One of the first things we were taught in the Intro to Zen Meditation class at the Zen Center was the two types of Zen meditation. I've found "types" to not be a very accurate word to use, when we're letting whatever happens happen, the two can arise on their own, sometimes at the same time. I guess "effects" may be more appropriate, but I don't make the rules...
But anyway, these two types are insight and calming/relaxing. The first involves the dissolution of delusions, allowing us to see reality for what it really is. This may be about the interconnectedness of everything, the reality of the causes of suffering, or the impermanence of everything; which together are referred to as the Three Marks of Existence in Buddhism.
However, without a calm, relaxed mind we won't be to experience this insight. Calmness and relaxation also allow us to remain upright physically, mentally and spiritually.
So these ideas hung around me for the better part of a year, occasionally surfacing with some meaning but usually not much impact.
A few months ago, I participated in a retreat and one of the themes that arose during the dharma talk was this twofold aspect of zazen and things clicked a little more for me.
If we don't relax, we may still experience the insight, but it can frighten or upset us. The Truth can be cold and uncaring if we're not ready to see it even if it is for our own good. I think that this potential is greatest observed in those who pursue spiritual awakening with psychotropic experimentation or any sort of short cut "enlightenment now" methods. The same things are experienced but without the spiritual discipline provided by long training the event can be damaging. The Truth can be heavy; you don't just walk into a gym and try to bench press the heaviest weight in the room with no training. The Truth can crush you in the same way.
So in my head, this all made sense. Even in experience some light was shone. But only recently have I been able to observe how I've experienced how all of this ties together.
Our delusions are like toys, as Uchiyama Roshi put it. They distract us from reality. Practicing zazen allows us to loosen our grip on those toys so that when we see them for what they really are, we'll be comfortable letting go. We invest a lot in our delusions, sometimes thinking them as the only things we really have. Like babies, we hold on to them with all of our might. Sometimes Life comes along and wrenches them out of our hands and we panic and cry out in fear.
Sometimes though, babies let go of their toys and they fall aside on their own either because something new comes along or they relax. In the same way we deal with our delusions. The best of the two options being when we relax and realize we don't need that particular delusion any more. For me these usually happen in "ah-ha" moments. Something clicks inside me and I realize the truth behind my thought. Realizing the truth that a particular koan points to is a good example. Everything just falls into place and makes sense.
Other times my reaction is more emotional than a eureka moment. The realization can cause my heart to break a little and I tear up. These experiences are on the border of readiness between overdue and completely comfortable, and being unprepared for such deep insight.
Staring into the dark, the light may shine on small truths we've already felt with our hands; knowing their identities before the light goes on. Other times it shines on things that have brushed against our leg. Our other senses have given us ideas about its identity, but still unsure, the sudden light frightens us. The truly frightening is when all the lights go on to reveal to us things unimagined and thus thoroughly not understood staring us in the face with all its glory.
So with zazen, we feel around in the dark and our experiences are flashes of light illuminating the truth. Sometimes we see and understand, sometimes we don't. Other times it catches us off guard, but no matter what, if we're serious about finding the real Truth we must relax our grip and let go of our fantasies and delusions about what joys and horrors are out there so that we will acknowledge it when it shows itself. It's always there just waiting for us to enter the endless Dharma gates.