them.
When we blame and repress and protect our hearts, we alienate ourselves from the world. We stick to limited notions of who we are, categorizing existence into conceptual frameworks. We water the seeds of suffering in ourselves, which harm everyone around us. Rather than moving toward what is true, we resist what is unpleasant. We cling to our expectations and suffer through our ignorance, attachment, and aversion.
“It seems that we do attack our own image continually and usually that image appears to be ‘out there.’ We want to blame men or we want to blame women or we want to blame white people or black people, or we want to blame politicians or the police; we want to blame somebody. There’s some tendency to always put it out there, even if ‘out there’ is our own body. Instead of working with, there is the tendency to struggle against. As a result, we become alienated. Then we take the wrong medicine for our illness by armoring ourselves in all these different ways, somehow not getting back to the soft spot.” (Chödrön, Pema)
We are not separate from nature. We are not separate from other beings. Rather than pushing others away, we can share who we are, even from our presence alone. We often want to escape from being aware of who we are, of where we are, distracting ourselves with TV and drugs and jobs and sex. We miss the sacredness of our ordinary experience when we look outside ourselves for happiness, truth, permanence, and security.
“Because we escape, we keep missing being right here, being right on the dot. We keep missing the moment we’re in. Yet if we can experience the moment we’re in, we discover that it is unique, precious, and completely fresh. It never happens twice. One can appreciate and celebrate each moment — there’s nothing more sacred. There’s nothing more vast or absolute. In fact, there’s nothing more!” (Chödrön, Pema)
We begin to heal when we stop hiding from ourselves. When we are right here, right now, we are no longer resisting our confusion, our fear, our pain. Our tendency is to cling to certainty while hiding from uncertainty. We waste so many years of our lives running after achievements and rewards and goals, never feeling entirely satisfied.
“This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted, and shaky — that’s called enlightenment, liberation.” (Chödrön, Pema)
We do not have to eliminate our thoughts and feelings and perceptions. We can accept them as they are and then let them go. Trungpa Rinpoche said, “Good and bad, happy and sad, all thoughts vanish into emptiness like the imprint of a bird in the sky.”
We can kindly be with our vulnerabilities. As we learn more, we open up more. Life is a dance, an ever-changing movement. We are “willing to give, willing to open, willing not to hold back. It is described as letting go of holding on to yourself, letting your stronghold of ego go. Instead of collecting things for yourself, you open and give them away.” (Chödrön, Pema)
We can be gentle with ourselves. We can be curious about the moment we’re in. Our maturity comes from being with what is unfolding, while releasing it. Giving without holding on. We don’t have to judge ourselves as winners or losers, right or wrong, good or bad. Our practice is to be ourselves completely.
“The truth sinks in like rain into very hard earth. The rain is very gentle, and we soften up slowly at our own speed. But when that happens, something has fundamentally changed in us. That hard earth has softened. It doesn’t seem to happen by trying to get it or capture it. It happens by letting go; it happens by relaxing your mind, and it happens by the aspiration and the longing to want to communicate with yourself and others. Each of us finds our own way.” (Chödrön, Pema)
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar, and peace activist. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Your True Home: The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh” is a collection of his teachings for 365 days. Each of his passages, while short and simple, are meant to be studied with care. For those who practice mindfulness and compassion, “Your True Home” is a book of transformation.
Often when we see people, we don’t really see them. When we hear people, we don’t really hear them. We only know of others through our prejudices, preconceptions, and projections. Our ideas limit us to the ideas themselves, but not to other possibilities. When we are filled with beliefs, opinions and views, we are no longer here.
We must be as still as a lake before a white mountain. When we are upset, we can watch our upset. When we are sad, we can watch our sadness. Instead of reacting, we can notice our breathing, our minds, our bodies, our environments. Then we can be as still as a lake and as solid as a mountain.
We can be mindful of our minds.
We can watch our thoughts and feelings. Coming and going, coming and going.
They pass through us like clouds.
We can look at our perceptions without getting caught up in them. Our minds can open to what is here. Instead of assuming that we know all the answers, we can question ourselves. “Is my perception really true? Do my ideas encompass the entire universe or are they only a fraction of what is happening?” Instead of judging others, we can look within ourselves compassionately. There is no resistance or holding on, only letting go.
