Thoughts over thoughts … I must prepare my lectures on supercomputing, the tax-declaration is overdue, I need to settle an appointment with the dentist, plan family holiday …
It is impossible to forget or push away all these thoughts, even during Zazen. I remember when I started practising Zazen half a life ago, sitting on my pillow often was the time when problems and thoughts hit me most severe. But with some experience, Zazen can help us not being crushed by the million issues of every day life.
During Zazen, there is no need to push thoughts away or actively stop thinking, no effort required to achieve some special state of mind. It is sufficient to sit properly, concentrate on breathing and not being bothered by the thoughts coming and going. No need to follow any idea, think about a solution for any problem coming up during Zazen. It is not necessary to concentrate on a thought in more detail, or even to ignore it.
Practising Zazen while not being the slave of my thoughts and worries is a big freedom, though it is also not a selfish ignorance of the world around me at all. When my brain stops worrying about all the issues around and inside myself, my heart can open.
I do not just sit alone with myself or with the Buddha. I sit with my partner or family maybe still asleep next door, with the birds starting to sing outside, with the early morning light and with the wind and the rain. The sounds from nature or from the street are no more different from the thoughts inside my head, coming and going. I connect to the world not by thinking about it, but by just being there, inhaling, exhaling, a bit like a kid playing or a musician …. sounds simple, but requires some praxis to work, though.
In the old scriptures this state is sometimes called Mushin (無心), which is not even half way accurately translated into “empty heart” or “empty mind”. Maybe the quaint German expression “selbstvergessen” comes closer than any English equivalence?