Don’t interpret

Cold weather forecast for today, with snow possible on higher ground:

A monk wanted to know what was Mahaprajna, Great or Absolute Wisdom. The Master answered:

“The snow is falling fast and all is enveloped in mist.”

The monk remains silent. The Master asks: “Do you understand?”“No, Master, I do not”. 

Thereupon the Master composed a verse for him:

Great Wisdom: It is neither taking in nor giving up. 
If one understands it not, The wind is cold, the snow is falling.

The monk is ‘trying to understand” when in fact he ought to try to look. The apparently mysterious and cryptic sayings  become much simpler when we see them in the whole context of “mindfulness” or awareness, which in its most elementary form consists in “bare attention” which simply sees what is right there and does not add any comment, any interpretation, any judgment, any conclusion. It just sees. 

If one reaches the point where understanding fails, this is not a tragedy:

it is simply a reminder to stop thinking and start looking.

Perhaps there is nothing to figure out after all: perhaps we only need to wake up.

Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite,

When faced with the suffering of life: let go


Some days we are faced with reminded of the disappointing nature of our life or work situation and we are left with a sense of frustration.  These daily sufferings are part of the fundamental, unsatisfactory, nature of life itself which we work with in meditation:

The third noble truth says that the cessation of suffering is letting go of holding on to ourselves. By “cessation” we mean the cessation of hell as opposed to just weather, the cessation of this resistance, this resentment, this feeling of being completely trapped and caught, trying to maintain huge ME at any cost. The teachings about recognizing egolessness sound quite abstract, but the path quality of that, the magic instruction that we have all received, the golden key is that part of the meditation technique where you recognize what’s happening with you and you say to yourself, “Thinking.” Then you let go of all the talking and the fabrication and discussion, and you’re left just sitting with the weather — the quality and the energy of the weather itself. Maybe you still have that quaky feeling or that churning feeling or that exploding feeling or that calm feeling or that dull feeling, as if you’d just been buried in the earth. You’re left with that. That’s the key: come to know that. 

Pema Chodron, The Wisdom of No Escape: And the Path of Loving-Kindness

When faced with setbacks

To give ourselves compassion, we first have to recognize that we are suffering. We can’t heal what we can’t feel. We certainly feel the sting of falling short of our ideals, but our mind tends to focus on the failure itself, rather than the pain caused by failure. This is a crucial difference. The moment we see something about ourselves we don’t like, our attention tends to be absorbed by our perceived flaws.  In that moment, we don’t have the perspective needed to recognize the suffering caused by our feelings of imperfection, let alone to respond with compassion. We need to stop for a breath or two and acknowledge that we’re having a hard time, and that our pain is deserving of kind, caring response. 

Kristin Neff


It is in front of you


Frequently on Mondays we wish we were somewhere else. We have difficulty realizing that the only moment for us to be alive is this one. We wish our lives away,  and they pass us by without us having seen the opportunity that lay in front of us.

All of our listening brings us home.  This is what the teacher-soul keeps saying to the student-self in each of us: To accept our place in the miracle before us, to listen to our experience, to our bodies, to our pain, to our wonder, to our place in the mystery, until we land and sing – this is what all birdsong calls us to remember. Try as we will to fly away, all flight leads us to land where we began, different but the same.  Try as we will to get out of here, life simply and harshly returns us to the heart of here, which, if listened to, opens us to the heart of everything. What the teacher says to the student who complains is that there is no lesson plan for living but to live. And all our dreams and plans and strategies are necessary detours to the brilliant reality of the life we already inhabit.  

Mark Nepo