Balance, poise, composure

When sitting in mindful meditation, minimal force is required – psychological and physical. Just enough physical force or effort to maintain balance, to stay upright and stable, to be awake and attentive. Psychologically, to be alert, open and receptive, without striving towards a goal, or for a reward (including enlightenment), or to add commentary, judgment or other reactive behaviour to our experience. We simply sit, just to sit – without forcing, without unnecessary intention or purpose. This is non-violence (ahimsa) in action. Clarity, insight and understanding arise when force and reactivity are minimised.

Dogen, in the Fukan-zazengi, advises us to sit in meditation, ‘neither thinking, nor not-thinking.’ He is, perhaps, suggesting that we should be neither holding on, nor pushing away. Acknowledge sensations, feelings and thoughts, but don’t indulge them or dwell on them – just note them and let them go. Don’t push thoughts away, and don’t cling to them, just be alert and let them be. Elsewhere, Dogen refers to ‘non-dwelling mind’ – the act of being awake to what is going on without dwelling on anything in particular. It is important to be at peace with whatever arises – in this way we can be clear about how things are, aware of what is happening, and thus act wisely and beneficially – with insight and understanding.

This is not a passive process, it is, instead, a dynamic process of maintaining balance between doing and not-doing, thinking and not-thinking – like a tightrope-walker, who has always to be alert, slightly shifting weight, just enough to stay upright. Moving with the wire and not against it – maintaining poise, balance and composure.

In one of the Zen classics, we are urged to ‘observe the mind in tranquillity, with equanimity’ – to observe the whole relational field of experience without attaching ourselves to any particular phenomenon or event. We just sit in peace, observing the procession of events without being disturbed by what comes along – as a heron stands, supremely alert, yet not interfering in any way in the stream of rippling water (until the moment comes to strike). We can learn from the heron, and the tightrope-walker.