So here we are in January with the holiday season behind us. Our lovely recent guest has gone, so this weekend it was time to dis-assemble the guest bed in the practice room. It’s held together with 8 bolts. In case you think I’m way off track, I’ll come back to this later, and why it’s led to an insight about teaching awakening.
I’m teaching mindfulness, it seems. But really, mindfulness is just an approach, and a critical one, on the path to something. What’s driving us, and where are we going? Why do we practice – is it just to get a bit calmer, to learn how to deal with stress or difficult relationships (all good reasons) or are we seeking something deeper?
If you’re not quite sure where the practice is going, but something keeps you coming back for more, or you feel that there is more to discover about life, you’re on the path to awakening.
In fact it’s a healthier approach to just keep practising without a specific goal, as having a goal is just another hurdle to get over. Awakening is much faster when you simple relax into the present, into how things are; without trying to get anywhere, achieve anything, or become something other than what you are. If this is a path to anywhere, it’s to here, now.
Now this is where nuts and bolts come in. As I unscrewed the nuts on the bed frame, it became clear that the moment when the nut comes off the thread is unpredictable. There you are, just turning the nut, and all of a sudden it comes off. It takes no more effort to make that last turn than any other part of the process. In fact a hard wrench of the spanner might damage the thread.
Practice is like this. It’s most effective with a light touch. Think of a fluffy feather falling slowly to the ground; it takes no effort; but inexorably it will fall, ever so gently; and at some point come to rest on the ground.
So this is the Way of Un (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase!). It’s the way of making so little effort that any verb you can think of indicates too much striving. Relaxing, breathing, letting go, experiencing – they’re all far too active! Even to say ‘do nothing’ has got that ‘doing’ thing in the middle.
Un, as a prefix, seems to nicely sum up the negation of something – undoing, unlimited, undressed, unhappy, unravel, unrestricted.
All the usual meditation techniques, like watching the breath, body awareness etc are great. They are a critical part of the training, and a support, especially for busy minds. But their purpose is to take us to a place where we can even let those practices go.
So next time you practice, try the Way of Un! Just be aware of whether you are making any effort whatsoever. If you are, un it. Just let it go, relax more, until there is nothing but what is. And when you touch that moment, know that it is unknowable.