Meditation, Waves and Water

Light at my back

“To take this posture itself is the purpose of our practice. When you have this posture, you have the right state of mind, so there is no need to try to attain some special state. When you try to attain something, your mind starts to wander about somewhere else. When you do not try to attain anything, you have your own body and mind right here… Enlightenment is not some good feeling or some particular state of mind. The state of mind that exists when you sit in the right posture is, itself, enlightenment.
Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

I came to this book through another, called Wherever You Go, There You Are.

Wherever You Go, There You Are is one of those books I heard about for years before I finally began to read it this Spring. I love this book and it’s rough cut edges – the texture itself encourages me to be more present, more aware. The pages are filled with essays, ideas and practices from author Jon Kabat-Zinn, and he refers to the wisdom of many other great teachers, writers and thinkers throughout the book. One of them is Shunryu Suzuki, Zen meditation master and author of the meditation classic, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, which I’ve quoted above.

“‘The state of mind that exists when you sit in the right posture is itself enlightenment… These forms [sitting meditation] are not the means of obtaining the right state of mind. To take this posture is itself the right state of mind.“‘ quotes Kabat-Zinn, and he explains: ‘In the sitting meditation, you are already touching your own truest nature.’  

This is so simple, so calming. It speaks to a sensation that I often feel in my seated practice, which I’ve begun to identify as my mind returning to my body. Maybe rather than returning, it is simply the sensation of being in my body; sensation that is always there waiting for the moment I am able to separate from the stories of my mind. I notice this almost invariably when doing my seated work or in centering before asana practice and teaching classes. I do not notice it during movement practices, when my mind is absorbed with the work of animating my body. But when I am sitting still, my mind is free to wander and it does, with great intensity and frequency. When I notice that I’ve begun to slouch or drop my chin, I reset my posture and feel this sensation. When I notice tension in my face that’s arrived with a particular thought or memory and I consciously let it pass, this sensation occurs. This is what it feels like to be present, attentive, to touch my own true nature. This simple definition of being makes some sense to me.

I’d been coming back to these words for a few days when I was asked to fill in for Zen Meditation practice at Patanjali’s Place, where the regular teacher requested I use Suzuki’s book. Because of this I had the serendipitous and timely opportunity to read his words in their complete form, from the source. The experience of reading and facilitating this practice was humbling. And nourishing. There is an irony to me leading a zen meditation. I found Zazen to be the most challenging form of meditation I was introduced to during my yoga training a few years ago. I did not attempt to keep my eyes open as my normal practice is with closed eyes. I first thought, “This is surely a profanation, what would Suzuki think?!” and then,”Perhaps he would find it funny”. I watched both thoughts slide on by and returned to my breath, my count.

In his book, Suzuki goes on to address the nature of mind:
“Even though waves arise, the essence of your mind is pure; it is just like clear water with a few waves. Waves are the practice of water. To speak of waves apart from water or water apart from waves is a delusion. Water and waves are one…When you understand your mind in this way, you have some security in your feeling.”

“Waves are the practice of water.” I do have some security in this understanding. The waves of our mind are the same, they are the very nature of mind. I’m still letting this sink in. Even though I’ve come to understand that meditation isn’t about stopping my thoughts, these words are a balm to my soul. My thoughts are the nature of my mind, and I can be (perhaps) as unbothered by them as the depths of the ocean are unbothered by the tides at it’s surface. It means we aren’t doing anything wrong when our mind wanders, our thinking mind is just doing what it does. Our mind will be turbulent and it will be still. We can cultivate a quiet mind, but there will always be some ripples. It’s about watching the ripples extend and dissolve and begin with the next disturbance. It’s about letting them flow. If we try to catch the ripples in our fingers our hand gets wet, the same way our body is effected by the nature of our thoughts. But we can’t hold the ripples themselves. They flow out as surely as one thought leads to the next, just as surely as waves to the shore.

For more, read Be Like Water on Bruce Lee’s Artist of Life – from Maria Popova at

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