Is “Feeling” True Attainment? [video]

It is common for beginners in meditation to mistake different mind-states for true attainment, true insight into their original nature. When the clouds of confusion and stress first start to clear during the development of our practice, we naturally experience a lightening, a calmness, and various states of bliss that feel markedly different than the way we experienced life before practice. And this is a wonderful thing!

What can be problematic is that often people to mistake this lightening of their mental burden to be true attainment or breakthrough. And students can become attached to these varying mind-states – – some of them exceedingly delicious! – – and then be disappointed when the next sitting, the next day, or the next retreat does not provide them with some similar “tastes.“ Or if they hit a “rough spot” of karma, it might seem to them that meditation does not “work,” or is not helping their life. But these are only transient states.

A couple of days ago, right after morning practice, while out shopping for bread for our Zen Center family, I got a DM from one of my students in The Netherlands. “Sunim,” he wrote, “I have a question!I know who I am…I even feel I know who I am before my parents were born, but what this I is, this I don t know. And this is what I investigate in my meditation. Am I walking in the right direction?”

An answer immediately appeared, and rather than carry it through the anxiety-filled experience which is today’s social-distance, no-contact shopping flow, I sat down in a park and attempted to explain how the experiencing of “feeling” — while part of the bodily sensations that we can experience when our mind calm, becomes clear, or even has a significant breakthrough — should not be taken as a substantial end-point, insight, or attainment in our practice. That sense of the dissolution of separateness of Self-and-other that you feel while dancing in trance in a club? Same situation, I point out — it’s still not “the real thing”. Maybe it might be a piece of scenery on the way, but it is not the substance of the way, and it is definitely not the destination or goal. We must let it go, and not let it become a hindrance for our practice.

Anyway, this video is a rough artifact of work showing the way that teachers are often called upon to “teach” in the modern world, in the midst of errands, down in the muck and movement of everyday life. Socrates taught not in the high temples of Athens, but in the “agora” — the public spaces and marketplaces. These days, our social media and digital realms are the “new agora,” I sometimes say. That’s why you might find me wandering around here, from time to time. Hopefully it does a little bit of good.