A Blank Slate
The beginners mind or bare attention, are phrases used from time to time to describe the practice, they are sometimes expressed in a couple of different ways, but these can be misleading. They can suggest that we are to come to the practice with no judgements, or relying on our previous experience, and to some extent this is true, we should not come to the practice with the baggage of preconception, or taking philosophic ideas to the practice, we should look at the practice as it is, judging the experience as it is then reflecting on it, from its own standpoint and our own knowledge. Taking the position of not controlling the process has similarly problematic results to controlling it, there are certain things which we need to control, such as the mind, if we are attempting to watch the breath but keep thinking about silly, or irritating things such as the shopping list or the person who cut up off while we were driving home the other night, we aren’t focusing on the breath, so we need to tame the mind in order to progress with watching the breath, or if our breathing is short and shallow and we are starting to hyperventilate or feel lightheaded this too is of no use to the practice, we would need to discern what is making the breath act in such a way, then find a better way, this may simply be having better ventilation, altering the posture slightly, or taking some deep breaths. I should, here, mention some problems of controlling the process, we can force our breath to be a certain length either long, short, or in-between, but by doing this we may get a better picture of how aspects of the body works, but we also may forget that the body has been breathing longer than we have controlled it and takes the breaths suitable for its survival, we can then begin to force control on all aspects of the process, and this puts allot of strain on us. The Taoists have a wonderful saying which can be good to remember here, “That which is too hard snaps, that which is to soft folds,” in other words control when we need to, don’t control when everything is working ok.
Seeing what is
When we practice we aim to see what is, not how we think it is, but how it actually is! We can come up with any number of metaphorical assertions to justify why something is or isn’t a certain way, but we are not guaranteed to get it right by doing so. When we face a problem in our practice, or life, more generally, we need to look at all sides of these, reflect on them, see if your thoughts are correct through looking at the other possibilities, is there a thought that avoids the two extremes which every situation poses? It's not what you look at, nor what you see that matters; it is how you look and how you see that matters! This may seem simple, and in one respect it is, but it is the actual application of this that is at times difficult, not because doing this is, but because we have trained ourselves to look at things in our own context, taking what is in a way which isn’t how it is.
Shut-up and Do it!
The practice is simple, it is simply “know the object as it is” don’t see the Ugly as Beautiful, the harmful as harmless, the impermanent as permanent, but the ugly as ugly, the beautiful as beautiful, the harmful as the harmful, the harmless as the harmless . . . calm the mind, look at every possible angle of the breath, the body, the feelings, mind, or thoughts, then discern how they actually are, not how you want them to actually be.
At the end of the day I may be right, I may be wrong, but I share this hoping I am one, the other, both, or neither.