When we look into the conditions that make us who we are, we find that we are not separate. We are interwoven in the changing cosmos. We cannot exist on earth without our ancestors. Our descendants cannot exist without us either. We are dependent on the air, the water, the sun. We are dependent on the plants, the trees, the soil beneath our feet. Without the clouds, there would be no rain. Without the rain, there would be no plants. Without the plants, we cannot be here.
There is no birth, no death. Only a continuation of ourselves in another form.
Life is full of suffering, but it is also full of wonder. In our distracted society, we often forget about the simple joys of being on this planet. We can step on the grass and brush past the silky petals of blue flowers. We can sigh with the breeze. We can look up at the trees as they sway together in silence.
We can drive, eat, wash the dishes, and go to the bathroom mindfully. Everything can be a spiritual practice when we are aware enough to notice. From mindfulness, we develop concentration. From concentration, we gain insight. There is no wasted moment.
When we look up at the mountain, we see ourselves. When we look at ourselves, we see the mountain. There is no mountain without our perception, but no perception without the mountain. Both depend on the other to inter-be.
When we trap ourselves in categorizations, we forget our humanity. Then we can only see a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a male, a female, a Republican, a Democrat, a boss, an employee, a father, a daughter, and so on, without looking any deeper. These may be important parts of our identities, but they are not all of who we are. When we can peel away these labels, we can recognize each other as human beings.
We must be careful about what we consume. This doesn’t only apply to what we eat and drink, but to the music we listen to, the television we watch, the newspapers we read, who we spend our time with, and what thoughts we focus on. There are negative influences all around us. We don’t need to consume despair, hatred, fear, and violence. We don’t need to seek out the things that harm us. We can look for what heals us, what nourishes us, what helps us to awaken.
We can help to relieve other people’s suffering as well. If someone has a wrong perception, we don’t need to punish them. We can listen to them deeply, show them compassion, care for them, practice loving speech with them. These simple actions can help us to form harmonious communities and remove discrimination.
Our ideas about our happiness are often obstacles to our happiness. We believe that we’ll be happy in the future when the conditions are sufficient enough, such as when we get a new promotion, when we buy an expensive car, when we get married to the perfect spouse, when we buy liquor on a Friday night, when we hold a diploma in our hands. Our desire for happiness removes us from the present moment. We fear losing what we have and want what we do not have, but do not realize that we are alive now.
Even if we do gain what we desire, it never lasts, and our reality is never the same as our expectations. To be truly happy, we have to let go of our ideas of happiness. We have nothing to attain but ourselves.
We can treat our in-breath and our out-breath with tenderness. In meditation, we are not straining to show how much we can endure from our sitting. We are caring for ourselves as if we are holding a baby in our arms. We cradle our anger and happiness and fear and disappointment. We are lovingly aware of our joys and sorrows.
We don’t need to meditate in a cave or on a mountain top. There is nothing to attain. We already are who we want to be in the future, but do not realize it. There is nothing lacking in us. When we can be at peace in the present moment, feeling the warmth of sun on our skin, tasting the juice of an apple, listening to the birds in the leaves, we have already arrived. Nirvana is nothing more than the sound of rain.
“In [meditation] leave your front door and back door open. Let thoughts come and go. Just don’t serve them tea.”
— Shunryu Suzuki
When we first begin our meditation practice, we often want to meditate to attain a goal. That goal may be happiness, inner-peace, well-being, security, health, or whatever else our minds can conjure up. Then we may practice for a few minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months, consistently and inconsistently, until our practice drops off.
Many people expect to gain immediate results, chasing ideas of enlightenment or permanent happiness. They may even have experienced a sense of peace in the past, now clinging to the idea of peace in every session. When they don’t get what they want, or get what they don’t want, they don’t practice as much as before. Some people quit entirely.
Overtime, meditating only for our own happiness feels a little self-centered. As our practice deepens, however, we soon begin to realize that our happiness will not last. Our security will not last either. Our grasping after ideas will only make us suffer more. Only when we can let go of these ideas can we be open to our joy and sorrow.
Our peace cannot be peace if it is only for ourselves.
There is no genuine happiness in our lives unless we work for the happiness of others.
What underlies all Buddhist teachings is the wish for all beings to be free of suffering.
