Chapter 29 of the Tao te Ching says
Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.
The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.
So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes they are behind;
Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily;
Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;
Sometimes one is up and sometimes down.
Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency.…
Encountering this teaching may spark a protest within those of us who feel concerned about things like politics, the environment, the suffering of others, and our own wellbeing. We don’t want to feel that there is nothing we can do to help.
In fact, when we sit down to try meditation, most of us will notice a barrage of thoughts. If we get past preoccupation with the day’s tasks, we may find that we are bugged by many questions about suffering, the meaning of life, and our place in it. We might find ourselves angry, resentful, or grieving about things that happened in the past or worried about the future. We might have a nagging fear that if we stay in the present moment, we will discover that it is unbearably painful or that we are unworthy of a moment of peace, especially when others are suffering.
When encountering these tangles of thoughts, emotions, and accompanying physical sensations, many people conclude, “I can’t meditate.” However, beginning to notice all this with self-compassion is the foundation of meditation. We have these experiences not because “I just can’t concentrate,” but because we are human beings who have encountered confusing and painful things.
Many meditation practices involve focusing on something, like the breath or a mantra (brief saying or prayer). One that I often use combines the two-“Clear mind [breathing in], don’t know [breathing out].”
When I started out, I experienced a lot of self-judgment about my difficulty keeping my mind on the mantra as well as shame and confusion about what I saw on the “screen” of my mind. I pondered about the “correct” way to meditate~should I analyze the “stuff” on the screen? Just observe the “stuff” on the screen? Try to ignore it and focus on the mantra? I stopped and started and stopped again.
Years later, when I sit to meditate, I still often see a big mental jumble. But little by little, I develop compassion for that jumble. I begin to realize that not knowing what to do about this jumble, just observing it, is okay. I find the courage to tell somebody about my mental jumble and become aware that other people have them, too. The jumble begins to lose its power.
Every so often, when I’m sitting with my mental jumble, I find myself going back and forth between it and the mantra. Every so often, in the middle of something stressful, the mantra pops into my head. Something is shifting.
There are also times when the mantra is in the foreground, like a moon, full and bright. The mental jumble is there still, but at the far reaches of awareness. There are little wisps of me reaching out to try to solve some problem but most of me is seated in “don’t know mind,” is breathing, and is okay with that.
And then there are those very rare occasions when the mantra itself goes away and no other thought or worries rush in to take its place. I am just sitting, just walking, just doing the things of life, just being, a faint awareness that I am part of something larger without having to analyze and understand how, and even the concept of “I” grows fuzzy. It is snowing. The birds are singing. Sunlight glimmers on the sea.
On these occasions, whatever sense of a separate “I” exists experiences a “descent of grace” when the energy that was bound up in the mental jumble and the perceived weight of the world on my shoulders flows down into and out of my heart. There is a pulse of connecting with the world around me and letting go of efforts to fix it. Released from the perceived responsibility of solving the world’s problems, a perceived responsibility often accompanied by a shadow of resentment, I can experience an outpouring of love and gratitude for my surroundings.