When I first started practicing Zen meditation years ago, I thought it was to make me more calm. Then it was to make me less reactive. Then to make me less attached to things.
These things all happen if you meditate regularly, as many of you know. But one of the most helpful things I’ve done is to drop the goal of meditation and mindfulness. And just be with my experience.
I think of this as the mindfulness practice of direct experience, and it’s something you can do every day, as many times as you can remember. It’s quite ordinary, and also quite a bit magical.
The practice of meditating on the breath is how this starts, of course: you stay with the direct experience of feeling your breath, in and out, the sensations of breathing your breath. Your mind wanders, you notice, you come back. If you like, you can label it “thinking” before you come back to the breath. But you keep coming back, even if you’re sidetracked for 5 minutes.
That is practice for direct experience of everything.
The thing is … our lovely minds get in the way.
If direct experience is like a movie that’s playing all the time, the mind is like a person who adds subtitles and commentary to the movie. Imagine a movie with commented text constantly plastered all over the screen — all over the place, all the time. You’d never actually see the movie!
That’s what our minds do. We have this miraculous reality right in front of us, and our minds block it all out with constant commentary and fantasties.
A few of the things our minds are constantly doing include:
These things also get us irritated, frustrated, angry, sad, worried, anxious. These are not terrible things, but they come from these commentary habits of the mind.
What would it be like if we dropped the commentary habit? What if we just experienced the movie without all the extra things overlaid on top?
Here’s the practice of direct experience, laid out simply:
You can just have the direct experience of life as it is. What a wonderful thing.
What will this practice get you? Calm, focus, peace, happiness? Maybe, probably, sure. But the thing the practice really gets you is just experiencing reality as it is. It’s wonderful, full stop.
This article was originally published on Zen Habits.
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