This is because we aren’t separate from our environment. From other living creatures.
It is one thing to know this intellectually, but quite another thing to experience it directly.
Through our meditation practice, we can learn to see what is. Over and over again.
Even if we forget ourselves — lost in our daydreams and distractions — we can return to where we are.
Whenever we experience a thought, a feeling, or sensation, we can let it come and go. There is no need to follow it. We don’t have to get caught up in our stories, our dramas, our complex thought-patterns.
We can treat our inner-processes like guests. They can come inside, walk round in our house, and then leave. While we’re not inviting them to stay forever, we don’t need to kick them out the backdoor, or lock them in the basement.
It is important to allow space into our practice. Our space can embrace our anger, sadness, anxiety, and fear — without letting these states take over. We can lovingly be aware of when we are feeling tight in our chest, cramping, on the verge of crying, breathing shallowly, and so on. There is no shame in how we think and feel and sense. We don’t have to shut ourselves down, repressing who we are, and we don’t have to identify with every emotion that arises.
As Tsoknyi Rinpoche wrote in How Mindfulness Works, “We also gradually cut through the habit of identifying with each emotional wave that passes through our awareness. We can be angry, jealous, or scared without having to act on those emotions or let them take over our lives. We can experience joy or love without becoming attached to the object that we think is the cause of our joy. All too often, the emotions we experience, along with the thoughts and behaviors that accompany them, become part of our internal and social story lines. Anger, anxiety, jealousy, fear, and other emotions become part of who we believe we are, creating what I would call a ‘greasy’ residue, like the oily stuff left on a plate after eating greasy food. If that residue is left on the plate, eventually everything served on that plate starts to taste alike; bits of food start to accumulate too, stuck to layers and layers of greasy residue. All in all, a very unhealthy situation!”
Through our meditation, we can see ourselves as we are: human. When we create space in our lives, in that space, there is freedom. Our aliveness comes from being intimately connected to each moment, not judging, not condemning, but being open to the mystery. What comes is not expected to stay forever. That includes our heartbreaks, our friends, our professions, our physical capabilities, our memories.
We don’t own our life as if we owned a bank account.
We are life itself.
An energetic process, transforming. We are passing through “whatever this is” as visitors.
We cannot take our time with us.
We cannot stop ourselves from growing old, sick, and dying.
Every moment is so precious. Only we forget.
Meditation helps us to realize that we are interconnected with everything in this universe. In all our infinite relationships, there is no true division. We create division in our discriminating minds, in our judgements and opinions, in our intellectualization.
Our daily practice lets us be more aware. We start to feel a sense of responsibility, because we see another person’s joy and sorrow within ourselves. As we suffer, they suffer. As we wish for peace, they wish for peace. When we harm the world, we harm ourselves, when we harm ourselves, we harm the world. Meditation is a way for us to return to who we are, and where we are, in the miracle of each moment.
“Mindfulness requires letting go of judgement, returning to an awareness of the breath and the body, and bringing your full attention to what is in you and around you. This helps you notice whether the thought you just produced is healthy or unhealthy, compassionate or unkind.”
When we breathe mindfully, we communicate. We know we’re breathing in, breathing out. In this awareness, we are in tune with our body-mind, with feelings and thoughts, with the environment.
“Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.”
When we’re mindful, we’re free. When we’re consumed with anger, anxiety, and fear, we’re trapped. Instead of holding on to our storylines, and avoiding the present, we can release our suffering and return home, again and again.
A lot of our thinking comes from dwelling on the past, controlling the future, imagining scenarios that have never happened. We worry so much. We worry about ourselves, about what other people think of us, about meaning, about money, about everything that we can. We get caught in our ideas, talking, talking, talking, thinking, thinking, thinking. Distracting ourselves with constant amusements and dramas.
Instead of realizing that our perceptions are only perceptions, we mistake them for reality.
When we mindfully breathe, we can return to where we are.
“It’s enjoyable to breathe in, to breathe out; it’s enjoyable to sit, to walk, to eat breakfast, to take a shower, to clean the bathroom, to work in the vegetable garden. When we stop talking and thinking and listen mindfully to ourselves, one thing we will notice is our greater capacity and opportunities for joy.”
