Sometimes when we have been stuck in something – perhaps a mood, an addiction, a story – we get this sudden flash and we see through it. It is like a breath of fresh air, opening a window to let light and fresh breezes into a stuffy room. For a moment, even if we have been stuck for weeks or years, we have a flash of the richness and possibility that has been there all along. This is what the teachings sometimes call awakening mind; it is our innate, natural capacity to see this moment with clarity and wisdom no matter what stories have entranced us.
We could use the image of a river. The flow is the endlessly changing kaleidoscope of experiences and events. And the two shores are two vastly different perspectives, both always available. One is the all too familiar perspective of contraction, relating to the whole show as a drama about the personal self and all its stories. The other shore, just as available but less familiar is the flash of awakening and clarity – that none of our stories are solid and this moment is brilliantly fresh and new. From this shore we can let go of our agendas and relate to reality spontaneously and creatively. This vision or perspective is always present because it emerges from our true nature – aware, free, and boundless.
Our practice is to treasure that awakening mind, cultivating and deepening it in every moment
It may sound paradoxical, but we are not trying to become experts or masters of mindfulness, wisdom, or compassion. We want to keep a fresh and vibrant experience of what is forever new: this moment. Suzuki Roshi calls this approach Beginner’s Mind. Think about how vivid and alive new experiences can be –your first visit to a new city or country, your first taste of chocolate pie, your first kiss. With repetition of experiences, we often become less present to this moment. This lack of presence opens the floodgates to the endless thoughts and stories our mind creates. We can practice our stories, but we cannot practice what is endlessly beginning and forever new.
Spirituality is about being vividly alive now, not achieving something. This moment has never happened, and one might say that universe has orchestrated its entire history just to reveal this moment, this awareness, this breath. We let go of the stories, and awaken for the first time in this moment to witness the incredible display of this. There are not even any words for something so fresh and new. And even as we embrace it, it all dissolves into the next revelation of now.
I highly recommend Suzuki Roshi’s book, Zen Mind Beginners Mind. It was one of the first books I read about meditation and presence, and it is one that I return to again and again for inspiration.
The mind creates stories, and perhaps one of its favorite stories for meditatators is the story of ‘enlightenment’ – that wonderful time when we will at last understand all the secrets of life. The story seems so noble and so beautiful that we do not see its subtle implications. The mind is telling us that something immeasurably important to us is not present – it is in some unattained future moment. We are incomplete and separate from this wonderful moment of awakening.
We need a new map and a new vision of what is happening in our spiritual practice. Awakened presence is the core of who we are, not something distant and separate. Right now – and NOW is the only game in town – an incredible array of sense and form and feeling is present. The stories mind weaves are indeed part of this changing present moment, but stories misrepresent what is happening. They are like a movie that draws us in until we forget that we are watching a movie.
Our stories are dreams and we are either awake to them – now – or lost in them. Our awakening or enlightenment happens right now as we clearly see what is presently arising. We can only be awake to this moment …and now this moment …and now this one.
is not some distant state
that we may one day achieve
It is the gift of presence
that we give
to what arises now