Zen Talk: The Power of Quieting Your Mind

“To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” – Chuang-tzu

This is the essence of mindfulness – of becoming aware of our thoughts so much that we can stop them, see beyond them and into what is actually going on in the world because we have ceased to concern ourselves with the overwhelming distraction of the self. Oh, to achieve that.

Our minds are so loud, clambering always. When is your mind not prattling on inside your head? It’s constantly mulling over the days events, questioning our actions, decisions and judgments, planning for the future, calculating and scheming, asking questions and providing answers. And is there anything wrong with that? No, that’s natural.

The problem is when we let our thoughts get the best of us, repeating themselves again and again, rehashing the same issues and conversations to the point that we prevent ourselves from living in the present moment, from seeing the world around us.

And how do we calm our minds, silence and still them? Mindfulness, of course, which I’ve discussed in past Zen Talk posts. We must become aware of each of our thoughts and only with our awareness will we begin to control and calm them. And then, as Chuang-tzu tells us, the rest of what the universe has to offer will be opened to us. The universe, as it were, will surrender itself to us.

What do you think about this quote? How do you practice mindfulness?

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5 Responses

  1. As you know, I don’t normally comment on the Zen posts, although I did study zen some, especially back in the early 80s. So I am somewhat familiar with the concept of mindfulness, although I don’t necessarily try to practice it.

    To be honest, I’m not sure I could answer a question like, “How do you practice mindfulness?” However, there are times when I become aware of (and appreciate) having a calm mind. This morning, for instance. My wife asked me to drive her to work. After I dropped her off, I noticed that I wasn’t thinking; I was only “doing,” specifically, the act of driving. I suppose one could say that I was in a state similar to that of the “zen mirror.”

    There are times when I do need to calm my mind, especially when I’m having difficulty going to sleep. I’ve developed a couple tricks that have helped in the past (although any particular one doesn’t necessarily work on any given night). But none of them has any connection (as far as I know) to Zen.

  2. Zen would argue that all such techniques were connected, I’m sure 🙂

    It is a good point, though, that it’s quite difficult to address the question, How do you practice mindfulness? However, I appreciate you sharing your experiences. I think a present mind is very important, and I’m always curious if other people share that sentiment and how they find themselves moving their minds to the present.

  3. Herein lies the paradox, for in trying to stop thought, to control the mind, we only make matters worse. Think about it. What or who, exactly, is it that is trying to control the mind? And where is this entity we call “mind” to begin with? Most Westerners assume it dwells somewhere in the cranial area, but in the East, the center of consciousness in just below the navel, an area called the hara.

    The constant chatter you speak of is called “monkey mind”, or “small mind” by the Zen Buddhists. For most of us, it seems to just go on all day in an endless stream. It is our belief in this chatter, that it represents who we are, that puts us on the Third Level of Consciousness, that of Waking Sleep, wherein we firmly believe that we are thinking, aware, awake and conscious beings. But on closer inspection, this character whom we believe to be as real, is but a fiction which follows a script of “life” that is written by others. When confronted with the question as to whether the character is real and awake, there is outrage and anger: “Why, of COURSE I am real!”, and for one brief moment, the person enters the Fourth State of Consciousness, and then returns to the Third to continue following the script. It takes the nurturing of another aspect of consciousness, sometimes referred to as “The Observer”, to simply sit and watch the goings on of the character on the Third Level. Meditation is one way of nurturing The Observer. One simply sits and watches thoughts arise and subside WITHOUT BECOMING ATTACHED TO THEM. In other words, one does not think: “I am thinking this thought. This is MY thought”. When done correctly, there is no thinker of any thought; there is only thinking itself. This is an important idea in the world of Zen. It is referred to as “No-Mind”. It means that one is fully aware, attentive, and conscious, but without thought, without a thinker of any thought. If we really look carefully into what mind actually is, we find that it is but a self-created principle. In effect, there is no such thing as mind. It is only a concept formed of itself. Once this is seen and understood, we are then led to a further question: If there is no mind, and there is no thinker of any thought, then where do these thoughts come from? Back to the script for the answer. A Zen Buddhist was once cornered by a couple of Christian hosts on a talk show about his “sins”. The Buddhist simply replied that they were not “HIS” sins (!). On the Third Level, we are the product of our society’s value system. Taoists refer to the state of mind before society put a single mark on us as The Uncarved Block. Buddhists refer to it as Original Mind, and Original Mind is No-Mind. That is not to say there is no consciousness. On the contrary, here, there is Pure Consciousness; Pure Mindfullness and Attentiveness, because the chatter of the Monkey Mind has subsided in such individuals. In general, via of the meditative process, Monkey Mind actually increases its activity, as it is being starved of attention. But, if we are diligent in our practice, and simply nurture The Observer, the chatter, over a period of time, begins to subside. It is at some point that what is referred to as ‘Big Mind’ comes into play. This is the type of consciousness that is associated with Mindfullness, but it can only be accessed via of an intuitive approach; never via of the rational, thinking mind. The important thing to remember in practicing meditation is simply to watch. Nothing else. Do not get lost in Identification with the thought: that is to say, to think “I am thinking; I am doing”, for the moment you do, you plunge back into the Third Level of Consciousness, that of Waking Sleep, in which you become once again the fictional character you were socialized to be. A puppet who thinks he is real. BTW, the Fourth Level of Consciousnes is called Self-Transcendence. It is the beginning of the process of Awakening, in which one sees clearly the fictional nature of the character acting out on the Third Level. In Self-Transcendence, there is no thought, and is the place from which Mindfullness springs. It is a kind of natural , effortless attentiveness to all things which come about in the Present Moment. It is just “there”, from one moment to the next. It is Pure Seeing, without thought. Pure Seeing is what Zen is all about, because Pure Seeing is Enlightenment itself. The nurturing of The Observer via of meditation is the way to achieve Pure Seeing. A child once asked a monk “Grampa monk, what color is that tree?”, to which the monk replied; “Why, it is the color that it is”.

    Be careful with any attempts to control thought. One can become entangled quite quickly. Begin by asking yourself: “Who is it that is trying to control thought?” Try simply to sit and watch, without attaching yourself to any thought that arises, but do not fight with any thought. Eventually, you will achieve longer and longer periods of staying on the Fourth Level, and being The Observer. Then, when you go about your daily life (you still have to live in THIS world) you KNOW that you are going about your daily life. You are attentive and mindful of everything you say and do. In time, you can consciously begin to change the pattern of the script to co-incide with reality rather than fiction. It is all about arriving and being fully present in the Here and Now, and putting an end to Becoming. There is no Past; there is no Future. There is only this eternal Present Moment. It always was, is, and always will be.

    “Think ‘Not-Thinking'”

    “Nothing we see or hear is perfect, and yet, there, in the midst of the imperfection, lies Perfect Reality”
    Shunryu Suzuki

  4. “Be Here, Now”
    Baba Ram Dass

  5. That was wonderful, Dan! Thanks so much for sharing that with us. I said to myself, I’m going to read this comment later and respond, but as I glanced over the first line, I felt compelled to continue reading, and as I did, I really learned a lot.

    When I say control in relation to thoughts, I do mean in the sense of them coming and going, though I suppose it was not expressed as such. In any case, with your words ringing, I will make an effort to try to become the Observer, letting the thoughts come and go as they do.

    It’s funny to think, it’s hard to find the time to sit and not think. Disturbing really, but I will make the effort because only with that initial effort does the rest of my life get the pleasure of the resultant understanding.

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