Is it really yours?
A zen student approached her teacher: ‘Master, I have a terrible temper, please can you help me?’
‘Hmmm, strange,’ the master said. ‘Can you show it to me?’
‘It arises quite unexpectedly!’
‘In that case, it cannot be part of your true nature,’ the master replied. ‘If it would, you could show it to me any time! Why worry about something that is not yours?’
From then on, the student remembered the words of the master every time she felt her temper rise.
Soon enough she learned to abandon her anger and developed a serene character.
The power of mindfulness
Maybe, reading this story makes you wonder: is this about Ciska herself? And actually, in a way, yes. I used to have a rather quick temper! I could get really upset about things, feel very agitated and go into a rage.
But fortunately, the practice of Zen and mindfulness have helped me tremendously. Nowadays I am much calmer. (That did not happen in one night.)
Mindfulness means: observing consciously – taking some distance from what is happening, within and without. This means a quintessential shift in perspective. Instead of fully indulging in all kinds of suspicions, fears, judgments, now you start to label them as ‘thoughts’ and ‘feelings’. And you begin to realise it is the inner experience that is burdening you. You are not so much suffering the circumstances, but rather your reactions to them.
It is so helpful to note them like this: ‘Here comes a sad thought.’ (Or a happy, proud or funny one, for that matter.) Implicitly, you are now realising that you are just the observer of the feelings and thoughts – they are not ‘I’ nor ‘mine’ – they are just visitors.
You will begin to realise your innate freedom. Your thoughts are presenting a world-view that you may even start believing. That can be quite a vexation! But if you don’t pay attention to all interpretations, and become very quiet… then, everything is just as it is. Try it!
You won’t feel so anxious anymore.
I remember, long ago, visiting a friend just when she was really upset and emotional about something. Let’s call her Z. At first, I tried to calm her down, but that only seemed to make it worse.
So the next time when she burst out in hopeless doom-scenarios and terrible accusations, I directly asked her: ‘Can I ask you something? Is this the real Z. speaking right now?’ She look at me in surprise, fell silent and rather calmly said: ‘No, in fact.’
– ‘Oooh,’ I said, ‘I was suspecting that already, somehow.’
This repeated itself a couple of times. Every time she began to drown in the drama, I asked the same question. Much to my surprise, it worked, mainly because she was so honest of course.
At last, there was nothing more to say about the drama. It had lost its credibility. We just made some tea and enjoyed a couple of cookies.
As long as you imagine yourself to be a person, with all kinds of desires, pride, honour and a goal, a lot of energy goes to protecting this character. But when you don’t consider yourself to be a certain somebody, and you can just be present in the moment, then life is really uncomplicated.
In meditation we practice this; we learn to recognise it when we are stuck in thought-constructs, so that we can simply return to, for instance, the breath. Back in the here and now.
Thus, slowly becoming more and more wat you really are: pure presence, pure awareness. Naturally free and at peace.