When we first take up a sitting practice and look into our minds, we may be shocked to discover what’s going on in there. As the inner noise quiets down a bit, we start to see how scattered and unruly the thoughts are—how they race and tumble and repeat themselves, compulsively judging, labeling, dissecting.
We begin to feel the cocoon we’ve woven for ourselves out of all this mental turmoil and deadening abstraction, how it isolates us from others and from the rich texture of our lives. What often becomes painfully clear is that as long as this compulsive inner dialogue persists, any true sense of peace, intimacy, and presence is impossible.
This first step of simply experiencing the “monkey mind” is a necessary and important point in practice. Vajrayana teachings call it the stage of “Attaining the Cascading Mind,” and it is in fact a notable attainment, for it occurs only when we free ourselves, even slightly, from a tight identification with our habitual discursive thinking.
Grappling with all this mental and emotional disorder isn’t easy or pleasant. Even more daunting is to face–often for the first time–the painful egocentricity of our inner world, with all its pettiness and self-partiality. But the process is also humbling, and can inspire us to dive more deeply into the practice. And with daily zazen we begin to taste the effects, often very subtle at first, of working with the mind in a new way.
We begin to see we can actually do something about these mind-states–that real change is possible. This recognition sparks an exhilaration and buoyancy that carries us along through all sorts of changing circumstances, helping us to work through the resistance and self-doubts that inevitably arise, in all their myriad and creative forms. As old habit patterns gradually loosen their hold, we naturally feel more connected and alive. And a faith grows in us, a budding sense that we can awaken to our own boundless nature–and that the world has long been waiting for us to do just that.