One day in 1976 I accompanied my teacher Kobun Chino Roshi to his weekly evening Dharma talk at the Santa Cruz Zen Center. Afterwards, we drove towards Monterey and Tassajara, the monastery he and Suzuki Roshi had founded. The restaurant we stopped at looked a little dicey, but Kobun said, “It’s OK, we can go anywhere.” When I finished my grilled cheese sandwich, he looked around and said, “This is a kind of strange place. Too strange.” We left.
It’s true that mindfulness can go anywhere. When you begin to practice mindfulness, you’re taking a deep dive into the sea of discursive thinking and constant commentary that you may think of as your inner life. Then, as you enter more dimensions of your inner world, your awareness can be filled with wonders: marvelous stories and scary emotions, a teeming variety of images and imagination swimming into consciousness from the vast ocean of emptiness.
You discover one of the great truths of this path: mindfulness is not enhanced by connecting with that which is good, and it’s not destroyed or diminished in any way by being aware of that which is not so good. Being mindful of the chaotic racing mind is just as beneficial as being mindful of the sublime stillness of your deepest meditation.
How amazing that we have this capacity within our consciousness for awareness that is indestructible, that can steady our hearts through the ups and downs of life. While our attention flickers and fluctuates wildly, mindfulness can go anywhere and remain intact, whole, complete.
Then with mindful clarity we can make decisions about which places are healthy and good for us, and which are too ‘strange’ — and move on. Practicing mindfulness allows us to incline the heart towards wise choices based on wisdom and self-compassion. Of course, it’s humbling to admit we can’t be wise all the time. Fortunately we can be mindful of this, too!
Image Credit: T. Goodman