The Thinking Mind

When I lived at Tassajara, and we got up ridiculously early in the morning to sit the first periods of zazen, I would sometimes reflect that the contents of my mind in those early hours did not really seem that dissimilar to the contents of my mind when I had been asleep previously. There was something almost comforting about that continuity of mental activity, that awake thoughts were not very much more rational or dependable than dreams.

These days I don’t sit first thing, but when I do sit, in the middle of the day, or in the afternoon, I often find my mind turning sleepy, and something like the same process happens in reverse. Even if I am guiding a meditation, and trying to hold a string of instructions in mind to sprinkle throughout the session, I find myself drifting through fragmented thoughts, or disconnected fleeting images that seem somehow meaningful and attractive – though, as with any state that verges on sleep, it is impossible to retrace the steps that led to an image, or sometimes even to fully grasp what it was.

Uchiyama Roshi frequently called the content of our mind ‘the scenery of our life’ – just things glimpsed momentarily; real, sure, but not necessarily something to depend on or give all our energy to.

This failed photo – taken while I was riding my bike, and got my phone bag in front of the lens, could represent those fleeting dream-like images of the half-asleep mind.

(This post first appeared on my Patreon page)

One thought on “The Thinking Mind

  1. The mind is useful sometimes, like when a dharma truth that you studied or heard spoken before hand comes to mind to help you get things in perspective. We should not confuse buddha mind with monkey mind nor forget that it is almost immpossible to convey the truth perfectly with just words. If we try we will likely do much better than we thought we were doing.


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