Not in the Head

There is such a thing as good driving, and bad driving. There is an effective way to handle a sharp sushi-knife, and there is a dangerous way. This is not a moral judgement: Some approaches to simple activities with strong tools lead to positive outcomes, and some approaches can tend to lead to less positive outcomes. That is a very important point.

Over the years, I have seen people meditate with predominantly positive benefits, and I am happy to report that the vast majority of these experiences have even been life-changing. And yet there are often some folks who come to retreat having been instructed in other traditions or practices which give them a false sense of how and what to do with this very powerful technology.

And some come here and find that, if only their sadness or depressive mental states change to a lightness, they are practicing Zen correctly, truly entering the core self-realization of this ancient mind-hack. Yet this is only a part of the totality of this experience (albeit a very, very welcome one). And while it might provide sensations of relief, even a disburdening, even after just a few short sittings, this is by no means the truest depth of the experience.

But what is wrong with that, with gaining, maybe even enjoying some disburdening from the oppressive weight of daily/historical stress, anxiety, even the lingering daily pains of ancient traumas? Well, nothing, at first. But not having the fullest sense of what the Zen-tech is really trying to bring us to, we get satisfied with these initial situational reliefs, and do not plumb the work further. Recently, I have worked with several students who enjoyed the first months of their practice, even a year or more, during which time they attended retreat after retreat because they felt a greater lightness in their minds with every retreat they attended. But when — as any great archeology like Zen does — they were brought face-to-face with even deeper, far more more painful revelations of more impacted sedimentary layers of karmic pains, revealed through this work, they have suddenly turned from the practice, even criticized it: the work of sitting on the cushion, of bowing and chanting does not feel as “joyous” and “beautiful” because now they feel only the muckiness of the karmas being revealed.

I also meet some folks who get into a fuzzy softness, through sitting quietly, and they think this is the real point of Zen. Again, any form of relaxation in this stressy world is potentially helpful, if just to reduce some of our own innate aggressions and agitations. But then, you see people relax “too much” into a fuzzy bliss-like resting-mind that cannot function with others. It does not cultivate compassion, and can often lead to further (albeit subtler) egoism, because folks in this state can easily become attached to this state, and resist the energy to reach out to people who suffer, whose suffering might challenge or “disturb” this deeply resting state.

Of course, whole volumes could be dedicated to addressing the matter of how to sit Zen correctly. And perhaps a longer, more-detailed video will be put together on this extremely important matter, in the future. I know it is long, long overdue on this page, and only mountains of work prevent me from eventually getting to this.

But we excised this fragment of a point from a recent talk delivered in Oslo, to announce a certain point:

True meditation, true “waking up” does not happen “in the head.” We may sense changes in feeling there, because that is a sort of sensation receptor-pod of our quotidian mental experiences. But true awakening happens when we access that “before-thinking” place, the pure no-hindrance consciousness of “without thought-force,” such that experience is merely that of pure, borderless, infinitely vast Moment, beyond time and space, just-now, the Unborn, with no separate “I” which experiences it. As that experience “ripens,” or becomes more stable in our view, there might come the feeling of extraordinary “relief” and lightness in the area where mental processes and emotions are so often registered and felt — in the “head.” Thinking and emotions might feel “clearer,” after meditating, especially after some very deep and long don’t-know vastness.

But while you might “feel” some delicious by-product effects of meditation “in the head,” true meditation is definitely not “happening” there. True meditation is Moment, the dropping away of the false walls of self to blend into our original condition: the infinite is-ness Moment. Even these words are mistaken — it cannot be described verbally, conceptually. And it is not an “it,” an object or even an “experience.” But sometimes we have to open our mouths, and hopefully this kind of expression, recorded at Zen House, Oslo, can point some in a better direction.

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