In zen practice what is often mentioned is the idea of “no mind” or “not-thinking”. It seems an impossibility to not think — with all the information we are exposed to, the scheduling of our day-to-day, the incidents we face in our lives — surely, we need to think to function in our work, school, or family life!
Here is where our practice meets life. When we are practicing zazen, thoughts will arise but let them come in, and let them go out. Do not be disturbed by your thoughts or attempt to stop them. Keep sitting whole-heartedly and let them stop on their own.
Suzuki Roshi describes our thoughts as mind waves, in that, our thoughts are all part of our mind and not from anything outside of us, just like waves are a part of water and water is a part of waves. They are not two but one. It may seem like our thoughts appear from outside, but in reality our mind includes everything.
Therefore nothing outside of you can disturb you.
It will take time to find this calm and serene mind in zen practice. There will be times when it feels like everything is against you finding this place of stillness. How many times do we sit with the pain of our knees, the breakdown of relationships, burning desire, feeling lost in our lives and careers, and yet we continue to sit still and eventually we find the calm.
Understand that this is big mind.
A small mind is one that is related to something outside itself. A small mind is limited. But it is not apart from big mind! It is the same thing. They are not two but one. Even though mind waves arise, or small mind, the essence of our mind is still pure. So in this way our mind includes everything and nothing is left out.
This is the essence of mind.
Realizing big mind in our zen practice, we can take it off the cushion and approach life as practice. Start by the simple practice of watching your mind when brushing your teeth, or washing the dishes, or performing routine tasks throughout the day. Be curious about where your mind is and see the thoughts that come and go. See them as mind waves, without any need to analyze, judge, or comment. Rest in this simple awareness and experience the moments of your day with undivided mind.
“When walking, just walk. When sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble.” — Yun-men