Mindfulness lets us open up to our fear, our pain, our sorrow, our love. We don’t run away from life. We become aware of life, nurturing the present, letting go of what causes us to suffer.
We are no longer afraid to be with ourselves.
“We can just continue to follow our in-breath and our out-breath. We don’t tell our fear to go away; we recognize it. We don’t tell our anger to go away; we acknowledge it. These feelings are like a small child tugging at our sleeves. Pick them up and hold them tenderly. Acknowledging our feelings without judging them or pushing them away, embracing them with mindfulness, is an act of homecoming.”
When we know our own suffering, then we can learn to see the suffering of the world. Exploitation, discrimination, racism, poverty, homelessness, war, and so on, cause a lot of suffering to us and those around us. We cannot help others until we look at our own sorrow and fear, pain and anxiety, depression and anger.
We need to listen deeply to ourselves. Only then can we release our burdens. Only then can we stop the destructive patterns that we’ve inherited from our ancestors, from our parents, from our past.
“If a lotus is to grow, it needs to be rooted in the mud. Compassion is born from understanding suffering. We all should learn to embrace our own suffering, to listen to it deeply, and to have a deep look into its nature. In doing so, we allow the energy of love and compassion to be born.”
To be effective at communication, we need to know ourselves. Then we can practice mindfulness, deep listening, and loving speech. Other people may complain, insult us, manipulate, whine, and judge. When we listen deeply with compassion, we can look at people as they are, and not be stirred up emotionally. We can love them without judging them, care about them without giving in to anger and resentment.
As we listen, our purpose is to help others to suffer less. We want ourselves to suffer less too. Instead of judging and blaming, we can be mindfully aware.
When we are not mindful, we will not see our own suffering. Then we will make everyone around us suffer as well. We may believe that we know the people around us, such as our family members and friends and colleagues, but maybe we have never truly listened to them. Maybe we’ve never truly listened to ourselves.
We must be skillful with how we communicate. Do we use words of kindness, compassion, and truth, working to reduce another person’s pain and anxiety? Are we gentle or harsh in our tones? As we begin to understand more about ourselves, we can understand others. We can listen and speak kindly and choose the right words for the right situation.
We can use peaceful language instead of abusing, condemning, judging. We don’t need to exaggerate. We don’t need to speak one way to one person and another way to another person, attempting to manipulate. Our truth can be gentle, consistent, and loving.
Not everyone has the same perception or understanding. When we talk, we can adapt ourselves to each person, learning about how they think and feel. Not everyone will be receptive to the same stories, the same messages, and the same knowledge.
Our speech should be used for well-being and healing. When our speech causes ill-being and suffering, then that is wrong speech. We can make those around us feel loved through our presence, through our gentleness and care.
As we look into ourselves, we know that we’re not perfect. We have strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. We feel pain and joy and compassion and fear and anger and on and on, just like everyone else.
We don’t have to judge ourselves as bad, because we have positive qualities too, but we don’t have to swell with pride either, because we make mistakes too. No one sees us for who we are in totality. They are only partly right. We don’t see everyone else for who they are in totality either. People may have many experiences, feelings, and thoughts that we will never be aware of.
When we feel angry, we neither need to act nor suppress our anger. Anger may have a sense of urgency to it, but when we act, we often escalate the situation.
Rather than falling into the same habitual patterns, we can treat our anger with tenderness. We can embrace our energy and breathe and let go. Even a small pause can be beneficial.
We can ask ourselves whenever a thought arises, “Is that thought right? Are we really sure?” Instead of committing to a wrong perception, we can slow down and question our certainty.
Unless we can communicate mindfully with ourselves, we cannot improve the quality of our relationships. With mindfulness of suffering, compassion arises. When we see the suffering in others, we want to help. We cannot force others to become who we want them to be, but we can change ourselves.
When we are compassionate to ourselves, our desire to help our communities grows.
Our love grows.
Our lives are interwoven. We are dependent on each other for survival and well-being. If our communities can listen to each other, communicating with loving-kindness and non-judgmental awareness, we can systematically change our civilization.
Satisfaction or pleasure over another’s misfortunes.
Feeling happiness when someone fails, makes a mistake, or is humiliated.
There are people who make us suffer. We often feel that our lives are more difficult, stressful, painful, and so on, because of what they have said and done. These people may harm those we care about, help our enemies, or support ideas we disagree with.
