Peace During the Holidays

It's wonderful to have time to celebrate the holidays with family and friends. The holidays mean many things to different people. And sometimes, this can be a challenging time of year for some. So I'd like to say something about how we might approach this time of year in a way that would help us be at peace with ourselves and those around us. There is a Zen story about a student who is not at peace with himself. His mind is busy and restless. He's much like you or I, when we get stressed out, worried and anxious. I'm sure you are intimate with this condition. I hear this question from students all the time. "How can I have peace of mind?" So the story continues, and the student visits a Zen Master and sincerely and openly admits to the teacher that his mind is not at peace.

The teacher tells the student, "Bring me your mind, and I'll put it to rest." So perhaps at this point, the teacher tells the student to go practice meditation and in this deep silence with himself, inquire into the nature of mind itself and see what he finds. The student does so, and returns to the teacher and says, "I have searched for the mind, but I cannot find it."

If you, like this student, sit down in meditation and practice returning your attention to your breath, you will also discover that what seems like a very busy and hyper-active mind is by it's very nature, still and luminous, and cannot be located anywhere. We speak of this kind of intimacy as "touching the mind". You touch it breath by breath, moment by moment. When you slow down in this way, you will discover that it's possible to have this grounded, embodied awareness that is peaceful and still, no matter what the outward circumstances might be. Your conceptual mind cannot reach it.

Having searched and inquired the student comes up empty. The Diamond Sutra says, "Dwell nowhere and bring forth that mind." So now the teacher tells the student, "I have completely put it to rest for you." In other words, when you reach this place of intimacy and stillness within yourself, you will be at peace with yourself and the world.

Living a Zen-inspired life is to find this peace which passes all understanding and is beyond what our conceptual mind can grasp or control. We practice daily meditation in order to strengthen and cultivate this kind of awareness. This kind of awareness is always fresh and new. When we are able to live our lives in this way, we can deal with any obstacles or difficulties with more balance and clarity.

So during these holidays, I encourage you to enjoy being with your family and friends and with children. But also make time to reflect and be still. It's winter after all, so it's also a time to slow down and take the full measure of what it means to be alive and how much we can appreciate and express our gratitude for the mystery and wonder of it all.

by Robert Althouse