My root teacher, Suzuki Roshi, had two teachings which, when paired together, sum up the spirit of Buddhist meditation. The first one is “By washing silk many times it becomes white and soft enough to weave.” If we want our meditation practice to bear fruit, we need to have a daily practice that we both commit ourselves to and sustain regardless of how busy or hectic our lives are. Often it seems like we aren’t making progress. We may find ourselves chattering on and on every time we sit. But that’s par for the course. Gradually, all serious meditators become free from their addictive chatter by patiently letting the mind cleanse itself as we breathe… just as silk is cleansed by persistent washing. Then our mind loses its stiffness and becomes soft. Scientists call this tapping into the brain’s “neuroplasticity.”
Suzuki Roshi’s second teaching is, “By hitting iron when its hot, we make it strong and sharp, like a sword.” I stress the importance of retreat practice as my teachers did. Most of our retreats start early in the morning and go until quite late in the evening. We have a rigorous schedule of alternating sitting and walking meditation throughout the day. This can be quite difficult physically and mentally. Our state of mind and emotions may become quite agitated or “hot.” That heat actually helps us break open beyond the small, complaining self from which our addictive chatter arises. Sooner or later we even break through to the state of mind, “in which you do not stick to anything,” to use another quote from Suzuki. When we do this we find we have a strength and confidence that allows us to move through whatever difficulty we may face with a calmness which never leaves us. It’s quite wonderful!
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher