We humans use a very “large amount of time" preoccupied with trying to make sence of the experiences we have. Very quickly after we experience something through
our sences, through what we see, hear, taste, smell, we categorize it, evaluate it, and try to make some kind of sence of it, intellectually. We put the experience in a story, our created story, a story we use a lot of time to maintain.
Now, stories might have usefulness to it in helping us navigate our lives and in looking after our body. But we fall very easily into the trap of thinking that our story is reality itself. When we believe our stories, they become our reality … without actually being it.
Our suffering arises when we believe our stories so much that they become our reality, a reality we live and act upon … and become constantly preoccupied with maintaining them as we live our lives. Only maintaining it, can in itself be distressing, depressing and exhausting.
Stories very quickly become our “prison”, or mental reality that we live by, or even literally a living hell depending on the content of them. What story did my friends who commited suicide have in their minds? What story did Hitler have in his mind? What story did his soldiers have in their minds? What story do my depressed friends have in their minds? What story do the "bullies" have in their mind? What story do you have in your mind?
Life painfully hits us sometimes, there is no escaping from that. Just by having a body, life hurts. But through our stories we easily end up with continuing hitting ourselves ... again, again, again and again.
This mental pain which we, consciously or unconsciously inflict on ourselves or others, is in contrast to bodily pain, non-concrete and difficult to "locate", but can non the less be really hurtful. I don't think I'm mistaken when saying that we could easily prefer to handle the concrete physical pain from taking a beating, over the pain from living in some of the mental hell's we create and live by in our stories. Bodily pain will always be a part of being alive, but suffering comes with our stories ...
It’s tragic, but at the same time, it is also the good news, ... that stories are something we add upon our experiences. One of my teachers, Hyon Gak Sunim, often repeats "Thoughts are nothing but shadows, empty shadows. They are like the shadows on the floor. Not the thing (reality) itself, but reflections of it. They have no real substance". This is very important teaching and when realizing it, we can see that we ourselves are the architect of the hell we live in, we create the stories ....
ZEN, which is direct experience, is liberation from this constant storymaking, it is liberation from these mentally constructed hell's and prisons, and the suffering that comes with it.
Just with the simple practice of directly experiencing the moment, ... moment after moment without falling out into our storymaking mode. Direct experience of moment, means being right here, right now, in that moment. Being right here, right now means see, hear, taste, smell …. and ONLY see, hear, taste smell.Just perceiving moment as it is, without adding our mental stuff to it.
Sometimes we get really stuck in our thoughts and stories, and need help apart from the pure meditation. Sometimes we might need help from a loving and insightful psychologist to dissolve the knot in our mind, caused by a difficult experience or trauma. But in general, zen practice, will help us, enable us … to see it for what it is, just stories, and nothing but stories.
So let’s do it, let’s do this simple practice of zazen, this practice in returning to moment through direct experience, and learn to se reality as it truly is … for the sake of ourself and all sentient beings ….