My decision to practice zazen was also simple: I desperately craved a refuge. Rarely do I find comfort in the scriptures or in my church meetings; in fact, I often leave my ecclesiastical endeavors filled with turmoil and further questions. I have come to appreciate these emotions as productive—pushing me to find more answers, to turn the doctrines of God over again in my mind, to come and reason together. It is not after a particularly peaceful sacrament meeting but a particularly irritating one that I will break through self-imposed barriers of culture and spiritual myopia to discover a new theological possibility. Mormonism, after all, is a faith in which one is anxiously engaged. But sometimes, I need a break from this constant anxiety and engagement.
If I seek peace, if I seek the balm of Gilead for my wounds, if I seek a pavilion or hiding place to shelter me from the raging storms of life, I do not turn to holy writ or ordinances or prayer, whose paradoxes only agitate my mind. Rather, I sit and be still, attempting to know who is God. I sit until my mind resembles my motionless body. I stop doing works and simply empty my mind until it fills with eternity. And the more I sit, the less the anxiety and engagement that define the Mormon worldview sit well inside of me. If our gospel is one of peace, why does it cause so much conflict within me? If God is a God of love, why does so much of his plan for us create sorrow and division? If our Church is one that strives for total conversion and inclusion, why do I feel so isolated and betrayed by the culture it produces? If I’m trying to find answers to these questions while sitting, I know that I have not sat long enough. I need to quit thinking and just settle, like sediment in a pond. Only when this happens can I experience God’s infinities in all their horizon-expanding glory.
I suffer because of how I relate to my thoughts and feelings. I suffer because I try to build on thoughts and feelings, all of which are ephemeral and unstable. Suffering comes from clinging to hope and recoiling from fear, an exhausting carousel. At times a truly significant event incites the cycle, but just as often it is a small slight, inconvenience, or success (many of which are also completely imaginary). Thoughts and feelings never fully satisfy me because they are all fleeting. I am exhausted because I am always treading water.
“We cannot deny the existence of pleasant and unpleasant sensations, but they are trivial with respect to genuine well-being.”
I will fail if I attempt to force the mind and heart to be silent, or calm, or happy, or peaceful. The key is to:
- Begin again and again in my practice of being aware of
- thoughts and feelings which are
- individually temporary, and
- collectively never-ending.
Over time, experiencing thoughts and feelings in this way allows me to step behind the water fall. It is here, behind the stream but fully aware of it, that I find stable footing.