There is the Zen story of the old monk who had been practicing meditation and studying for many, many years but he had not yet experienced awakening. One day he was sweeping in the monastery garden and a stone hit the side of a bamboo tree. Hearing this sound, he immediately became enlightened.
When you see plum blossoms, or hear the sound of a small stone hitting the bamboo, that is a letter from the world of emptiness.
– Master Shunryo Suzuki
In Zen there is much use of the word emptiness – “empty mind” or even, “no mind.” This is a very essential point because our minds have the tendency to attract clutter. The mind can be like a closet, full of the remnants of our lives.
I have often heard people criticizing themselves for having a poor memory. It is not a poor memory that is at issue. Rather, it is that we fill the mind up with so much stuff, that it gets to the point where we can’t take anything else in.
Perhaps the largest chunk of what gets stuck in the mind is as a result of discrimination. By that I mean the endless processing and rehashing of the information that is clogging up the mind. “I like this.” “I don’t like that.” “What did she mean when she said that?” “What’s wrong with me?” “Why did my life turn out like this?” “I really, really, really want that. When I get it, then I’ll be happy.” “I have to learn how to find the perfect form in every triangle pose I do.”
This is, of course, how the mind has learned to function. But don’t worry. There is a solution. It comes through the practice of Non-Discrimination. Non-Discrimination and Emptiness are the same. Things happen. They always have and they always will. The question is, how do you respond to those things that happen? Do you immediately form judgments? Do you desire to change it or deny it? Do you become anxious about it? That is discrimination. The event becomes an object that you wish to exercise some control over.
Or, can you stop and observe the event that is happening? Is it possible to recognize your response to the event? Can you simply allow both the event and the response to be here? Shunryo Suzuki also said, “Just sit and see what happens.” This means to observe without the clutter of discrimination. You may discover that when you allow yourself to practice Non-Discrimination there is a tremendous amount of empty space around the event. Within this spaciousness there is a deep and simple joy waiting for you.
Allow yourself to truly see the plum blossom.
-This essay is excerpted from my book, The Beautiful You That You Know Yourself to Be: Finding the Eternal in Everyday Life