I’ve been learning about pain: how it reveals my wishing it would go away, my complaining about its unfairness, my acknowledging helplessness, and my resisting friends’ offers of help. This morning at 5 o’clock, I decided to sit in meditation and explore ways of being with pain. That’s all I had: no grand plan, merely intention.
Breathing into the hurting areas I became aware of a gradual dissolving of pain. By truly welcoming the pain, by putting aside all thoughts of the medical reasons and implications, I simply sat with my body and infused it with loving kindness. Nothing special, no deep thoughts, simply presence. Warmth diffused that which I’ve been calling “pain” and for a few moments I sat in no-pain comfort.
The moment I switched back to thinking about what was happening, “pain” reentered my thinking mind. It reasserted its place, albeit with less ferocity. It was no longer the enemy, merely a phenomenon that (apparently) comes and goes. When I directed my attention once more to the area of discomfort, it receded from awareness. How is that, the thinking mind wanted to know. Just let it be, a voice responded, welcome the release just as you welcomed pain. Don’t make anything of it. Each are mere bubbles in a stream.
This experiment of meditation, observation, and realization brings to mind lines in “Poem on the Trust in the Heart” by Chien-chih Seng-ts’an, the Chinese Zen master who died in 606:
. . . The more you talk and think on this
the further from the truth you’ll be.
Cut of all useless thoughts and words
and there’s nowhere you cannot go
Returning to the root itself,
you’ll find the meaning of all thing.
If you pursue appearances you overlook
the primal source.
Awakening is to go beyond
both emptiness as well as form. . . .
Regarding the chant: in contemporary Zen centers it is called by different names. The chant book at my home monastery, from which this excerpt is taken, lists it as Affirming Faith in Mind. For some of the many translations, see the Internet Sacred Text Archive; for a translation into contemporary prose, see Richard B. Clarke. images: mysolae.com (top), www.deeshan.com/sosan.htm (bottom).