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Be Truly Alive
22m

Be Truly Alive

Learn to express your true nature and be truly alive.

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[Thomas McConkie, Mindfulness Teacher] Hello, and welcome to another episode of "Mindfulness+." I'm your host, Thomas McConkie. Thanks so much for listening today. Today's content is a Zen teaching. It's articulated many different ways across the ages. The way I first heard the teaching was in the English language from the great Suzuki Roshi. Not directly from his lips, but from his classic book, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind." Suzuki Roshi in this book, in his career, taught about, what he called in English, no gaining idea, no gaining idea. Let's go to the text and see what he says about this. This is from "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind." Suzuki Roshi says, "When there is no gaining idea in what you do, then you do something. In zazen, what you are doing is not for the sake of anything." So zazen is meditation. "In zazen, what you are doing is not for the sake of anything. You may feel as if you are doing something special, but actually it is only the expression of your true nature. It is the activity which appeases your inmost desire. But as long as you think you are practicing zazen for the sake of something, that is not true practice." Ooh, it's so good and pithy. Let's go back. "When there is no gaining idea in what you do, then you do something. In zazen, what you are doing is not for the sake of anything. You may feel as if you are doing something special, but actually it is only the expression of your true nature. It is the activity which appeases your inmost desire. But as long as you think you are practicing zazen for the sake of something, that is not true practice." Where do we start here? It's just like a buffet. No gaining idea. This first line, "When there's no gaining idea in what you do, then you do something." Let me translate that a little bit. When you're not doing something in order to get something else, it's not a means to an end. There is no end. There's only means. There's only activity. It's just happening. When you do that, when there's no gaining idea in what you do, then you do something. Or I would say, then you do something real, not something that comes from a desperate place of seeking. Not this feeling of lack like, "I'm not okay and maybe if I meditate and finally break through into something, then I can have a good life." It's not later. If we sit, if we live with no gaining idea, then we will do something real. What we do will be an expression of our nature. This is the teaching. It reminds me, I have a little story about this. I remember I was living in China, Shanghai specifically. So over 10 years ago now. And maybe I've talked about this on another podcast years ago. I can't remember. But I was just, I'd worn out my life. I'd worn out my career. I'd done it until there was nothing left anymore. There was no juice in it for me. And I quit. I quit my job without necessarily any concrete plan of what came after. And I remember thinking, "All right, I have a few bucks saved up. I can just hang out at the noodle shop and stay fed for a while. I have a little space to like not rush to the next thing." 'Cause maybe in my mind I had all sorts of ideas like, "What am I doing? Unemployed. I'm 29 years old. I should do something with my life." All these contrivances of how I should be. And instead of shoulding on myself, thank you, yes. That's right. I am quick with pun. Instead of shoulding on myself, I just kind of did nothing, or rather I lived with no gaining idea. I had this attitude like I'm not gonna try to make something happen. I'm gonna just notice what's already happening. And what happened? I found myself a little surprisingly hanging out at the cafe in the basement on the first floor of my building in downtown Shanghai. And I would talk to my friends and I would tell them there's this research that's got me all excited. And it happened to be research in developmental psychology, which sidebar, the last two episodes. If you go back last week and the week before, we've been really spotlighting developmental psychology. This eventually became a career of mine. I've been working in this area, doing research, using developmental models to inform my teaching and my coaching and so forth. But at the time, it was just hanging out in some cafe in some kind of anonymous place in the world. And I was giving myself to it without any sense that it was going anywhere. It didn't need to go anywhere 'cause in the moment I was just alive. After a few months of that, I realized, this town, Shanghai, it's not for me. It's for a lot of other people, but it's not for me, not right now. And I came back to the States and I found myself hanging out in a very economic little apartment downtown Salt Lake City. And I gave myself fully to my meditation practice. And I started reading books that I had read 15 years prior as I was getting on the path of meditation and I wasn't trying to become anything or make anything happen. I was just being, and this is what brought me to life. Now at this point in the narrative, I'm feeling self-indulgent. I'm not here to talk about my life history, but this experience for me, this no gaining idea, I got a real visceral sense, maybe for the first time in my life, certainly this deeply, where I wasn't trying to get something for what I was doing. I wasn't putting in the hard work so it would pay off later. I was just being. And when I hear Suzuki Roshi's words, "When there's no gaining idea in what you do, then you do