You can look at the mind as a glass of water with debris swirling around within it. The more you stir the water, the greater the cloudiness becomes.
In this metaphor, excessive thinking is like the debris. Putting energy into constantly thinking is like stirring the glass of water, which fills the mind with debris and moves it all around, bringing less clarity and more turmoil.
Looking at the glass of water, if we just let the water sit without disturbance, the debris gradually sinks to the bottom and the water becomes clear. The water and glass are no longer murky and distorted.
Using this metaphor, if we just sit with awareness of our thoughts, without actively putting energy into them and stirring them up, the mind naturally settles into a state of tranquility and we are able to see things with clarity.
Obstacles to Clarity
Two main problems occur when meditating to obtain clarity. One is confusion and the other is dullness. These are normal states that every person who meditates goes through. Just bring awareness and compassion to these states and gradually they will give way to more experiences of clarity and tranquility. But even the most advanced practitioner can still experience these states.
Confusion is a result of excessive thinking. It takes over when we become unaware of our thoughts. As Li Qingyun puts it, “Don’t be afraid of thinking. Be afraid of not being aware you are thinking.” Staying aware of our thoughts, then, helps greatly reduce them.
In dullness, we either drift off into sleep or into a hazy state where we lose the awareness we are sitting. Zoning out does not bring clarity, nor is it a state of tranquility. Dullness is the total absence of clarity, tranquility, and mindfulness.
With time, your body will get accustomed to sitting and it will be easier to stay awake and alert and mindful in your meditation. Just stick with it.
Focus on the Abdomen
Using the breathing and posture methods outlined in the previous pages, sit, breathe, smile, and return your mind to your Dan Tian. Stay out of your head and revert your attention to your abdomen. As Lao Zi put it, “Empty the mind and fill the belly.” Doing so brings clarity and tranquility, and from there we can attain and realize the Tao within us.
Notice this idea of smiling while sitting. This doesn’t mean making a broad expressive smile, but a slight, subtle, almost inward one. This is important because it will calm the mind and bring greater ease to your sitting. Don’t discount the value of smiling, as it is an expression of serenity and perfect ease, which are gateways to true tranquility.
Sincerity, Silence, and Gentleness
The Jade Pivot Scripture advises us to use sincerity, silence, and gentleness. Sincerity means to trust the Tao within you, silence means to guard against attaching yourself to your thoughts, and gentleness means to be patient with your mind and body during sitting, so as not to create contention or strain within yourself.
Bare Awareness of the Senses
Through meditation, you come to a place where you naturally let go of methods and just experience the pure consciousnesses and awareness of the five senses without the filter of thought. Even though their functions are experienced, there is no attachment to them or concept made of them.
Return to the Innate Silence Within You
Tranquil Sitting, in essence, is about returning to silence. Within each of us is a very profound silence, but excessive thinking, including our attachment to attaining something from sitting, covers over that silence.
All Taoist cultivators of meditation should keep in mind that obtaining the Tao is never about advancing to something. It is completely about returning to where you originally came from, a state of perfect sound and perception of silence, light, and tranquility.