These words were written as the beginning of a poem or Song in Hebrew around 2000 years ago but they sum up the whole practice of Zen and contemplative prayer perfectly. Indeed they say much the same as Thomas Merton said when someone asked him which he thought was the best book on spirituality he had written to which he replied ”If I had my way I would burn the lot and simply write shut up and listen”
So there we have it! At the heart of Zen practice and all contemplative prayer lies “Being Still.” So what does that mean for us? It certainly doesn’t mean just being like a zombie or a lump of wood. It means just sitting there being totally open to what arises as we sit with an attitude of acute attention and eager expectation. In order that we might be fully alive and awake this means simply that we give all our attention to “Just Sitting” or in Zen language “Shikantaza” The centuries old tradition of Zen practice with its emphasis on just sitting and dwelling attentively in the here and now, gives us a constant reminder that the reason we do this is NOT to get something from outside- it is not to accomplish some object, some ideal or some goal. It is to experience something deep within ourselves.
By remaining completely still physically we come to the place where we are liberated from the imperious demands of our discriminating mind and we are able to be in touch with a deeper place in our innermost being.
When it comes to the “knowing” we will surely ask what it is that we want or need to know. Normally our lives are totally controlled by the discriminating mind that makes decisions based on the “I, me, Mine” principle. But this doesn’t really answer the underlying question of “Who am I?” or “what on earth is this thing we call life all about. Is there anything more than a desperate need to establish our identity over against all others by what we have, what we do, or what other people think of us? None of that ever satisfies though.
So the “knowing” is about being liberated from all this activity by discovering our own true nature that is there within us all along. This inner core is described by Thomas Merton as ‘The Pointe Vierge’ – a point of nothingness that is a free gift to us as part of our very life itself. This is truly who we are –It is beyond explanation but it sets us within the whole context of the created universe. We awaken to the fact that we are an integral part of that creation. We awaken to this true nature and begin to realise and actualise the fact that we are totally interdependent and interconnected as well as being impermanent with the entire universe. There is no such thing as a totally separated self, we all share in the one reality which is the totality of all that is or will ever will be.
We don’t learn this from outside ourselves – nothing of value comes from outside we simply have to respond to the invitation of an inner drawing to immerse ourselves in the vast and boundless ocean of beingness. To know that with this we awaken to the fact that there is nothing else we could ever want, there is nothing else we could ever need in life. We are invited first to accept the concrete reality that we are as we find ourselves. Accept your concrete individuality, and having done that, then you may also realise you are truly blessed just as you are. As human we are able, unlike trees or the flowers, to reflect on, and awaken to awesome reality of our own true nature and appreciate with a deep sense of gratitude.
The message here is this; accept yourself just as you are with all your struggles and issues and weaknesses. And in accepting yourself, you are simply agreeing to the fact that you are already accepted by the entire universe, just as you are. So don’t block that movement of the universe accepting you are you are, by thinking, “But I am an imperfect, troubled human being full of faults.” Yes you may be, but you are accepted just as you are. [To parody an old saying from the 60’s its like ‘I’m not OK but that’s OK] With no if’s or but’s you are accepted just as you are, warts and all!!! So just allow that to sink in as you sit in silence. Just sitting Zazen will enable you to experience the great freedom of just being yourself. And with that, even those aspects we think are our gaps or limitations can be gifts. So just sit and rest in this truth.
Our silent sitting then not only awakens us to these facts but it is also liberation from all the pressure to create our own identity. We are, as Daido Loori Roshi never ceased to tell everyone, ‘perfect, complete and lacking nothing’ Now the rational mind will jump in and say ‘Oh no that’s not me and go on to list all the negative things we constantly think about ourselves.’ But that is an utter lie; that is NOT WHO WE ARE. And it is in silent sitting – being utterly still that we come to awaken to the experience of that. It is an experience we cannot describe or explain but a deep level of knowing best described as a “Wisdom knowing” it’s more like an intuition or knowing something in your bones – a gut feeling rather than something intellectual that we only know in the head.
“Be Still” then is the doorway to freedom where there can be a opportunity to live life fully (remember that Jesus says in the Christian gospels “I have come so that you might have life to the full”)
Is that the deep desire of your heart?
As we engage in a practice of “Being still” we begin to know the precious gift of life and your own sacredness. Again words of Daido Loori Roshi come alive for us;
It is no small thing to be born human. A lot of “stuff” comes along with the opportunity of human life. Zazen is an incredible doorway for getting to the bottom of it all and learning to live your life out of what you directly experience yourself; not what somebody tells you, not what you read, not because you should but because your own direct experience of yourself and your life tells you what to do.
So let’s do it right here and right now – let’s open the door to the liberation from all that prevents us from living life to the full.
- Let us live attentive to the precious gift of life that we have realising our sacredness with the sacredness of all reality
From my experience it is best to leave behind all expectations. Hoping for excitement, self-improvement, beauty, and enlightenment gets in the way of clear observation and will fog the mind with restlessness. Hope only for an enthusiastic openness to whatever comes to you.
It is only essential from the start to realise that your path is unique, personal and intimate. As such only you can walk it for yourself with confidence.