Zen Mountain: Leave It All Behind
“What day is it?”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
Last weekend I spent nearly four days leading a retreat, at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. To get to this Zen center, you make a journey through a twisting bumpy rising falling mountain road, and then you’ve arrived.
And what a place to arrive at! It’s a place of peace, with a silently gushing river, people meditating all the time, everyone walking slowly, no distractions, constant gratitude and mindfulness. A beautiful place of peace.
As I contemplated the peace of leaving it all behind, I wondered why we need a place in the mountains for this kind of peace.
And so I’ve been practicing (imperfectly, of course) leaving it all behind, no matter what I’m doing.
What is this like?
Imagine you’re going to meet with someone, but you’re still thinking about the project you’ve been working on. You’ve brought the project with you. It distracts you so that you don’t fully hear the person you’re with, and they can sense your lack of attention, your lack of presence. This hurts the relationship. It stresses you out, because you’re working on the project and talking with someone at the same time. You are less competent with one task because you’re still thinking about another.
Stress, less competency, and hurt relationships. This is what we have when we bring everything with us to every activity.
But if you can leave the project behind, the talk will be much better. You’ll be fully present, fully engaged. Less stressed.
A place of peace.
How to Leave It All Behind
So how do we leave everything behind, so that we can find peace?
It’s not easy. It’s practice, then more practice. But it’s worthwhile practice.
Here’s what I’ve been doing:
When I arrive in a new place, or talk to someone, or start something new … I pause.
Then I take a brief moment to journey through the mountain road, leaving behind the rest of my life. I let go, by loosening my grip, by relaxing instead of grasping. I see it fall behind.
I then arrive in the new place. I look around, smile, enjoy. I inhabit the new place. I give thanks for being here.
Then I put my attention on this new place. This new person. This new activity.
When I notice my attention wander, I return.
I let go of the need to check, to constantly be busy with something else, to know what’s going on or to do everything.
I am just here.
And here is great.