New Yorker cartoon: Two Zen monks in robes and shaved heads, one young, one old, sitting side by side cross-legged on the floor. The younger one is looking somewhat quizzically at the older one, who is turned toward him and saying: “Nothing happens next. This is it.”
It’s true. Ordinarily, when we undertake something, it is only natural to expect a desirable outcome for our efforts. We want to see results, even if it is only a pleasant feeling. The sole exception I can think of is meditation. Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are. Perhaps its value lies precisely in this. Maybe we all need to do one thing in our lives simply for its own sake.
But it would not quite be accurate to call meditation a “doing.” It is more accurately described as a “being.” When we understand that “This is it,” it allows us to let go of the past and the future and wake
up to what we are now, in this moment.
People usually don’t get this right away. They want to meditate in order to relax, to experience a special state, to become a better person, to reduce some stress or pain, to break out of old habits and patterns, to become free or enlightened. All valid reasons to take up meditation practice, but all equally fraught with problems if you expect those things to happen just because now you are meditating. You’ll get caught up in wanting to have a “special experience” or in looking for signs of progress, and if you don’t feel something special pretty quickly, you may start to doubt the path you have chosen, or to wonder whether you are “doing it right.”
In most domains of learning, this is only reasonable. Of course you have to see progress sooner or later to keep at something. But meditation is different. From the perspective of meditation, every state is a special state, every moment a special moment.
When we let go of wanting something else to happen in this moment, we are taking a profound step toward being able to encounter what is here now. If we hope to go anywhere or develop ourselves in any way, we can only step from where we are standing. If we don’t really know where we are standing—a knowing that comes directly from the cultivation of mindfulness—we may only go in circles, for all our efforts and expectations. So, in meditation practice, the best way to get somewhere is to let go of trying
to get anywhere at all.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, This is the best season of your life.
TRY: Reminding yourself from time to time: “This is it.” See if there is anything at all that it cannot be applied to. Remind yourself that acceptance of the present moment has nothing to do with resignation in the face of what is happening. It simply means a clear acknowledgment that what is happening is happening. Acceptance doesn’t tell you what to do. What happens next, what you choose to do, that has to come out of your understanding of this moment. You might try acting out of a deep knowing of “This is it” Does it influence how you choose to proceed or respond? Is it possible for you to contemplate that in a very real way, this may actually be the best season, the best moment of your life? If that was so, what would it mean for you?