My Actual Practice: Sitting with the Void

I share a lot of methods and views around here, but most of them are things I’ve tried out to make sure they aren’t toxic before passing them along. After each experiment, I go back to my practice. 

“Why don’t you just practice like a normal person instead of running off into la-la land?” Great question, Harvey. Everyone’s different, so just because something doesn’t work well for me long-term, doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else.

I practice Silent Illumination, or mozhao. But, that’s not quite right. Silent Illumination is what it opens up over time. It’s another word for Mind, for enlightenment. I like the old school zuochan (Tso-Chan), seated meditation. When I’m walking, it’s xingchan, walking meditation. Eating, well, you get the point.

Zen/Chan means meditation, and it means life. Zen isn’t something we do once a day on the cushion, it’s a lifestyle and a perspective. But, still, zuochan gives us that umph we usually need to keep it going.

I sit down, and sometimes take a few deep breaths. I might just focus on breathing, sometimes I’ll count using a 5-5-5 pattern (five beat inhale, five beat hold, five beat exhale). Then, I usually visualize a half-moon for a few minutes. For me, the half-moon represents poise and balance. At the same time, I’ll remember that everything that comes and goes is an appearance—including the half-moon.

Then I just sit mindful of whether there’s pushing or pulling in my mind. Thoughts and can come and go, feelings and images can cascade or trickle, I’m just concentrating on the presence or absence of pushing and pulling, attachment and aversion.

When those are absent, a kind of space opens up. That’s the first early Buddhist meaning of sunyata, the Void: a meditative dwelling. I sit and pay attention to that silence, that space. It has nothing to do with whether thoughts are still present or not. It’s the emptiness of just sitting, of not chasing things or running from them.

I playfully call it, “Sitting with the Void,” because it sounds cool. We do a lot to ignore or fill this Void. We look to the world outside for distractions and pleasures, and we look to gods and philosophy for meaning. In zuochan, all of that’s gone and we see that space we’ve been trying to fill.

It isn’t as scary as it sounds. It isn’t fear that keeps us playing all these games in our lives, it’s habit. The fear is of feeling out of control without those habits. But when you’re actually sitting there with it, with that Void, when you carry it with you in day-to-day life, it’s nothing special and it has limitless uses.

Since it’s the absence of pushing and pulling, there’s no anger or fear in it. Since living with it means no longer seeking satisfaction to fill it, it’s easier to feel satisfied. The old analogy is that, without this meditative void, the mind is like an overflowing cup. It can’t fit anything else in it, so it just keeps spilling everything out. The meditative mind is like an empty cup, which means it has potential. It can approach experiences in an open way that deals with them skillfully.

This is my practice at the moment, and the one I always go back to after each experiment.

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