I went to a zen meditation session today. At first the monk leading it was talking about watching any thoughts with acceptance while you meditate, something that I’m very familiar with. Then he said ”It’s impossible not to have thoughts”.
Actually, getting to a place of no-thought is something that I often aim for and now and then achieve. When I take a long time watching my breathing I can ‘go up a level’ as I call it, where there might be visuals but the busy thinking mind is absent. Then the calm restful healing can really happen.
Somebody beside me spoke up: “I can do meditation without thoughts”. But the leader wouldn’t have any of it. “It’s impossible” he said, delighted with his certainty.
I thought stilling the mind was a cornerstone of Zen. It’s why I turned up at the class – even as a kid, before I even knew what meditation was, I would sometimes slip into this kind of state. If I found myself in a silent room sometimes I would just soak up the atmosphere and the feeling of ‘here and now’ till it was so intense, so present that the blood seemed to be singing in my ears. There certainly wasn’t any thought going on.
In recent years I have seen my own spiritual path starting to become clearer, but it is delicate. And when I come into contact with people who are very definite about a contrary view it disturbs me. I instinctively take account of everything that comes my way so I can quite easily get blown off course.
I was trying to enjoy the session (a bad thing, trying!) but the comments he had made put me off a bit. Hasn’t he heard of Samadhi? One-pointed mind is a key concept in Buddhism and Hinduism. I said “What about the present moment? When you are deeply present there are no thoughts”. He said “What I’m saying is it’s very hard”.
Ok then. I now realise that what he’s trying to say is don’t feel like a failure if you have thoughts. Don’t fight them or try to banish them; that would be counter-productive and would make a lot of people give up. I totally agree with that.
But personally, I don’t need that reassurance at the stage I’m at. I do a lot of my meditative stuff on my own but I’m interested to find people who are on the same page as I am, as I widen my understanding and ‘go up a level’ together.

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