I just returned from a 6 day silent retreat at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe. As I headed home, I felt the familiar challenge of how to talk about this experience to my friends and family. What can I say about why this is important to me, for our relationships, for the Earth?

I still feel the comfort of silence and deep contemplation and a sense of deep connection to all beings in that sitting & walking meditation. Daily services of chanting and bowing, eating practices day after day filled me with peace and goodwill. I noticed my judging mind actually relaxed on Day 4. It was like the snow had just covered all the negativity and life was white and peaceful and loving.  Is this what we call Awakening? Zen practice is simple and complex both—learning to honor all living beings including our own preciousness as a part of it all — a path of deep service. It was a sort of detox of the mind and body allowing me to deeply feel the pain of all that I have felt that limited or shut me down. Zen practice feels like a path that helps me let go of all that does not serve me so that I can reclaim who I really am inside.

Meditation is about “waking up.” But what are we waking up from? What I am learning from my experience of deep meditation (which can also come from a daily mindfulness practice of 20 minutes a day that you do on your own) is that I live in a world that takes me away from my own goodness, ie, my own intention to take the high road, to choose positive and caring thoughts and actions, a loving and open heart. When I choose to live intentionally, I start with a mindfulness practice that teaches me how to “let go” of the negative and judgmental thoughts so that the good intentions that are already there can arise naturally. When we sit quietly over time, we drop all those conditioned thoughts that drive us in an unhealthy way. I see them just drop away like leaves falling off a tree slowly in the fall. These negative patterns just drop away when they are not reinforced or activated by the doing and pace of our busy patterns and behaviors running our lives in our culture.

What is left is you experiencing this feeling of “Waking Up.” So, the meditation practice we are working with this month is “Letting Go Practice” because when you learn how to let go in your practice, you can learn to apply it to how you work with your mind, your thoughts, which in turn, eventually allows you to reprogram your life.

Take a moment, now, to feel your own pace right in this moment and what it takes to slow down your breathing and drop into a mindful moment.

Breathing in I feel my inhale

Breathing out I feel my release

Breathing in I feel nurtured

Breathing out I feel calmed

Letting Go is about letting go of the thoughts that take over our minds and hijack us. A teacher once told me, “When you dwell in stillness the judging mind can come through like a foghorn saying ’This is boring, I don’t think I’m doing this right, it’s not working for me, I’m no good at this…’ If this type of thinking is dominating your healing container and weighing it down, try to notice what is there without judging yourself. When we let go of these judging thoughts as soon as they arise, we learn to suspend all judgment or evaluation and just be with what is here right now allowing ourselves to experience whatever is here in this moment fully with curiosity and openness.

Curiosity and openness are the attitudes of mindfulness associated with “Beginner’s Mind”. This is when you allow yourself to notice something as if for the very first time with a curious awareness without bringing in any additional thoughts or experiences from the past. Sometimes this kind of comparison thinking can prevent us from seeing clearly. We get caught up in thinking we know what we are seeing and feeling and projecting our judgments or analysis onto everything we see immediately. This is the opposite of Beginner’s Mind. When we see this pattern in our practice, we can become more non-judgmental and open towards ourselves by just watching or noticing what is here (an awareness) and allowing it to be there and slowly it will fall away. When we think harder and try to correct it in someway, we just reinforce the pattern of our mind pulling us away from the moment. This is called “conditioned mind.” What is lost is your actual experience of this very moment and all that it offers you.

What brings us back to our breath when our thoughts carry us away? I think our intention to do this practice is what keeps us staying with this powerful breathing process. What helps you to feel calm and connected to your deeper, more loving self? When we follow the breath and keep coming back over and over to this moment, and this moment, no matter where our mind wants to take us, we are creating a healing pattern within ourselves that takes us deeper into our goodness. Unless we reinforce this pattern of breathing away our thoughts and just feeling our intimate moments of who we really are, we can easily get swept away into whatever is around us pulling our attention. Over time, we can lose who we are and why we really choose to live our lives day after day.  That’s why having an intention to practice that you believe in for yourself will help you keep your practice growing.

I’ve realized that my intention to focus on good in the world and in myself is powerful. I encourage you this month to ponder what you want to dedicate your life and your practice to and how you want to guide your mind. It all starts with you.