It is easy to wish those difficult people misfortune and then take pleasure when they fail. It is easy to water the seeds of judgement, comparison, and sadism.
We must be mindful of how we think and not reinforce ideas of division, resentment, bitterness, and discrimination. Instead we need to look at ourselves and see our own suffering, so that we can find compassion for everyone. Even those who do us harm.
When we take pleasure in another’s misfortune, we lower ourselves. We fall into darkness in our condemnation, in our judgement, of another’s suffering.
What kind of human beings are we when we wish suffering on others?
We may feel a temporary satisfaction over a false sense of revenge, but we are degrading ourselves. We are watering the seeds of hatred, separation, and envy. Instead we need to water the seeds of compassion and loving-kindness.
Instead of looking outward in comparison, we need to know ourselves intimately.
You’re not just a separate creature that lives “in” this universe for a fleeting time. You’re not merely a “part” of this universe, apart from the indescribable processes of life and death. You are this universe. Interwoven in the cosmos.
Without spacetime, without the evolutionary line of your ancestors to you, without the soil, rivers, and wind, without the sun and flowers and rain, you would not be here. They are in you.
You do not exist as a single identity, or ego, separate from everything and everyone else. Your existence is changing, transforming in its infinite relationships, right now.
With sensitivity, you can watch interdependent relationships unfold.
They are nuanced and spontaneous, arising, passing, arising, passing.
You are like a wave, calming and crashing and sparkling with light on shadows, until merging back to an endless sea.
There is no sensitivity in ideas of the past. The past is dead and you confuse yourself by carrying around its bones. Your mind is often dulled of its aliveness because it is dominated by the past.
When you lose your sensitivity, you grind out your days with unthinking habits like overeating, smoking, dwelling on your mistakes, worrying, and so on.
You must intimately know this moment. How can you know this moment when you’re filled with opinions, judgements, and values?
When you are judging, concerned with right and wrong, agreeing, disagreeing, comparing, and so on, you’re focused on a fixed interpretation of life. Instead of seeing clearly, you are projecting, distorting, manipulating reality.
The moment that you think you know who you are, you are limited by your view of yourself, and are no longer learning.
It is hard to learn, to see clearly, to be fully alive, because you have been conditioned from language, education, culture, art, politics, religion, family, custom, past experiences. You have been trained to respond in conditioned ways, to think robotically.
Most of us don’t realize we’re conditioned until there is a great disturbance in our lives. Whether from political or economic hardships, in our families or professions, through our relationships with others and within ourselves, we become disturbed.
What can we do? Can we live with so much suffering and confusion and uncertainty?
A lot of people avoid dealing with their sorrows, their sufferings, their fears of what is uncertain. They join a new group, subscribe to an ideology, shout at others, take drugs, gamble, check their social media accounts, or watch TV. They distract themselves all day with amusements.
Instead of being present with their fears and uncertainties and anxieties, they hide from them, avoid them, numb themselves from them. Their fears won’t go away, but they have desensitized themselves so much that they don’t feel alive anymore.
You must be totally aware to understand. Often you are one type of person at the office and another with friends. You talk differently to yourself than you do with your coworkers. You act out so many different roles every day.
You divide your consciousness and create conflict with those divisions, blocking out one part of yourself for another, aware of one aspect of existence and not another.
When you do try to understand yourself, you categorize and analyze and examine, spending weeks and months and years on petty personal dramas. But still, you are no further along to enlightenment.
If you could just be aware for a moment, sensitive to all of life, to trees and wind and birds and rivers and the beating of your heart, to inner and outer energies changing without division, without any purpose or method or conclusion, then you will see immediately who you are.
You can know life more deeply without the need to compare deep to shallow, right to wrong, good to bad.
All too often, you cannot see what is, what exists beyond all symbols, because you’re trapped in conditioned states of thinking, comparing, judging, and deciding.
You narrowly perceive, trained into a rigid way of being after a lifetime of chasing after pleasure, and avoiding pain, and fearing what you don’t understand.
Can you be here without trying to be elsewhere? With choiceless awareness, you can begin to see the totality of life. There is nothing to get and no reward, except for what is happening. If you can truly be without any expectation, letting what comes come until it passes away, then you will know joy.
