“Open the hand of thought”
– Kosho Uchiyama Roshi
Why is it that we never seem to be satisfied?
Satisfaction - if we could just get that perfect job, or that perfect mate, or live in that perfect house, everything would be alright. Or so we think.
If we could just get our co-worker to cooperate, life would be good. If we could just get out of this traffic jam, things would be fine. If we could just break ourselves of that one really bad habit, we’d be OK. Or so we think.
If we could just stop the spinning mind for one minute, put the mental tape loops on pause, if we could just get away from it all, we’d have a chance to regain our sanity. Or so we think.
All these complaints about our life have something in common. I call it the Clutching Mind. A deep, usually hidden part of the mind is gripping something, almost like a fist.
Uchiyama Roshi, an eminent Zen master of the late 20th century, had a wonderful metaphor for freedom of mind. He called it “Opening the Hand of Thought”. This is the Clutching Mind releasing its object of desire or anger, thereby freeing itself.
How can this help us? Sometimes we can get so involved in a story running through our mind that it almost feels like we’re being controlled by some external force. We can get worked up to the point that our pulse quickens and our skin flushes. However, even though it feels as though something is controlling our mind, the truth is that we’ve caught ourself because our mind’s hand has gripped our desire so rigidly that we feel chained. We simply need to open that hand of thought and release our grip; immediately we find ourselves free.
During World War II my father was in the U.S. Marines, stationed in the South Pacific. When I was growing up, he used to tell me how he caught a monkey while he was there. He hollowed out a coconut and left a hole in it just big enough for a monkey to put a hand in. My father then put some rice in the coconut, chained it to a tree, and waited. Soon, one of the monkeys that had been watching the whole time was overcome by curiosity, jumped out of the tree and walked over to investigate. He smelled the rice, so he put his hand in to get some. Once he had a handful he tried to pull his hand out, but the hole was too small – his full fist was too big to go through the hole. Then my father calmly walked up and caught the monkey, who kept struggling to get free but couldn’t because he wouldn’t let go of the rice. All he had to do was open his fist and let go, pull out his hand and run away. But he wouldn’t give up his prize, and because of that, lost his freedom.
Whenever we’re anxious, what do we want? Whenever we’re angry, what do we want to push away? At those times we’re clutching some image or outcome in our mind. Look clearly at it and see what it is. When you do this, sometimes you realize it simply isn’t worth clinging to, so you spontaneously open the hand of thought and let it go. At other times you may find it a worthy goal; what then? Open the hand of thought! If it truly is worthy, it will still be apparent after you let go. And, after the mind has settled, you will see the matter more clearly and then be better able to deal with it.
When that hand of thought is open and completely empty, what is it now filled with?