In my experience, the most difficult part of writing is the first sentence and the last sentence. With one, there's nothing that comes before. With the other, there's nothing that comes after. So those sentences are unique.
I struggled with the first sentence in my book, Return to the One. Until finally, a sentence popped into my head that seemed just right to me.
If something has been lost and you're not sure where to look for it, there's good reason to start searching right where you are rather than far afield.
Then I spoke about the familiar situation (familiar to me, at least) of looking for your car keys only to discover that they were sitting unnoticed in a pocket or purse the whole time.
But let's think about what's necessary for a search to make sense. To begin with, you really need to have lost something. Meaning, it was in your possession at one point, and now it isn't. Then there has to be a decent probability that you can find that thing you used to possess.
If you're on a cruise and drop your glasses into the ocean while leaning over a railing, you know what you've lost, but for all practical purposes you have a zero chance of finding that item.
In Return to the One I argued that we have a sense of loss, yet most of us don't understand what we're longing to recover: God, or the One. I feel like I did a pretty good job making that argument, yet in my current frame of mind I no longer find what I wrote to be persuasive.
I still like my first sentence in the book, though. But now I see it as pointing toward the desirability of living in the here and now, rather than a there and then. After all, where we are, where everyone is, without exception, is the present moment.
No searching required. Just be here now.
This, of course, is the essence of mindfulness. And of the non-religious aspect of Buddhism, which includes Zen. Such distinguishes these forms of spirituality from the seeking forms of spirituality and religion where there is much talk of a path to be followed, and signs of progress along the way.
Here's some illustrative passages from Jon Kabat-Zinn's book, Mindfulness for Beginners: reclaiming the present moment -- and your life.
Not only is it always now. The "curriculum" of this adventure we call living, where mindfulness can play such a pivotal role, is always what is unfolding in this moment, whether we like what is happening or not.
Whatever is arising in this moment becomes the curriculum for liberating ourselves from the shackles of greed, hatred, and delusion. We do not need some ideal or romantic fairy tale of what would be best for us. What we most need is what is already given to us: the actuality of things as they are in the only moment we will ever have -- this one.
...So as we have already seen, the notion that in meditation practice there is no place to go, nothing to do, and nothing to attain can be quite strange and mysterious -- even foreign -- to our striving temperaments and our need to always be getting better.
...Non-striving is not trivial. It involves realizing that you are already here. There's no place to go, because the agenda is simply to be awake.
It is not framed as some ideal that suggests that after forty years of sitting in a cave in the Himalayas, or by studying with august teachers, or doing ten thousand prostrations, or whatever it is, you will necessarily be any better than you are now.
It is likely that you will just be older. What happens now is what matters.
If you don't pay attention now, as Kabir, the great Indian poet of sixteenth-century India said, "You will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death."
...Awareness itself is what mindfulness is about. It is not about achieving an ideal, or a particularly desirable or longed-for special state.
If the mind is thinking: "If I meditate I'll always be compassionate. I'll be like the Dalai Lama. I'll be like Mother Teresa" or whoever your spiritual guru/hero of the moment is, it may help to remind yourself that you don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of being like the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa or anybody else. Nor do you know what their interior experience is.
The only person that you have the remotest possibility of being like is yourself. And that, when it comes down to it, is the real challenge of mindfulness: the challenge to be yourself.
The irony, of course, is that you already are.