Returning to Rest Awareness

Returning to Rest Awareness

Here’s an inexact analogy for the kind of practicing I’ve been suggesting recently:  We’re like the old nineteenth-century forester who routinely goes into his forest and chops down dead and dying trees, hauls the wood out and uses it as fuel, burning it up to provide warmth for himself, his family, and anyone who visits.  Even as he does this hard work, he’s mostly concerned about the overall health of the entire forest. 

When he is in the forest, he’s acutely aware of how it’s doing, intuitively picking up information from the greenness of the leaves, the songs of the local birds, the activities of all the forest critters, etc.  If he’s a good forester—i.e., good at his calling—he’s also occasionally filled with joy as he goes about his work, deeply appreciative of the mystery of all that growing, changing life around him.  Perhaps, at times, he may even feel at one with it all.

Does the forest need a forester?  Not really.  It would undoubtedly go on living without him for a long time, feeding off the mulch and dead trees, playing out its natural life span.  Nonetheless, the forester is there and has taken on the job of husbanding the forest.  After all, he needs fuel for his own life and actually depends on the forest for it.  And the forest has somehow accepted his interventions and has adapted and also thrives. 


So, as we (Zen foresters) work on our ego structures (dead, dying, or sick trees) and their many requirements laid down over the years, seeing through them, and clearing them out to some degree, more of the living, healthy forest (life just as it is) becomes obvious and available to us. 

When we quietly walk through the forest or perhaps sit down on a log and just be (meditation), the true nature of the forest slowly reveals itself for the mysterious wonder it is.

Here’s a meditation exercise you might enjoy:  Try this one at night, in bed, lying on your back, in darkness, eyes closed.  Or you can also do it in a sitting position, but make sure the room is quite dark.  Firstly, engage in whatever your regular meditation practices are (following the breath, breathing in and out of the heart space, deep listening, or just lying there quietly). 

When you feel settled (it’s perfectly fine if there are still thoughts, sensations, feelings), become aware of the darkness, its spaciousness.  You can even play with trying to find its outer edges in all directions, but mostly just rest in that dark spaciousness. Now, here’s an instruction not normally associated with meditation: ever so gently, begin to very slowly move your head side to side a few times.  What do you notice or discover?  Then, stop moving your head and return to still meditation, to “resting as awareness” as best you can.

In terms of the analogy, we are the forest and the trees and the forester.  Can we truly see that?                                   

Al Zolynas    11/2/2014