Simples

“Simples!” as that price comparison meerkat used to say on the British TV ads. It should be. Meditation is in practice the simplest thing: just sit still. And yet, since even before the beginning of written language, countless thousands of words have been recorded on the subject of meditation, not to mention the philosophical implications of living with a practice at the centre of one’s life.

In our own time, things have only grown more that way. As well as all the books, there are now websites, blogs (like this one!), formal and informal courses, retreats, apps – a whole industrial and scholarly ecosystem built on meditation, and now not only the philosophy of meditation, but the psychology, sociology, neuroscience of meditation – even, if you know where to look, the politics of meditation. Meditation at work, meditation in educational settings, meditation and sex, meditation in prison, in hospital, for forces veterans, mothers, children…

Now all these things are in themselves good things, and have often proven beneficial, even transformative, for those who have become involved. I am myself a good customer of publishers and others. I add my own trickle to the ocean of words. But…

THERE IS ONLY one thing we need to know. It’s utterly simple. Our job, as humans who want to experience life fully, is to pay attention when we experience something…

It’s easy to get caught in the trappings of practice. There are a lot of things about practice that can be very nice, but they’re not crucial. It’s fine to wear robes, but it’s not crucial. It’s fine to chant, but it’s not crucial. It’s nice to have a very simple beautiful space to practice in, but it’s not crucial. We come to a sitting practice not to get answers but to become more aware. Sitting is simply to maintain awareness. It’s not something fancy. To maintain awareness is to be alive as a human being. There isn’t something special called Zen practice. We just try to maintain awareness, as much as we can. By awareness, I mean awareness of our mental activities, awareness of anything in our own body that we can notice, and awareness of the environment in terms of the air temperature, cars, the heat, anything that you can pick up outside yourself. Awareness; awareness; awareness.

Charlotte Joko Beck, Ordinary Wonder: Zen Life and Practice, pp.3,18

“It can’t be that simple!” we think. But it is. It is just that simple. All the trappings, the books, the apps, the philosophy, the religion, even – they lead (or they lead nowhere) to keeping still, and keeping aware. That’s all. Things that lead here are good; things that don’t are a distraction at best. Sit still and listen, that’s all.

1 thought on “Simples

  1. Sue

    It’s way too simple, isn’t it. Glaringly simple. I’ve been trying to start up a practice again and fell off after daily sitting for a week. Can’t really work out why – it’s a pleasure when I sit down to do it. Much space! Beautiful. And yet here I am not practicing again. Odd, isn’t it. Parts of us are so confronted by it. Too simples 🙂

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