A different me

When you first start meditating, you meet a barrage of mental formations – thoughts, feelings, memories, and just random junk. If you have some faith and don’t give up, the formations that felt overwhelming start to feel less substantial. At first, you kind of take it for granted that the formations are you. You take them as the stuff that – together with your history, your body, your circumstances – make up your self. You think your thoughts and ideas and feelings are you. They’re a big part of how you know you’re you. Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. But if you keep releasing them in meditation, you start to identify with them less. You don’t heed their siren call. When a thought disturbs you in meditation, you turn your attention to your breath and let the thought dissolve. A space opens up between you and your mental formations, between the material being observed and the observer. You start noticing that someone – something – is noticing and releasing, something that’s not the mental formations themselves.

Slowly but surely, you get acquainted with a space, a silence, that includes all your noisy thoughts and feelings but isn’t limited to them. It occurs to you that the space – the space of awareness, of consciousness itself – might actually be closer to the real “me,” your actual self as opposed to all the compulsive language and memory churning inside the space. But it isn’t a personal self in the usual sense of the word “self.” It’s what Ejo called the Great Komyozo. It’s the “Treasury of Radiant Light.” In Ejo’s words: “To inhale or to exhale, to listen or to touch, being without thoughts and discrimination is nothing other than the tranquil illumination of the Light in which body and mind are one. Therefore, when someone calls, you answer. This is the Light in which ordinary people and sages, the deluded and the enlightened, are one.”

This sounds pretty esoteric, pretty exalted. But if you stick with zazen, you get to know this new feeling for this impersonal self. You recognize it as a glimpse of freedom, a freedom that’s yours, but not “yours” personally or possessively. It has a more spacious quality that doesn’t feel dependent on anything in particular. It may seem like a kind of big tent at first, a perimeter within which the material of consciousness arises, abides, and dissolves. But you discover that the tent has no roof, no sides, no poles. It’s something that’s just waiting there for you, no matter the conditions. To quote Ejo again: “Even in the midst of change, the Light is not hindered by it. Forests, flowers, grass, and leaves; human beings or animals, big or small, long or short, square or round: all manifest themselves simultaneously, independent of discriminating thoughts or will. This is proof that the Light is not obstructed by change.”

Getting to know this light is one of the fruits of practice.