When you seek out pleasure, to repeat an experience of the past, you will soon know pain. Pain is the shadow of pleasure. One follows the other.
When you have what you want, you often wish to hold onto it forever and fear losing it. If someone has what you don’t have, and you want what they have, then you eventually become envious and bitter.
By clinging to your memories of pleasure, you’re in conflict with yourself. Your desire to keep something or someone, to appear in a favorable way, to not lose what you already have, eventually leads you into suffering.
To be present is to no longer be afraid of losing what you desire. You are not afraid when you are just watching yourself be. At the back of your mind, however, you think about the past and future. You are scared of losing your job, your status, your kids, your health, your life. Can you watch all these fears without trying to justify them?
Do the words, images, and associations to past memories disturb you so much? Look behind the symbols at the undercurrent of energy. What is actually happening to you in reality and what is only thought, feeling, and memory?
Thoughts are not realities. For example, you may have gotten sick a few years ago. Now that you are well, you fear becoming sick again.
Your resistance to sickness is a thought, not what is happening within your body at the moment. At the moment, you are fine. Instead of being aware of how you are and tending to yourself with compassion and joy, you get lost in fears about losing your health. There is a conflict between what you think and what is. You ignore what is and dwell on ideas, which are fixed symbols. The more you think, the more you suffer about non-realities that are no longer there or not there in the future, blocking yourself to all of life.
Can you look at fear without dissecting it? Can you see fear without having to control or analyze it, without having to summon courage, without directing your mind to specific things that you are afraid of? Directly look at fear without making it intellectual. Know fear without hiding, rationalizing, trying to take it apart.
You are not apart from fear. There is no fear and then you, an observer of fear. There is only, when you notice subtly enough, fear, which is you.
Then your awareness of fear — without you trying to conclude or explain what fear is — dissolves it.
Fear is not fear alone. Fear interrelates with anxiety, hatred, jealousy, violence, and many similar states.
How can a person find peace in a world writhing with war, class conflict, murder, starvation, with many forms of injustice, perpetuated throughout the centuries?
Violence doesn’t merely stop at the events. that surround you but it is within you as well.
Violence is not just to maim or kill another person. It is a harsh word, jealousy over a friend’s accomplishments, discrimination, obeying an authority out of fear.
When you divide yourself from others and refuse to see the humanity in them, you’re being violent. All too often, you separate yourself through belief and thought. You see yourself as superior, inferior, or both. You blame and judge, rather than being present, listening deeply, and learning.
If you want to transcend violence, you cannot deny, hide, or distract from the violence within. You must be intimately aware of your anger and sadness and jealousy and anxiety and fear, neither justifying nor condemning these states.
All too often, you strive for ideals of non-violence. You tell yourself that you must be peaceful rather than violent, calm rather than angry, and so on. You think about the best ideological systems to obey to become a better person and blame others for failing to follow along.
You create dualities of good and bad, right and wrong, judging and forming opinions.
You try to be better daily. You prepare so much to be a good person because you have been taught to compare, analyze, judge, and think about every situation.
Yet there is no trying. There is only what is peaceful and what is not peaceful. Many holy books have been filled with words about non-violence for centuries and people are still angry, jealous, greedy, hateful, and so on.
When you claim that you believe in the ideals of peace, but are not peaceful within or in relationship to the world, you’re acting hypocritically.
When you separate, when you condemn others while justifying your righteousness, you’re trapped. You have not learned how to see what is.
Most people are not actually with each other. They form ideas and then act on the nuanced relationships between those ideas. They live on images, on symbols, rather than being with someone in the present. The more they cling to ideas, the more they live in a universe of abstraction.
You must be able to see totally. It is one thing to intellectually understand, to examine yourself under an analysis of symbols, but is quite another thing to completely see, to be aware of what happens within you.
You are never free until you can see what you depend on, what causes you to suffer, what brings you joy, without trying to hide or deny these things within yourself. From relationship — to yourself, to the group, to society, to all of life interconnected in the universe — you can be aware.
“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our actions. The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.”
― Epictetus, Enchiridion and Selections from the Discourses
Our expectations for life is not life itself. We often want for things to be as we wish and avoid things that are not as we wish. Then when things happen against what we desire, we suffer, instead of looking directly at what is.
