Friday, September 3, 2010

Muddy Thoughts and Clear Minds

Our true mind is a clear mind. We often forget this. We let our thoughts muddy our minds. But our true minds are like a glass of pure water. Put sand in the glass and the sand sinks to the bottom and discolors the water. But the original water is still pure water. So it is with our minds. We just have to remember that our natural state is one of a clear mind. A clear mind is a calm and happy mind. We need to return to this over and over again, and when we know that this is the original nature of our minds, then we simply need to return gently and patiently.

Often when we cloud our minds with worrisome thoughts we just want to get rid of those thoughts as quickly as possible. I know I do. They are not pleasant thoughts. They taint the way we look at everything--our present moment, our imagined future, our remembered past. But sometimes you just have to give them time. You have to accept that this is where your mind is. I used to think that "enlightened" people, Zen teachers, for example, always had clear mind, never worried, and constantly lived with bliss in the present moment. I could not have been farther from the truth. I studied with a Zen teacher for five years, seeing her several times a week. She had studied Zen for almost thirty years, several decades with prominent Zen teachers in America and Japan. She had lived in a Zen monastery in Japan for five years. I assumed she would always have clear and calm mind. But, like every "enlightened" teachers she is still a human being and by nature we as human beings have active minds that often think and over think and worry. The difference is that she, as a Zen priest, understood that this was not her natural mind. Her natural mind was one of purity. She gently and repeatedly returned to this state of mind.

So must we, over and over again. It takes practice. It takes effort. It means looking at our minds and understanding our minds. It means accepting our minds when they muddy themselves. It's not always easy to accept our minds or our situations. But sometimes for a clear mind to occur we must. For example, where I live I hear the sound of traffic from a prominent four lane highway about a mile away and the sonic boom of jet airplanes as they pass overhead on their way to the airport about five miles away. Both of these sounds have always bothered me. They intrude upon my idea of peace, which is one with more silence. But that is an important admission: it is my idea of peace. Someone else might not care about the traffic and jet sounds. I can either let it bother me and make me unhappy and discontent or I can accept it as what is happening right now, right here.

It is the same with our thoughts. If we find ourselves thinking constantly in angry, fearful, depressed, or discontent ways than we shouldn't accept this as "the way we are" and just continue thinking these thoughts. This is resignation to a pattern of thinking that is not healthy for us mentally or physically and certainly doesn't create a life fully lived. What we have to do is examine, investigate, and analyze those thoughts. Where do they come from? When do they creep into our lives? Why do they appear? Why do we continue to think like this? Once we can identify and categorize them we have more power over them. We can accept them because we understand them. We shouldn't try to get rid of them as soon as they appear because they will just keep reappearing. We have to deal with them. And we deal with them by looking at them and naming them. We deal with them by asking ourselves what is a different way of thinking about this situation? What change do I need to make in myself or my situation to prevent this thought or feeling from sullying my clear mind again? When we can do that then more often than not we can have the clear mind that is our true nature.

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