Don't Tune In, Don't Tune Out
Q: I am 21 years old and from England. I have been reading about Zen meditation in some depth for the past 6 or 7 months and have practiced zazen daily during this time. However, although I am able to tune in to my meditative experience and relax free from thoughts during meditation, I am struggling to keep equanimity and acceptance of thoughts in my daily life. The emphasis on awareness of the body and mind in every action seems to be feeding my thoughts with power rather than giving a power to myself in being able to quiet my mind. I understand that thoughts should be treated without judgement and that one should let go of thoughts (especially those that are fearful and unnecessary) but I am really finding it tough to implement this in reality, especially when thoughts of non-acceptance and fear creep up on me. Any advice or help that you may have would be greatly appreciated.
A: You mentioned that you have been "reading about" Zen and have been practicing Zen meditation during this time, but have you considered practicing with a Zen group or consulting a Zen teacher in person? This would be invaluable to your practice, particularly since you are just beginning.
Regarding your question, the answer is simple: don't try to "tune in" to equanimity and acceptance of thoughts, as this simply reinforces the dualistic mind and the ego which it creates. You must allow the process of Zen inquiry to make its way into your life instead of trying to force it. If you have an idea about what Zen in everyday life "should" be but you find that the reality is something else altogether, your mind will oscillate between what you want and what you have and you will be right back where you started. So when your mind is peaceful in everyday life let it be peaceful; when your mind is scattered let it be scattered.
Over time you will learn the practice of non-attachment and will be able to begin to let go of thoughts, sounds, bodily sensations and so forth. But this is the work of a lifetime and is never completed. Once you think you're making progress, you're right back at the beginning. Simply trust your true, enlightened nature and place your trust in the practice of Zen, have no goal in mind, practice meditation with great energy, sincerity and patience and all will be well. Don't be like the millipede who found himself unable to walk when he realized that he had 1,000 legs and tried to control them all.
I wish you well as you traverse the path of Awakening.