We must look directly at life.
Then we can act wisely with what we can control.
People will grow old, become sick, die, and lose their material possessions eventually.
Nothing is entirely our own, not even our lives. We are temporary travelers in this universe and will return to the universe after enough time has passed.
Meditate on this everyday.
We shouldn’t hide from facts that are uncomfortable, uncertain, and painful.
We shouldn’t speculate about what we don’t know, anxiously hoping for what exists only in our imaginations, dwelling with regrets about the past.
Let’s be present and learn what we can do.
We shouldn’t reduce ourselves to our judgements. While others gossip, we can remain silent. While opinions are let loose, we can stick to factual information. While people are angry and blame, we can stay patient and look within. While groups hate and form divisions, our hearts can open to the world.
Our attitudes are in our control, even when dealing with the tragedies that befall us.
We become what we regularly consume. If we surround ourselves with fearful people and sensationalized news reports, these sources will impress upon our minds and emotionally weigh us down.
While it’s crucial to be informed, we must care for our wellbeing, and should, when possible, avoid what causes suffering to ourselves and others.
When we must endure negative things, let us do so with dignity and honor, not falling into laziness, hatred, jealousy, anger, and greed.
without an inside, there is no outside, by taking away evil, there is no good, without black, there is no white, without joy there is no suffering, there is no before without an after, no feminine without masculine, ugliness without beauty, life without death: both are inseparable like poles on a magnet
everything relates to everything and then returns back to itself, from one to two to three to the ten thousand things, one is not one without the ten thousand things
when there are no opinions, no purpose, no action, things come and go of themselves
when there is mystery in what cannot be named, to name it is to not know it, to know it is not to talk of it
people take care of themselves when they are not forced, snow cracks the most rigid pines while the willow yields and bends
a great warrior doesn’t need to fight even though a weapon is available
the most powerful ruler is not free but is burdened with worry, fear, isolation
the truly powerful have no ambition, no status, they do not hold themselves above anyone, they do not praise or blame, they act by not acting, they do not force others, and everything is still accomplished
the wise ones behave righteously with no thought of good and bad, they decide on what to do and do but do not preach to others
when striving for peace, there will be war, when seeking pleasure, there will be suffering, when there is youth, there will be old age, when there is health, there will be sickness, from trying to control, there is a lack of control
there are transformations along the path of life to death: not minding what comes or goes, there is joy in every change
to desire or strain not to desire, one is still in the Tao, not a part of it, but It
let the mind alone and it will harmonize, force the mind and it will resist
your mind-body stills, you begin to see clearly. Instead of “you”
watching the rain drop, there is only rain dropping. Rather than a
separate you doing the action of “watching” the rain, there is the
splash, splash, splash.
With mindfulness, everything comes together in harmony.
Breathing in, breathing out. Like a bow sliding across a violin in one slow hum, you are continuous, open to the sound.
are not separate from the rest of life. You inter-are. You are
relations. A flower cannot bloom without being connected with non-flower
elements like the soil beneath it or the sun above it. For the petals
of a rose to glisten with dew, there needed to first be a Big Bang.
Conditions before and at the present moment of the flower’s existence
helped that flower to be. And when that flower wilts back into the old
earth, another will take its place. Energy cannot be created nor
destroyed, only transformed.
like the flower, you are made up of non-you parts. You cannot exist
without the oxygen you breathe or your ancestors or the gravity of the
earth. You cannot exist without clean water from the rivers or from
animals that roamed the land or from the clouds that floated to become
the rain. There is no you separate from everything else.
cannot step into the same river twice, as Heraclitus said. You change
in every moment, from how you feel and think, from your body aging, from
billions of neurons firing in different sequences inside your brain.
You are not the same person you were when you were five or fifteen or
eighty. You may feel the same, identify as one separate person, but you
are undergoing a transformation every moment. You are dying and being
reborn. Your environment is changing as you change, from the cores of
dying stars billions of years ago to the thoughts swimming through your
head to the glaciers melting and affecting the temperature that warms
thoughts, perceptions, and feelings are changing. Don’t attach yourself
to one view of life and claim that to be the best view. If you cling to
a belief and cannot adapt to what’s happening around you, within you,
in the present, you will suffer.
happening around and within you are not so separate either. You are the
lives you have influenced, the soil you have cultivated to grow your
crops, the ancestors who have survived for you to exist, the descendants
who will mature after you have decomposed in a grave.
