Imperfect practice and noticing what’s already here

Maezumi Roshi, and I am sure many others, pointed out that we can only do approximate shikantaza. We can only imperfectly do the basic meditation of noticing and allowing.

It’s that way with many practices. We can only do it imperfectly.

And there is a great blessing in this, in more than one way. It keeps us humble, and it invites us to find the nature of what we already are.


Basic meditation is to notice and allow what’s already here in our experience. As a human being, this is something we can do only imperfectly.

Why can we only do it imperfectly?

The simple answer is that it’s not humanly possible. We’ll get distracted. We cannot intentionally notice everything happening in our field of experience. We cannot fully allow it all, or do so all the time. And we are always one step behind what’s already happened.

And the more real answer is that the premise is already out of alignment with reality. There is ultimately nobody doing it, and basic meditation cannot be “done” or manifactured.

So what’s the solution?

We can practice more. We can get more familiar with and fine-tune our practice. That is part of the answer and very valuable.

And the more real solution is to notice that basic meditation is already happening. What’s here in my experience is already allowed – by life, space, mind. I can notice it’s already allowed. And I can notice that what’s here in experience is already, in a sense, already noticed. It’s already happening within and as this (ordinary) awakeness.

Both of these perspectives have validity. In a sense, there is a human being here engaging in this practice, and perhaps fine-tuning it through experience. And ultimately, there is nobody doing it and the practice cannot be successfully done or manifactured. All we can do is notice it’s already happening. It’s our natural state.

The nature of what we are is to allow and notice what’s here, and it happens no matter what this human self is doing or distracted by.

When we do basic meditation, we mimic what our nature already does and is.

At first, it may seem unfortunate that we can only do approximate basic meditation. And, in reality, it’s a blessing since the only real solution is to notice the nature of what we already are.


Finding more directly what we are, through pointers and noticing, is similar. As someone doing it, we can only do it imperfectly.

When I find myself as capacity for the world, or oneness, or stillness & silence, do I actually notice this? Or do I notice my mental representations of being capacity, or oneness, or stillness & silence? Or is there a combination?

Also, when I find myself as this, is there some part of my sense field that’s not included in my noticing, and that there is still some identification with?

In my case, there is likely a yes to all of these questions. There is some actual noticing. There is some noticing of the mental representations, and these are partly mistaken for what they refer to, and they are partly used as pointers to notice what they refer to. And there is sometimes a part of the sense field that is identified with, and especially some sensations and mental images in the area where the head is.

For these reasons, and because my attention is not always stable or fully on, this noticing is imperfect.

Of course, practice helps, especially when combined with honesty and sincerity.

And what really helps is to go beyond what’s done and manifactured.

Can I notice the capacity that’s already here, and that allows all this doing and noticing?

Can I notice the stillness & silence that’s inherent in this field of experience, independent of any noticing and doing?


As I mentioned, there are real gifts in this imperfect practice.

One is that it keeps us humble at a human level. I cannot really do any of these practices. I can only do it imperfectly, and – in a sense – fake it.

And the other is that the only real solution to this is to notice what’s already here. To notice the allowing & noticing inherent in this field of experience. And notice the capacity, stillness & silence, and oneness inherent in this field of experience.

At first, we may assume that the practice is to do it and manufacture something. And after a while, we may find that it’s noticing what’s already here.

As so much, it seems obvious. And yet, for a mind used to complexify things, it’s so simple and natural that it’s easy to overlook.

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