Mar 23, 2022
Martin Goodson

Sipping on Life

Exercises in Mindfulness

When Anxiety creeps in we may notice a kind of ‘hurry and flurry’, both in the mind and in our physical movements. We look at how this state unfolds and the opportunity it provides to reconnect to the eternal now.



Master Tokusan, during a time of civil unrest, once gave sanctuary to a fleeing samurai warrior. When the opponent’s army arrived at his temple, they demanded he be handed over.

Tokusan refused, and the soldiers drew their swords to cut off his head. Tokusan asked if he might be allowed to drink some wine before being killed. They assented.

Tokusan reached for the flask and took a cup, poured himself some wine and sipped it with quiet relish. 

After a while the soldiers looked at each other and went away.

Master Tokusan refused to comment on this until one day he relented saying, “I simply refused to get involved with what they wanted, neither would I argue with them. I simply gave up everything to do with life and in the end they went away again.”

If we consider our regular stream of thoughts, that inner commentator we have in our heads during the day, we can observe that there is a constant involvement with what has been, is going on and, even more so, planning for the future. 

“What to do next?”

“Maybe I should be doing that more than this?”

“If I can get this over with then that would be far nicer.”

There is a shadow side to all this planning, and that is the involuntary anxieties that invade our peace of mind and overtake our thoughts. They come in, unbidden, and perturb. These too are about the future but play on the ‘What if?’; just those things that hook into my fears and worries, leaving me unsettled, afraid and feeling alone.

I cannot easily argue them away because they simply press in upon me, neither can I pretend I don’t really care because there is a residual feeling of dread that lurks in the background.

No; here we need the body, which is the beginning, middle and end as far as the ground of our practice goes. 

Have we noticed that when anxieties flare up there is an impatience that often manifests in a sort of ‘hurry and flurry’ in our bodily movements? In the voice it can become loud and shrill, In the thoughts there is a constant being stolen away from what is just now before us.

If we wish to contain these things, then first we must contain the body.

So, when we notice this state coming upon us, deliberately slow down… 


Restrain the voice to speak deliberately and a little more slowly than usual…

What happens when we do this?

Suddenly, in the middle of the hurly-burly some space opens up. 

Within, we can still feel the storm clouds rolling across the heart but space is not carried off by what passes through it.

The breath too can be employed to sink down through this inner space, neither pushing away nor getting pulled along by what is here just now. .

The Buddha taught that all things are impermanent and thus all states arise, exist for a while and then pass away.

Of course, it might have been that the soldiers went ahead and cut off Tokusan’s head. One day, our own end will surely come too. How would we want to meet this end? 

There is an old Greek saying: “The gods guide us; but if we refuse to go, they drag us.”

Recognising that our True Nature is this spacious emptiness, rather than what is passing through it, helps deliver us from the nightmare of being caught up with the coming and going of impermanent forms. It is the recognition that within the phenomenal is the Eternal. 

This eternity is not ‘some other place’; rather it has always been here before us, but being equal and even in each moment and in every direction, it remains invisible since it has no definition to make it stand out. Only by recognising the ‘eternal round’ of the seasons of life do we begin to get an inkling of something greater and so are released from the pressures of passing time.

Text copyright to The Zen Gateway

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