Monday morning

This morning, for the first time in about a month, I went to morning practice at the Open Meadow Zen Group in Lexington, MA. Today, I’m under a deadline as I finish grading exams for the summer school class I’ve been teaching in Keene: the very class that kept me from practicing on Monday mornings. Somehow, facing today’s paper pile seems less daunting given how I started the day, with a spot of silence within sight of a lone tree standing like an island in a sea of tall grass while sunrise gleamed off distant clouds.

Garden buddha

Enlightenment is just like this: a spot of sun and silence that happens suddenly, will not last, and promises to stay with you, cherished. In my Zen school, we sometimes describe enlightenment as being both clear like space and as sharp as the end of a needle. Enlightenment is clear like space in the same way that looking at an open meadow clears your mind: ahhhh! In the absence of borders or boundaries, your consciousness is open and unfettered, unstressed and at peace.

At the same time, enlightenment mind is as sharp as the end of a needle. Right now, work awaits and a deadline looms: I’d best get busy! One-pointed “needle mind” doesn’t spend the day lounging in an open meadow if there’s work to do or sentient beings to save. Meditation isn’t about zoning out or “unplugging” from the mundane world with its challenges and traumas. Meditation is about cultivating a needle-sharp awareness so when challenges and traumas arise, you can act with a mind that is uncluttered, compassionate, and effective.

The world of business reminds us to “work smarter, not harder.” Perhaps on this manic Monday, I need to be both clear and sharp, tackling my paper-pile with a mind that is as fair as an open meadow and as sharp as the tip of a teacher’s red pen.