Zen is not a particular state but the normal state: silent, peaceful, unagitated. In Zazen neither intention, analysis, specific effort nor imagination take place. It’s enough just to be without hypocrisy, dogmatism, arrogance — embracing all opposites.
— Taisen Deshimaru
In Zen there’s an old parable: “the reverse side also has a reverse side”. We train our minds from a young age to approach everything using a dualistic point of view. This helps us solve certain problems in controlled scenarios, but it leaves us in the dark when we want to feel peace or fulfillment. We forget that the reverse side also has a reverse side; happiness relies on sadness, darkness on light, wisdom on ignorance, good on evil. Concepts can only be defined in opposition to one another. So when we approach meditation as a conceptual or tactical exercise, we miss the point.
When we sit in meditation we reflect the balance that exists in nature without reflecting on it. The sky doesn’t try to look beautiful. The 300-year-old tree doesn’t try to be strong. We think our conscious conceptualization of what we are makes us what we are, but this isn’t true. We can be what we are without labeling or judging ourselves. We can experience peace without trying too hard.
Underneath all your thoughts about yourself and the world is who you really are. This essence doesn’t require conceptualization; if you’re alive, you have it. To meditate without any effort or direction is to get to know this version of yourself better. Without this knowledge, we wander through the world confused and unbalanced.
In this sense, meditation is support for ourselves from ourselves. When a loved one needs support, often they just want someone to embrace them and be present with them. They don’t want solutions. They don’t want pity. They don’t want strategy. They just want to be, alongside someone else. When we meditate, we are embracing ourselves. We’re allowing ourselves to be without any attempt to control or manipulate. We’re not trying to make ourselves feel better or worse. We’re not trying to solve any problem. We’re just there for ourselves.
If you’ve been focused on an active meditation or a results-oriented approach, try this approach instead. Try true Zazen. Just sit with your focus on the breath, watch yourself. Watch everything that emerges. Don’t label, don’t sort, don’t direct. Watch your own mind the way you would watch waves in the ocean. Allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised by whatever emerges, even if it’s nothing.