something." He might have said in another moment in a different kind of language, "Then you're truly alive. You're in your natural state. You're doing and being what you cannot not do and what you cannot not be." And that's the trick of our human existence, that we have these powerful brains that can imagine what's going to happen in the future. And because we can imagine possible future scenarios, we can get drunk on them and lost in them. And we can constantly be trying to manipulate circumstances to try to get somewhere better. And this teaching of no gaining idea, what if right now, there's nothing to gain and there's nothing to lose? Absolute wholeness. Now of course, on a relative level, there's everything to gain and lose, right? There's the relative world. But this is a doorway, this teaching is a doorway into the absolute, no gaining idea. I'm already complete. I'm already fulfilled. I'm not only in the natural state, I am the natural state. I'm not studying the Buddha. I am the Buddha. When there's no gaining idea, then we do something. We do something real. Remember Suzuki Roshi later says, "As long as you think you're practicing zazen meditation for the sake of something, that's not true practice." If you're meditating 'cause you think it's going to get you somewhere, well, in a relative way, it will. You'll improve your concentration. And it could help with negative emotional states and rumination. And man, when I started meditating, it really took the edge off my anxiety. And all that's good. But Suzuki Roshi's saying don't get stuck there. That's good stuff. But compared to the fruits of this path, those benefits are trivial. True practice, to sit with no gaining idea, to live with no gaining idea, is to be truly alive. So that's the practice. That's what we're talking about here. And that's what's at stake: to be truly alive. No gaining idea, in some ways, it's so counter-instinctual. Everything about our programming is telling us to do this to get this. I'm doing this to improve myself. I'm doing this 'cause if I do it every day for 10 years, even though I hate it, I can finally retire early, et cetera, et cetera. What if we live right now with no gaining idea? What if we don't wait to come alive in 20 years from now? What if we're just alive right now? Let's sit. Not because we wanna get better at meditation. Let's sit with no gaining idea. Find a posture where you can just sit comfortably and be awake. And that's it. You're not trying to meditate. You're not trying to get relaxed. You're not trying to calm the mind. There's nothing you need to hold onto here. Nothing you need to let go of. Moment to moment to moment, experience blooms. It expands. It spreads even as it gathers itself up and passes away. And there's no gain or loss in it. It's just happening. You've spent a lifetime trying to get somewhere. Feel what it's like to get nowhere. What a relief. No extra points for meditating. No special favor with God or the Buddhas. Nothing to gain, nothing to earn. You already, radically, are. And even the part of you that gets anxious with this, the part of you that feels like you do need to earn something, that's okay too. No need to get rid of it. No need to get rid of anything. No need to hold onto anything. In this natural state, there's no identification with the doer, but the doing, the being, the happening just goes on and on and on. The part of you that lives life and practices with a gaining idea will certainly want to understand something. What are we doing here? What does it mean? There's nothing to understand. There's nothing to do, nothing to understand. Notice the different parts of yourself that don't believe it, don't trust that, "I'm doing this wrong. I'm missing that. He's saying something I just don't get." All empty and substantial clouds floating through the mind. Thought forms, coming and going. It doesn't mean anything. And it means everything. Feel how awesome and vast your being is. You might have forgotten this non-seeking, non-grasping mind. Non-seeking, non-grasping because there's nothing to gain, nothing to get. It's all here. It's all right here. When you do nothing, when you sit with no gaining idea, then you do something. Feel all that you're doing in this moment as being. You are the beingness, the very ground that supports the planet and the clouds and all life forms, all sentience. There's nothing you're not doing in this moment. And you're doing it all because there's nothing to do and nothing to gain. All of the feelings, all of the thought forms, the impulses, the sensations, perceptions of this individual identity all just happening, not a problem. You don't have to overcome the ego. You don't have to let go of the ego. You don't have to integrate the ego. You don't have to do anything. No gaining idea. What a revelation. Suzuki Roshi writes, "When you meditate, you may feel as if you're doing something special, but actually it is only the expression of your true nature." So when we sit, when we stand, when we walk, when we drive, when we play, when we exercise, when we cook, when we eat, when we laugh and cry with no gaining idea, we're just expressing our true nature. We're expressing nature. We're expressing the nature of nature. So your homework, should you choose to accept it, do everything you're doing, live your beautiful life. And when you remember, take a moment every day, take a few moments here and there, to sit, to live with no gaining idea. And when you live with no gaining idea, then you will be truly alive. This is "Mindfulness+." It's a pleasure to be with you. I'll be back with more next week.

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