Decluttering our lives

Soen Roshi, former abbot of Ryutakaji monastery in Japan used to say that when most of us want to see beauty in a room, we bring in fancy paintings, furniture, precious objects. In Zen, when you want to see beauty in a room, you take everything out, one thing after another. When the room is empty, you can see its original nature. Its beauty shines by itself.

In Zen practice you do the same. You take everything out of your life that causes clutter, static, confusion, and greed. You take out plush furniture and people to lean on. As you do this, you naturally find your own inner balance and strength.

Brenda Shoshanna, Jewish Dharma: A Guide to the Practice of Judaism and Zen

Softening the mind

Softness means opening to what is there, relaxing into it. At such a time try this mantra: “It’s ok. Whatever it is, it’s ok. Let me feel it” . That is the softening of the mind. You can open to your experience with a sense of allowing, and simply be with whatever predominates: a pain, a thought, an emotion, anything.

Softening the mind involves two steps. Firstly, become mindfully aware of whatever is most predominant. That is the core guideline for all insight meditation: so the first step is just to see, to open. For the second step, notice how you are relating to whatever arises. Often we can be with an arising appearance but in a reactive way. If we like it we tend to hold on to it, we become attached. If we do not like it because it is painful in any way, we tend to contract, to push away out of fear, irritation or annoyance. The easiest way to relax is to stop trying to make things different. Rather than try to create another space, simply allow space for whatever is going on.

Joseph Goldstein, Insight Meditation

An undivided heart

When the heart is undivided, everything we encounter becomes our practice. Service becomes a sacred exchange, like breathing in and breathing out. We receive a physical and spiritual sustenance in the world, and this is like breathing in. Then, because each of us has certain gifts to offer, part of our happiness in this world is to give something back, and this is like breathing out. One friend calls this ‘simple human kindness’. Our work, I think, is to get out of the way of our own innate wisdom and compassion- that simple human kindness – and allow our inborn ability to see what another needs, to serve the dying and the living.

Frank Ostaseski, Founder, Zen Hospice Project

Where growth begins

Without darkness, Nothing comes to birth, As without light, Nothing flowers.

May Sarton

It has taken me a long time to recognize that darkness is an essential element for personal growth. No matter how many ‘right things.’ I do, darkness will still come unannounced and uninvited because it is an essential part of life. Without darkness I cannot become the person I was meant to be.

Joyce Rupp, Little Pieces of Light

Learning to stay

Meditation is a way of training in learning to stay, or as one student put it more accurately, learning to come back, to return to being present over and over again.

The truth is, anyone who’s ever tried meditation learns really quickly that we are almost never fully present.

Pema Chodron