And so I sat with what is blocking my intent to implement this practice. The problem is not that my mind is thinking about the future, “what if?” or thinking about the past. I am definitely present in the sense that my mind is not actively somewhere else.
No, I realized the problem is that my ego-mind resides in the past That is it’s home. And the past is filled with darkness. So since the ego-mind is still a part of me despite my having turned my will and my life over to the care of my true Buddha nature (see my post, “Co-existence of Buddha Nature and Ego-Mind), the negativity of my past life still forms the ambient ether in which I exist.
This is why I mostly frown or have a very serious expression on my face (I’ve addressed this physical manifestation in various posts). When I open my heart and embrace all aspects of my being and experience, or when I conjure up the image of the smiling toddler that I see as my true Buddha self, that frown changes to a smile. But that change is usually somewhat short-lived because my intent to change the direction of my energy flow requires being present to implement it. So as with many things, the problem comes back to how I can be present more consistently throughout the day.
When I meditated, I remembered a teaching from many years ago that I received from a monk when I was just beginning my practice. He explained that when we sense something, the light or sound or taste we sense does not go straight to the brain. Instead, it first is filtered by the ego-mind which labels it. And so we never experience anything directly. What the monk taught to counter this was to observe ourselves and everything we see or do from outside ourselves, free of any labels.
I understood then that in order to be present I needed to break that flow. I needed to undertake a consistent practice where my senses were alive and I experienced everything directly through them, with no filtering or labeling by my mind. Since the mind cannot be two places at the same time (see my post, “Proof of the Nature of Mind”), this would break the hold of the past on my experience of life. It would also create a consistent forcefield around me which my ego-mind couldn’t penetrate.
Why did I think that this would work when my other efforts, such as saying “hello” to everything around me? I wasn’t sufficiently present to implement them. The reason is that experiencing things directly through my senses would just require being, it would not require implementing some technique. I would just have to allow myself to experience without mind’s intervention.
I was reinforced in this realization by two things. First, there is the biblical proverb that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Second, there is the Buddhist urging to be fully engaged in everything you do … when you shave, you shave; when you eat, you eat; when you are walking in nature, you are in nature.
The point of both of these sayings is that if the soul is not fully engaged in something, the mind will fill the vacuum with its feelings and perceptions, it fears and anxieties, its doubts and confusion. Indeed, I have taken such moments of peace and quiet as the perfect opportunity to ruminate, to think about the challenges I face each day. Talk about counter-productive. The answer is to be fully engaged throughout the day, regardless what one is doing.
This too I have attempted in the past and was not successful. Because the effort I undertook was a mechanical one. It was something to implement. And so I needed to be present. It did not arise from within me.
Experiencing things directly through my senses, on the other hand, does arise from within me. I was already sensing things every day. I “just” needed to sense directly rather than through my mind.
After breakfast I went for a long walk. And throughout the walk my senses were alive and I experienced everything directly, without any labels. It was not a beautiful day, it just was. The water didn’t sparkle, it just reflected the light from the sun. Etc. It was an empowering experience. Not one thought entered my mind during that walk. I found it much easier to say “no” when a label arose, because I was by definition present, than to become present in order to implement one of my other practice techniques.
You won’t be surprised when I report that this experience again was not long-lasting. Such is the power of the ego-mind. Clearly what I need to do is retrain myself till this mode of experiencing things becomes my default mode.
The prospect is somewhat daunting, I must confess, given my past experience. This is perhaps the hardest nut of all to crack. This particular hold of the past may not really harm me in any way, but it does rob me of the joy that is my natural state. And so the effort is warranted. I’ve noticed already that I am more aware now when my senses are not engaged and so I immediately engage them. Little by little, I am fully engaged for more moments during the day, and during those moments my ego-mind does not, cannot, intervene.