The wild strawberries are now out in my garden, and I am reminded of this Zen story.
A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him. Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!
What if I told you that we choose to let our emotions, our grief, the struggles of living day to day affect us? Who on earth would willingly choose to allow these to happen? Those who are afraid to face them, to engage with them. They are often the people who believe that mediation is all about pushing your feelings away for a space in time in which to breathe. While this can be a short-term coping mechanism, in the long term it achieves nothing. We must choose to face the abyss, and have the abyss stare back at us (Nietzche).
So many people believe Zen or Buddhist meditation is all about emptying the mind, to achieve nothingness. To wilfully push out everything and focus on nothing. However, in doing so, as soon as when we stop focusing on nothing, everything else comes rushing back in.
If, instead, we focus on issues that we are facing when we meditate we can resolve them – perhaps not all in one sitting, but over time, getting to know our fears in order to work with them. We’ll never know how to break free of our demons until we can name them.
Simply sitting, zazen, is a brilliant tool for focusing the mind on the here and now. Laying aside the past and future for a session, we immerse ourselves in the present moment, fully aware of everything going around us. Sometimes when we do this, feelings come up, of sadness or despair, joy or tranquillity. We can ignore these feelings, and see them come back and back again, or we can engage with them.
Engaging with them does not mean to fall utterly within their tantalising spell, however. Through our previous sessions of simply being in the moment, focused, we have developed two great tools – the power of concentration and the power of detachment. Think of them as your power tools 😉
Using concentration, we can fully focus on the emotion, the memory – whatever it is that pops into our head, giving it our full attention. With detachment, we see it for what it is – something that exists in our minds only, that has no substance. Using both tools, we can delve even further if we so wish, looking to where the thoughts may stem from. Then, equally with both tools, we can see that it is a choice as to whether we allow the thought or memory to control our lives, or whether we choose otherwise.
It’s our choice as to whether we hold on to things, or whether we engage with them. You can’t fight what you don’t know. Face the fear, the emotion, and come out the other side, naming it, staring straight back at it, knowing that it no longer has a hold over you. Some demons never go away, but are silenced for a time, and letting go is never a one-time process. We have to let go each and every day, face our fears, our emotions, stoically in order to understand ourselves and others. Enjoy the present moment.
It’s your choice.