My first teacher Dae Soen Sa Nim taught us to practice mindfulness with simple Zen phrases: “Only go straight, don’t-know!” He encouraged us all to “Keep this don’t-know mind, try, try for 10,000 years, non-stop.” This was the beauty of his dedication, to keep practicing the teachings of mindful awareness from this moment all the way through the vast sweep of history. During my own retreat last week, the teacher, Bhikkhu Analayo led us gently into the same compassion and emptiness of the “don’t-know mind” that Dae Soen Sa Nim always pointed to. How helpful that instruction to ‘only go straight, don’t know – turns out to be!
When I’m mindful and catch myself looking around at others to see what to do or where to go, I can usually tell the difference between learning from others and comparing myself to them. In comparing, I’m running away from connection to my own being and looking back or off to the side, or to another moment in the future, instead of looking at the actual facts of my own life. Of course, I can feel compassion for the human tendency to look outside of ourselves for guidance, reinforced by some of the values of our society. A culture that values competing and comparing over collaboration and cooperation, power over instead of power with, fosters self-doubt and insecurity.
Comparing myself to others, or striving to be like someone else, instantly disconnects me from the richness and resourcefulness of who we are. With mindfulness, I can find the courage to trust the living truth of my present experience and go forward – into the unknown future, not looking left or right – only go straight, don’t know!
It is the same for you too. As you practice mindfulness and loving awareness you can connect more deeply with yourself and others. You can listen and trust your own unique life. And in this wild and uncertain world, you can act with genuine courage and compassion – even when you can’t know the outcome. You can keep going in the direction that leads straight ahead, right into the fresh aliveness of this moment you don’t yet know.