Two Zen monks were walking through the woods. Suddenly, one Zen monk turned to the other and slapped him.
“Ouch! Why did you do that!” cried the slapped monk.
The first said, “I’m Zen monk, I can get away with shit like that.”
It is so very simple. And the ego loves to complicate it. Really, there is absolutely no need to struggle.
In the Indian epic, the Mahabharata—the great 50,000 verse epic poem of human delusion and foible, the climactic scene takes place in Kurukshetra, 5000 years ago, when two powerful, unmovable armies of men, elephants, camels, sharp steel, and fiery missiles face each other, and the heroic warrior-prince Arjuna, throws down his weapons, refusing to fight. He does not want to kill.
Krishna talks him into it. Krishna’s words to Arjuna on the battlefield constitute the Bhagvad Gita, the Celestial Song .
Mahatma Gandhi had some trouble with this scene. How is it that Krishna was promoting violence, urging his young charge to pick up his lethal bow and arrows and decimate his brethren?
Gandhi resolved his conflict by deciding that the battle of Kurukshetra is symbolic of our inner struggle. No battle is more destructive than the struggle that rages on in the mind. It saps our joy and energy in every moment of our lives. We are weighed down by the past and the compulsive anticipation of the next moment. Most of us are rarely able to be present.
This inner struggle manifests in various ways. In my life, I have experienced dark bouts of depression, which I can only describe as the complete absence of love, and debilitating anxiety, and proclivity to self-medicate with alcohol, and often a need for drama in relationships. Your demons are probably different. It is enough to say that if we are not feeling the joy of being–the joy of experiencing the magic and mystery of being alive–if we are not experiencing the flow, it is only because we struggle.
In presence there is intimacy with Truth. But most of us deeply identify with our thoughts, and so we automatically rebel against presence. Try it. Try to be present for five seconds. Sit still, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Do not think, just concentrate. What happens?
Most of us cannot be present for more than a second or two. The mind rebels, and we experience this as boredom or fear. This is a powerful and habitual recoiling back to the condition of separateness and struggle and effort. It is so prevalent that we have come to accept it as normal.
This moment, right here and right now, is uncomplicated, absent of drama, absent of problems, absent of unease, and absent of beliefs and opinions.
Try to not be present
There’s a lot said about being in the Now.
Try not to be in Now.
Where else can you be? You are always in the Now. No matter where you go, there you are, and it is always Now. The Now is the only experience you can ever have.
We don’t feel the flow because our attention is wrapped up in resistance. When we resist a thought or emotion, we strengthen it. When we stop resisting, stop interfering, stop participating, when we can simply and effortlessly be aware of whatever is going on inside us, we can release it.
Simply allow yourself to be aware. Watch, without mental resistance. Allow the effortless, gentle noticing. When thoughts are heavy, simply allow them and notice. When emotions are heavy, allow them, welcome them, make space for them, and let them go. It is just simple awareness.
A one minute meditation
Often, this inner noise manifests as stress.
First, notice when you are feeling stress. Sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes it’s not so obvious–it’s a constant, low-grade unease which we don’t notice. This is why most of us are exhausted by the end of the day.
Bring attention to breathing. Often, under stress, with adrenaline and cortisol pumping in our veins, our breathing becomes shallow. So you may want to start by taking a deep, cleansing breath.
Progressively relax your muscles. Start with the crown of the head, move down to the facial muscles, relax them, and the neck and shoulders and so on. Sometimes it can help to purposely tighten and then relax the muscles.
Find stillness the between breaths. This is awareness. It is the the quiet, gentle, noticing, still awareness. This is the inner stop, where the mind is momentarily quiet. Be alert and aware in between breaths and you will feel it.
Observe thoughts, without participating in the thought-story, as passive watchfulness. The gaps between thoughts will expand and thoughts will diminish.
Become deeply present, completely in the Now.
Bring attention to the inner body. Listen with the body. Feel the tingling in the hands and fingers. Feel the subtle sensations in the muscles. Feel the constant sense of “shoulding” in the body, and release it.
Think of yourself in the third person.
Notice the voice of thought. Notice its acrimonious, criticizing tone, without interfering with it. Say hello to it. This voice is the voice of ego. Notice it with gentleness.
When an emotion is strong, allow it. Accept it, welcome it, make space for it. Then let it go. Just like that. It works even you think it doesn’t.
There are more techniques in the book Awareness and Release.
Your turn. What is your experience? Can you sit in a quiet room by yourself? What do you feel in those moments? Boredom? Fear? An anxious lurching?