Zazen is full of contradictions. On the one hand there should be “no gaining idea”, no trying to use meditation as a way to “get’ something. Not enlightenment, not peace, not serenity,. . . . nothing. We sit just to sit. On the other hand its something we should do every day and when we come to it (especially in the beginning) with “no gaining idea” its easy to lose motivation. After all, if we are doing it for “nothing” then why do it at all?
The reality is that if we want end suffering then we need to unlearn some habits and untangle some knots. We need to learn to put down the part of our mind that takes everything around us and says “this is good, that’s bad”. This doesn’t mean that we are trying to become emotionless or give up all our preferences, its simply to able to be aware that such thinking may not actually have anything to do with reality. We prefer to eat chocolate over dog tunds, but the reality is that chocolate isnt “good” and dog turds aren’t “bad” they simply exist til our mind comes along and makes the distinction. By doing zazen we have an opportunity to rest our minds awhile, but unlike sleep we are resting our minds while simultaneously being fully aware of everything.
Here’s where it gets tricky. We spend so much of our lives with an internal babble that when we sit down to meditate the brain freaks out. It doesn’t want to rest because it believes that if it lets go of control for one second that something terrible will happen. The brain isn’t sure exactly what this terrible thing is, but it sure can make up all kinds of fears of losing your personality, or becoming a robot, or going crazy, or a devil entering your mind while its “empty” (yes, really). The reality is that nothing much happens, for a long time.
Its really dull.
And that’s the other problem, it gets really really boring sitting there every day staring at a wall. Your legs hurt, your constantly bringing your mind back to the breath while it wants to think about anything that isnt that goddamn wall! So this is why its truly practice. You don’t get good at anything overnight. You dont start out your marathon career by getting up one day and running 26 miles. No matter how strong your will and how much desire you have its going to require some training to make marathons possible. Meditation is the same thing, you dont read a book or hear a talk and suddenly see the world as it truly is, there is too much habit and bias in us already to do that, we need to learn to unlearn , we need to train our minds to let go of every random thought and not play with every single idea our minds cough up, in short, we need to practice.
People who get good at anything practice and they practice regularly. Meditation requires the same thing, a daily effort. Using our marathon metaphor aone more time, real runners dont run 20 miles one day a week and sit around the remaining 6 days, they run 5 or 10 miles every day. If we want to reach any sort of understanding we need to sit the same way. It doesn’t have to be an hour everyday, but it does have to be everyday! At least we don’t have to wear those neon runners shorts.