Zen practice is about developing a resilient self not imprisoned by thoughts which define it, constrict it, or limit it. It is possible that we can all learn to enjoy and access all of the different roles we play in life without sticking to any single identity. This happens primarily in two ways. The first is through a dedicated meditation practice. The second is by taking on new tasks or problems that shake our stability so that we can stretch and grow.
Maybe you have struggled with depression or anxiety, been chronically worried, angry at life, or fearful to the point of being frozen or panicking. But regardless of how anxious or depressed you are, this is only one dimension of your being. Or maybe you have a deep belief that you can’t do well at something because you lack the competency and/or are paralyzed by the fear of failure, as I was when I had to dance in front of more than a hundred people at my daughter’s wedding in France more than 20 years ago. I thought I was incapable of shedding my identity as a klutz when it came to dancing, but through patient and persistent practice I was able to expand way beyond this limitation. If I can do it, you can do it too!
I have always been fond of Walt Whitman’s, “I am large; I contain multitudes.” Each of us can find our hidden parts, give them some fresh air so they no longer restrict us and nurture their growth. In some cases, what hampers us is not hiddenness but the competition or conflict between different personas or parts of ourselves. If this is the case, they can learn to share the stage with each other, and our life becomes balanced and calm. Through our patient and persistent meditation practice and, when possible, the help of a spiritual guide we can untangle the dense thicket of constricted patterns that make up our so-called identity. We discover that none of these to need dominate our lives, since our so-called self is multi-faceted.
In Buddhist thought, the heart-mind is the true center of our self. It is a hidden treasure, which is also vastly expansive.
Years ago, we had a visiting teacher at our Zen center in San Francisco, who encouraged me to leave Suzuki and come with him to join a center he was trying to create. It seemed that he was putting the hustle on me, telling me that he knew I had a deep enlightenment experience and he could help me have many more. And my “ambitious self” was getting quite charged up. I didn’t say anything to Suzuki about it, but he seemed to know. After meditation one morning, he took me aside and said, “You have a great treasure within you. Someone may try to take it from you. Be careful not to let anyone take it from you.” While no one can actually take this treasure, most of the time this deep heart-mind is covered over by our worries and concerns, our attempts to push away those experiences and thoughts we don’t want and pull in those we do. Instead, through a patient and persistent meditation practice, we can notice our array of changing selves without judging or criticizing and we can experiment with ways of living beyond our familiar and habitual self. When we do this, we begin to feel and identify with a calmness, quietness, spaciousness, that underlies and surrounds all of these. We open up to heart-mind, which is what my teacher called Big Mind.
You yourself make the waves in your mind. If you leave your mind as it is, it will become calm. This mind is called Big Mind. Big Mind experiences everything within itself.
One of the etymological roots of nirvana is to “cool by blowing.” The cooler we become through our meditation practice, the more we welcome and appreciate the multitude of selves that are an expression of our calm, still center, the calm, still center of all life.
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher