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Updated: Feb 28, 2022

No seed ever sees the flower. —Zen teaching

Most of us are convinced we know how things are, at least most of the time. That doesn’t mean we think we know or understand everything, of course, or that we don’t find ourselves confused or stumped about particular situations from time to time. But generally, when we encounter something, we have a pretty good idea of how we see it. Even when we’re confused, we’re usually clear about the confusion—what part makes sense, what part doesn’t make sense, what alternatives there may be, or even that there are no alternatives. It’s very rare to be in a situation in which we have no interpretation about what’s going on: that can happen when we encounter a breathtaking landscape, when we gaze at a newborn baby for the first time, when we hear music that seems to make time stop, when we get into “the zone” or “the flow” as an athlete or artist, or in the moments of orgasm. In those moments, thoughts stop, the mind shuts down, and we perceive directly without any filter or lens.

Those moments tend to last literally for moments; we usually cannot sustain that state for long. In that state, we feel whole. We are content with things exactly as they are. We are deeply peaceful, untroubled by anything that has happened in the past or that may happen in the future. We may find new levels of creativity. We simply are where we are, as we are, and when we are—that is, we are in the present moment. Most people find those moments powerfully seductive. They usually feel great, and we usually want to hold on to them for longer, and when they pass, we want to get them back, but as hard as we may try, we cannot will that to happen. In fact, the more we try, the less likely it becomes that we can succeed: This state emerges spontaneously; it cannot be created directly.

We can, however, get into this state more often and for longer periods through practices such as meditation and yoga. These practices transform us at every level and make this state much easier to access. And with sustained practice, it is possible to live in that state a good deal of the time, and eventually permanently. Like the seed that never sees the flower, it’s virtually impossible for us where we stand now to imagine what it would be like to live in that state much of the time. But we get a taste of it pretty quickly after we start practicing, and those tastes occur more frequently and for longer periods all throughout the practice to keep us motivated. And sooner than we may think, we start to see our lives change for the better: We start to see the greater peace and contentment that are the hallmarks of that state of wholeness. We carry a seed inside us. With practice, the seed can produce a plant, and that plant can blossom into the previously unimaginable bliss of freedom.

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