Our minds work like a search engine. Type in a word or phrase (or experience a series of lived moments) and a slew of “answers” emerge. On a computer or a smartphone, we see auto-fill activate; experientially we jump to conclusions. It is this, or it is that, or it is the other. From just one or two cues, we compose an entire reality in the blink of an eye.

Now, this is a useful ability since it simplifies things and helps us make sense of a teeming profusion of input. But if we want to find peace or see into our true nature and the nature of all things, it can be maddening, too. In zazen practice, we observe just how doggedly we try to understand by formulating, categorizing, conceptualizing, and figuring things out. But what happens when we stay alert to this codifying activity, then recognize and unhitch from it, establishing our awareness in the present moment?

Auto-fill loses its grip. Zen invites us into direct experience, a transmission beyond name and form.

Are you already trying to figure out “beyond” or enter it into your search engine?

There is nothing wrong with thinking or with associating to our experience. But they won’t bring us to “the dearest freshness deep down things” (Gerard Manly Hopkins). They won’t help us awaken to the ordinary as extraordinary. Release your hold on auto-fill mind, give yourself over to this very moment, forget yourself as you just inhale, exhale, shop, and wash your face. Life and death, joy and sorrow, grime and sparkle, friends and enemies, will become your teachers, showing the Tao clearly and vividly.

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