The problems we face in life generally don’t require us to SEARCH for hard-to-find solutions or solve COMPLICATED issues, rather they require us to be CLEAR-HEADED to see the simplicity of it. So how do we get clear-headed? After sleeping well, we wake up and have a cup of coffee, take a shower, exercise, eat well, etc. Universally, each of us needs to feel safe from violence, in good health, have food, sleep and close friendships. Basically we need to feel OK and loved. If we don’t have these biological needs, it can be hard to be clear-headed, but as we learn to center our self we can get there in less favorable circumstances. That’s where meditation comes in. Meditation as training for an hour to learn how to wake up, not meditation as a moment to relax and let go like you would at the spa. Meditation is confrontation. We face our self vulnerably confident. Many Zen stories talk about this confrontation with metaphors like swallowing a molten ball of iron – you can’t spit it out and you can’t swallow it, so what do you do? You have to persist in the confrontation. Similarly, Sensei wrote about the Tiger Canyon where his answer was to make friends with the wolf. This confrontation is what our instinct pushes us to avoid, but eventually it’s too painful to ignore it. Pain is thus our natural motivator. Physical pain is useful in that sense because it urges us to take actions we need to, and in meditation physical pain is useful to help us pay more attention and be more alert. On the down side, it also makes it harder to relax and let go. My own experience of pain in meditation such as pain in the knees while sitting in full lotus, is that it’s intimately tied to fear of injury. This could just be me, but I think it’s a common experience. Once I face and dispel that fear, knowing the pain is not a sign of impending injury, the sensation actually abates. Then of course when I focus into deeper meditation, such things as pain, hunger, sleepiness all drop away as irrelevant objects of attention. This is Dogen’s, “all of a sudden body and mind drop away” and the entry to jhana.

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