Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Shikantaza Contemplative Prayer Calm


A Natural Rest ~ Shikantaza & Contemplative Prayer

Jun 30, 2018

Saying For Today: This natural rest is always present, has never left, is our natural abode. We are essentially this restfulness, this calm.

Calm Water

Deeply resting is the point
where we are no longer looking for anything else.

Anam Thubten. The Magic of Awareness (p. 27). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.

In a harried, hurried culture, one may find it difficult to remember what it means to be restful, including the joy of just being, doing nothing, all this like when one was a child. Yet, such is a natural state of being, and from this one can act, can work, can engage others in a more centered, calm way of being. So, this apparently fruitless activity of doing-nothing is the ground from which springs much good and a being-present that is the expression of calm, not a calm one projects by intent, rather a calm naturally arising moment to moment.

We likely each have had moments of return to this natural rest. Most persons speak of experiencing this in nature. If one goes to a hospital and sees persons looking into the room with all the newborn babies, one can view this natural, joyful restfulness, as persons stare in amazement at these little new from the womb creations. Watching the babies, there is nothing to accomplish, just looking is happening, admiration, no other moment to come from or go to. And one can feel this too when fishing, with just pole and watching, waiting for that bite, enjoying the sun bathing body and light caressing face, sunshine glistening off the trembling waters. This natural rest can be when alone or surrounded by others, with sounds or in quiet. This natural rest is always present, has never left, is our natural abode. We are essentially this restfulness, this calm.

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Sometimes this restfulness happens so deeply one feels he or she could remain in the moment forever, never leaving, never tiring, and when in that space he or she is in awe of what is happening, for one is not in some unconscious stupor ~ one is more awake than usual. This restfulness is a happening, a movement. This occurred to me on entering a room of one of the patients under my care. I walked in, life had left the body. No one was in the room. I stood in the dark room, for shades drawn, to meditate in prayerfulness for this departed one. Standing only about 2 foot from the lifeless body, there was the sense of standing in a spaciousness of unspeakable peace. The sense of self was aware of being in that vast, boundlessness, like infinity, like timelessness. I recall the thought arising of the perfection of the peace, of how I could stay contentedly there forever and, then, how life here goes on and I moved out of it ~ I don't know how to put it into words but "moved out of it," for it did not leave, I did ~, and I left the room to continue care for other patients.

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While this calm, spacious restfulness arises naturally, or it would not be a natural state of being, we can practice with conditions that allow the arising of natural rest and with learning how to be with it when it does arise.

Two meditation practices for this are Shikantaza, in Zen Buddhism, and Contemplative Prayer, or Contemplation, in Christian spirituality. These practices are the same and could be rendered "doing nothing" meditation. Really, one can as well say neither is meditation, just "doing nothing." Both can be prepared for through other practices in both traditions, among them zazen in Zen Buddhism and centering prayer, breath prayer, and mental prayer in Christian spirituality. Likely, few persons can engage these practices without much preparation through other meditation modalities. Why? This "doing nothing" is the simplest and most challenging meditation. Our sense of self is based on doing, our sense of worth on doing; so, we are inclined to meditation as another doing, and other practices satisfy that and exhaust that also. At some point, meditation begins to fail us, having served its purpose, and we are left with a longing to not-do, a ripeness to rest as Pure Awareness, as I Am-ness and not I am this or I am that. We realize we have a longing all our ardent meditation, and other practices, have not met and cannot fulfill. We are tired of being this or that, with being a captive to doing rather than doing being a natural expression of ourselves as human beings.

When in quietness and this "doing nothing" arises, and we are feeling the need to do something (i.e., pray a silent prayer, inwardly recite a mantra, seek insight, engage enlightened or holy thoughts...), we remind ourselves we do not want to do anything, we are wanting only to be with this natural rest. If we are truthful and our intention right, then the urge to do will relax of itself. Then, the urge will return, and we repeat the process. We do not judge ourselves, even when we forget and get lost in some doing. This is not about right or wrong. And one way we can aid this process is to feel the urge, noting what the feeling of the felt-need to do something feels like. After all, the urge to do, also meaning to resist natural rest, is a bodily experience, imprinted into us at a cellular level. And the slow growth in this calm and relaxed being-with is a transformation at a bodily level; indeed, we are rewiring the brain, the body. The lower mental functions are somatic in nature, body and mind being linked, for the brain is of the body and the conduit of thought. So, when we may feel discouraged at this, we can remind ourselves that this work is a reorientation of the bodily mechanism, so we can more easily accept graciously the difficulty in the process as well as be encouraged through this understanding.

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One key here is, when prepared to engage this "doing nothing," stay with it. I can be a witness from my own experience, even having this restfulness stabilized does not mean the transformation ends there, so deeply is the message of I-must-do is rooted in us and, likewise, this restfulness is layered ~ not simply a state we arrive at, at least that is my sense. So, when you think you have arrived, in time a more subtle resistance arises as movement to a more subtle restfulness. Again, I don't think this transformation ends while in the body. My sense is, we keep working with this and deepen the stabilization, but the intentional working-with-this never ends.

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Last, some closing encouragements. Enjoy this process ~ have fun! And do not underestimate how helpful having an experienced practitioner, who can demonstrate having grown into this natural abode of restfulness, can be to guide and encourage, as well as point out pitfalls along this way. Likewise, having a group or even one other person to meditate with can provide inspiration and accountability. For many of the years I have practiced this, I have been under a teacher whom I met with often, and having one was instrumental and, likewise, a joy.

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*All material, unless another source is cited, is authored by the presenter of Lotus of Heart, Brian Kenneth Wilcox, Florida USA. Use of the material is permitted; Brian only requests that credit be given and to be notified at 77ahavah77@gmail.com .

*Brian's book, An Ache for Union, is available through major booksellers.

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