Only meditation can calm your restless mind

Meditate here and now

DON’T wait for a more auspicious time. There is no other time but now. When has it ever not been now?

Meditation is not bound in thought, and it’s only when we are caught up in thought that we have notions of other times and places. But these other times and places don’t truly exist. They are mental phantoms, products of our thought and speculation.

Since meditation can only be carried out here and now, you don’t need to run off somewhere else – like India, Japan or Tibet – to take it up. You don’t need to go to some quiet, secluded place.You don’t need to go anywhere. In fact, in meditation we finally stop trying to go somewhere else other than here.

You don’t have to become someone else to meditate.You don’t need to wear a robe or special clothes. You already have everything you need to take up this practice: body, mind and breath.

There’s no continuum of life running from past to present to future. Life is all at once. Not stretched over time, but now. (This is, after all, what we actually experience. At one o’clock, it’s now. At nine o’clock, it’s now. It’s forever now. It’s never “then”.)

And there aren’t any blue dots at all. Rather, as we take up meditation, it appears that the whole of our life begins to blue-pale at first, but ever deepening and darkening.

Gradually, our life takes on the colour of meditation. Not as little dots (as in “now I’m meditating; now I’m not”), but as an ever-deepening tone that permeates everything.

Meditation isn’t something we take up for an hour and then drop and forget about until it shows up again on our schedule. It isn’t some extracurricular activity we come back to sporadically whenever the thought or the urge or the mood strikes. It isn’t something that involves dashing off to the meditation hall, taking a seat, mentally clocking in when the bell rings, and clocking out again when the bell rings again later.

If you understand meditation as the unfolding of your life, and allow your life to simply be the colour of meditation, then there’s never a time when “this is meditation” and other times when “this is not”.

Meditation is now, or not at all

When meditation is merely some technique we apply to our life, as if it were a self-improvement course, eventually we grow frustrated and weary of it. If, however, we cultivate meditation steadily from the heart, then the quality of our mind and heart, and the way we conduct our life will begin to change.

Instead of our practice being intermittent or an exercise in struggle, it becomes smooth and steady. Where we used to hit rocks in the road and shatter or bounce uncontrollably, we now more easily absorb the shock of hitting obstacles in our path. Life flows more smoothly, like a stream, rather than our getting hung up or blocked as we try to remove or steer clear of obstacles.

We find it easier to establish regular times in our schedule for formal meditation, where we do nothing but sit, breathe, and return to where we are-here and now. At the same time, we also begin to understand that other activities in our life – our job, our interactions with family and friends, our time with difficult people – all become part of our meditation practice. Our life takes on the color of meditation. With this gradual deepening and diffusion, meditation spreads throughout our life.

Often people will be disturbed by their thoughts because they think the assignment in meditation is to quiet their mind. “My thoughts drive me crazy,” they will say. But the more you try to control your thoughts, whether with a club or a drug, the noisier and bossier they're going to become.

Watch and let thoughts be

In meditation we get off this merry-go-round. We don’t try to squelch or soothe or negotiate with our thoughts. We simply watch them and let them be what they are. If they constitute a boiling cauldron, we watch them boil without judgment or comment.Whether hateful or lovely, shocking or serious, or just plain drivel, we observe our thoughts silently-that is, without engaging them.

In this way, we express and experience silence even in the midst of our own inner turmoil. When we truly let our thoughts be, without being disturbed by their churning energy, they will simmer down on their own. We need not do anything to them or about them other than just watch them. In this way we can know them for what they are-just thoughts.

When Zen master Yun Men was asked, “What is single-pointed concentration?” he said, “Food in the bowl. Water in the bucket.”

We’re easily confused by such direct talk. That’s it? Just food in a bowl and water in a bucket? What’s that supposed to mean?

Catch yourself. Stop thinking about what Yun Men said and just take it in. “Food in the bowl, water in the bucket.” Nothing more. Stop making anything out of it. Stop talking to yourself. Crawl into what is being pointed out. Put down the book for a moment and have a direct look at this.

Don’t think duck

You are walking along a lakeshore on a warm spring morning, and a duck crosses your path. You think to yourself, “duck”.

The moment you think “duck”, your awareness is diminished. The direct experience is lost-bound into concepts.

If instead, you wordlessly experience this moment, you will discover that you can always reconstruct the moment later, if you need to. But while it’s happening, don’t talk to yourself about it. Don’t throw labels on it. Stay with what’s happening. Don’t try to hold on to it.

Just be there, fully present with what’s going on.

You might start to realise true seeing.

This is single-pointed concentration.

In meditation, words and concepts will spontaneously appear. Let them go. Don’t hold on to them or build upon them. Don’t think about them or use them to calculate some expectation. just stay here. Start cultivating a wordless Awareness of just this.

– Steve Hagen, Zen meditation teacher, Meditation Now or Never (2007)