Rest In The Openness Of Mind

This past Wednesday, we introduced and began sitting with this month’s Lojong slogan, Rest In The Openness Of Mind. Here are my notes from the introduction.

Our first four lojong slogans were Resolve to Begin/Train in the Preliminaries, See Everything as a Dream, Examine the Nature of Awareness, and Don’t Get Stuck On Peace. You may have begun to notice that every month, our slogans take us in new directions and keep us from getting set on any one thing. Lojong helps us keep our hearts open by constantly ripping the rug out from under us. Here we go again!

Our fifth slogan (of 59) is Rest In The Openness of Mind. For me, this seems as much a practice as it is an orienting principle. So often in meditation, we hook onto the idea that there is a right way to do things. That there is a technique that will work. That we should always come back to the breath, or sounds, or a candle flame, or a flower. All of these things are useful in that they trip us up from our habits and give us refuge when we get swept away in our mindstreams. But they too can become rote habits. As a result of perhaps an over-reliance on breath-counting early in my practice, I can now skillfully make a to-do list while counting my breath. As Suzuki Roshi put it, our practice is, “Not always so.”

When I was a boy, I had a beautiful Arabian mare named Lalique. For the first 13 years of her life, she was a brood mare. She foaled 9 offspring until she developed cervical scar tissue and was put up for sale. She had only been ridden a handful of times when we bought her, and jeez was she strong willed. My trainer and I saw her potential, though, and we were determined to train her as an English show horse. What I found was, that sometimes the best thing to do with Lalique, was to give her the reins and let her do her thing. Sometimes that was to mosey about and munch grass, sometimes it was to toss up her head and run around like a filly. Over time, I noticed her preferences. The things and places that tended to spook her. How her attention and behavior changed when other horses were around. How sometimes, she’d seem lost in thought as if remembering something. And over time, we grew to love each other deeply. She was happy to see me, bridle in hand, and I loved riding her. She was spunky and fun, and to this day, I regularly dream about her. We formed that bond, that partnership, I believe because she trusted me, and I trusted her. For me, this is what rest in the openness of mind points to: we have to remember that our minds are wild, that they need a little free rein now and then, and that our practice isn’t about absolute, iron-willed control. It’s about letting go and trusting. 

Here’s what Norman Fischer has to say about this slogan off the cushion:

“The slogan Rest in the openness of mind describes a beautiful meditation practice and a beautiful feeling for life. It is a good description of Zen meditation practice, which I always think of as meditation beyond meditation. Not meditating on anything at all or trying to focus the mind or trying to calm the mind or do anything else. Zazen— Zen meditation— is, as one master says, “think not-thinking.” It’s resting in the openness of mind. Sometimes it’s called not knowing. Why would we have to know everything all the time? Why do we have to be so knowledgeable, so smart, so in control? We don’t! There’s no need to figure everything out. We can just be alive. We can breathe in and breathe out and let go and just trust our life, trust our body. Our body and our life know what to do. The problem is to let them do it, to relax and let them guide us. Of course life is complicated and we have many things to work out in our material and psychological lives. But also we can find a place of refuge sometimes— in our own life, in our own breath, in our own presence. This seems like a very good idea, to have the confidence that that place of refuge exists and that it exists in us. We don’t have to search for a powerful guru or a major meditation center or find the best book or method. We can just return right now to ourselves. To our actual concrete presence, in the body, in the breath, in the mind and heart. If we had the confidence that this were possible at any moment, then we would feel much more at ease with our lives and it would be easier and happier to take care of all of our complicated problems. We could do it with far less anxiety and stress. We would trust our life. This slogan points to that trust. Practicing it in meditation or at any time during the day can be quite powerful. Rest in the openness of mind. Getting used to this phrase and its meaning so that it can be an inspiration for you, so that you can bring it up at any time during the day, is a powerful advantage.

Why would we have to know everything all the time? Why do we have to be so knowledgeable, so smart, so in control? We don’t! There’s no need to figure everything out. We can just be alive. We can breathe in and breathe out and let go and just trust our life, trust our body. Our body and our life know what to do. The problem is to let them do it, to relax and let them guide us.

Of course life is complicated and we have many things to work out in our material and psychological lives. But also we can find a place of refuge sometimes— in our own life, in our own breath, in our own presence. This seems like a very good idea, to have the confidence that that place of refuge exists and that it exists in us. We don’t have to search for a powerful guru or a major meditation center or find the best book or method. We can just return right now to ourselves. To our actual concrete presence, in the body, in the breath, in the mind and heart. If we had the confidence that this were possible at any moment, then we would feel much more at ease with our lives and it would be easier and happier to take care of all of our complicated problems. We could do it with far less anxiety and stress. We would trust our life. This slogan points to that trust. Practicing it in meditation or at any time during the day can be quite powerful. Rest in the openness of mind. Getting used to this phrase and its meaning so that it can be an inspiration for you, so that you can bring it up at any time during the day, is a powerful advantage.

Maybe the easiest way to do this is also the simplest way: just stop and take a breath. One breath, maybe two or three. You could do this now. Take a breath and return to the openness of mind. Breathing in, breathing out, and in the feeling of the breath noticing whatever is there and letting go of it, easily, gently. Even if you are bored with yourself, even if you have some disturbing things going on in your life that produce disturbing thoughts and feelings in you, it is still possible in this precise moment (even now, as you are reading) to notice breathing, notice the body, notice the feeling of being present in this moment of time. This will relax you. This is what it feels like to rest in the openness of mind.”

Fischer, Norman (2013-01-08). Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong (pp. 22-23). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.

Please join us for meditation next Wednesday, May 10th, when we sit for 30 minutes of zazen in the morning, and then take up a concentration practice, walking meditation, and more zazen in the evening. 6:10 am & pm.

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