Monday, September 19, 2011


Oh boy, did i ever step on toes yesterday. It wasn't an hour after yesterday's post when i heard Dave storming up the stairs yelling "Lao. Lao. You up there? We've got to talk." He didn't sound all that happy.

I won't go into specifics, but the conversation started along these lines:

Lao, i just don't get you. You say you love the henro trail. You say it's an amazing experience. You say it can change people's lives. Yet, you're asking me to be a zombie when i walk it. How can a zombie experience the henro trail?

When did i ever say that you should walk like a zombie?

In that last post. You said to constantly focus on nothing more than the "ceaseless practice of the present" during the entire walk. If i do that, i won't see anything, won't hear anything, won't experience anything. I'll be a walking zombie.

And it went downhill from there, for a while.

Now i know that the rest of you aren't idiots like Dave is, but just in case there is some confusion, i want to make it clear that everything he said last night is utter BS. That's not at all what i meant.

As i pointed out to Dave, being mindful during meditation doesn't mean zoning out, pulling into your head and completely blocking out all perceptions of everything external. Not at all. In fact, it's just the opposite.

Being mindful means being completely open; accepting any and all perceptions that arrive, as they arrive, and letting them pass by, untouched, unanalyzed, uncompartmentalized, without definition and without judgement.

A bird chirps outside and you simply note a noise and let the thought pass by. You don't go to the next step of 'a cardinal,' in the tree on the south side of the house,' or 'i wonder if it is the same bird as this morning.' Simply let the noise pass by like a leaf on a stream.

Clouds float by overhead causing a shadow to sweep across the room. Note the change in light and let the thought pass by untouched. No, 'oh, is it supposed to rain?,' or 'must have been a small cloud,' or even 'cloud.' Just note the change in light and let it move on.

When i say 'note the noise,' or 'note the change in color,' i don't even mean to mentally say anything like "ah, there's a perception." All i mean is, when a thought related to a new perception arises, as it usually will, simply let it pass through your consciousness untouched. Let it come and let it go. Just continue to Be.

And you can do the same thing when you walk. Every second of the walk will produce countless new perceptions as new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations interact with your body. Unless it happens to be appropriate at that particular time, simply let each perception pass by without thought. Accept them, but don't stop them and focus on them. Let them float into awareness and right back out.

That doesn't make you a zombie, in fact, quite the opposite — if you don't divert your attention to focus on one particular perception, you allow yourself to expand into all perceptions. You miss much less of the experience if you don't grasp onto any one particular aspect of it. Being present doesn't mean being blind, deaf, and dumb, it means being unaffected.

That's what i call the static aspect of being present. There is also a dynamic aspect that comes into play as you intentionally choose to interact with the world — when you choose to talk to someone, or choose to marvel at the beauty of the scenery, or the deliciousness of a particular taste, or the complete oddity of some weird aspect of your experience at that moment.

In these cases, as well, you can learn to function in the present. When you meet someone, listen with your entire being; don't try to second guess their meaning, or some benefit you may receive. Don't try and formulate your answer while they are still talking. When that piece of sushi tastes incredibly good, don't start comparing it to your local shop back home, don't start wondering how much wasabi the chef put on it. Just revel in the taste and enjoy it.

Part of your henro will be spent in the static aspect of mindfulness; controlling that monkey mind as it tries to swing from all the new branches it is being exposed to as you walk. Another part of your henro, though, will be completely dynamic; noticing, interacting, responding, accepting, giving, and more.

Both of these can be done while living nowhere other than 'the present.'

This morning i watched a sparrow outside my window fly into the front yard and settle on a Russian Sage plant. As it settled, the branch sank and wobbled under its weight. Fluttering its wings, the sparrow didn't panic, but allowed the branch to settle at its own pace until an equilibrium had been reached, where the branch no longer wobbled and the sparrow felt safe where it was.

It could just as easily have settled on top of the torii standing nearby, but it chose the sage for reasons unknown. The torii is stable and non-moving; landing there would have eliminated those few moments of uncertainty in whether or not the Sage was going to support it's weight. But the sparrow chose the Sage. Why, i don't know — maybe because of the intense purple color or because of the intoxicating smell.

For whatever reason, the sparrow accepted the temporary uncertainty, confident that as long as it stayed present, if the experience didn't play out as expected it could move on to another option easily.

That's what i'm asking you to do on the henro trail. Don't spend your days sitting on the torii, always safe in the thoughts and habits that make up your normal life back home, and in which you feel completely secure. Seek out that Sage, those new, uncertain, colorful and intoxicating experiences where you're not sure how they will turn out. Where you will wobble and feel unsure as the experience begins to unfold.

By approaching these experiences only in the present, though, you can know when the wobbling is too much and when it might be appropriate to simply move on to another branch. The key is to approach the experience with a mind firmly fixed in the present moment, and nowhere else.

Nothing about this approach implies living like a zombie. Nothing.

Now, i wonder how long it will take Dave to come storming upstairs this time..... :-)

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