You are the sun and water and the trees and moon. Without them, there is no you.
awareness of the non-you elements that make up you can help you to see
the world beyond your identity. With present awareness, you don’t have
to hold onto dogmatic beliefs and judgements about everything outside
you, arguing, finding disagreements with others. Feeling you are alone,
holding onto your views with rigidity, will cause more suffering to you
and everyone else. It’s up to you to be kind, compassionate, and loving,
each and every moment.
moment is a chance for you to deepen your practice. Talking about
philosophy is not enough. Your life is your message. Your teaching. If
you are kind, mindful and full of generosity, you will influence
everyone with those lessons. They are the continuation of you. Your
practice becomes a practice not only for you but for your children,
grandchildren, peers, and the rest of your community.
you think of yourself as a separate entity from the rest of the world,
you try to run from the world. You seek pleasure and avoid pain. You
look for the absolute answers to the mystery of existence. You hide from
unpleasant truths. Rather than hiding from what you don’t like or
craving an abstract notion of the ultimate, look inside yourself. See
yourself in the world just as the world is seen in you. You are the
blood in your body and the stars in your blood. You don’t have to climb a
high mountain to find what is already here. You only need to see.
you walk somewhere everyday, do you see the pink pedals falling from
the tree? Do notice how the breeze gently lands on your skin? Do you
feel your breath rising inside you as you step on the soft soil? Look
for the teachings that are already intimately a part of you. There is
more wisdom in a leaf crumbling than in a thousand words about
you walk, just walk. When you sit, just sit. When you breathe, just
breathe. Rather than seeking to be important or achieve something,
rather than thinking about the past or rushing to do the next thing,
walk and sit and breathe and do whatever you are doing with freedom.
be deeply in the present moment will ground you in what you are doing.
From nourishing yourself, you nourish others. Through your own peace,
you help the world with their suffering. You are not merely showing
compassion, peace, kindness. You are those things.
you live in the present moment, you begin to see the impermanence in
all things. A flower blooming and then withering into the sun, a lover
with wrinkles and age spots, your own stomach growing larger. Without
impermanence, a child can never mature into an adult, an acorn can never
rise high into a tree. For there to be birth, there has to be death.
When you live with presence, every moment now is precious, a fleeting
If you truly feel impermanence, you do what you can to help in each moment, while knowing that nothing lasts.
suffering, anger, and envy will fade, just as joy and happiness will.
Seemingly unstoppable empires will collapse as new societies develop.
Everyone that you know will decompose into bones and then dust. New
species will grow on your lost tombs.
When you directly know impermanence, you will be grateful for what you have while knowing that it won’t be yours forever.
is no “you” that remains the same. Your perceptions, thoughts, moods,
all change. From the cells in your body to bacteria that lives in your
gut, from the wrinkles on your skin to the mingling of hormones in your
blood stream, from neurons firing in your brain to each air molecule
that you inhale, everything is transformation. You are not a fixed self,
isolated from the rest of the universe. Every day, you are the same,
but also different.
life, you are in a garden. Every moment, you can water the seeds of
injustice and suffering or the seeds of peace and love and compassion.
You have freedom, but also responsibility. It is up to you to be a
positive transformation for yourself and others. As you tend to
yourself, you tend to others. You must be wise enough to select what
seeds to water and what seeds to avoid. Often, in relationships, it’s
easier to forget someone, to avoid them, to treat them apathetically,
than to be in awe of them, to be loving and thankful, present and
engaged with them. As the weeds grow in your garden and theirs, both of
you feel your suffering. But it’s never too late to cut out the weeds,
to plant seeds again.
than chasing after ideas of love, success, money, sensual pleasures,
and reputation, see these cravings for what they are. If you desire to
taste the bait, biting down with craving, you will get hooked. Only by
letting go, mindful of the causes of your suffering, will you be free.
aware of your fear of death, your need for intimacy with others, your
compulsion to survive. You are connected with all of life on earth and
must show compassion to your suffering while nourishing your love. Smile
with gratitude for being alive. Your place is here, now.