Practice Pages: Meditation

This is the third installment in an ongoing column focused on meditation practices in different traditions.

I am often asked about what Zen can teach us about the intimate personal relationships that play such an important role in all our lives.
When our walls are down, we are more in touch with our feelings and our emotions. And when we as individuals are based more in trust than in fear; everything is heightened. We are able to be open and vulnerable, having dropped our defenses or barriers, and true intimacy becomes possible. Our sexual life and our ability to communicate and relate is improved. We are in touch with our true self, it’s more tantric; it’s being there with the other person in a sensitive way. But it’s also being true to ourselves and who we are. It’s a more conscious, awakened state of being, where we are able to use our emotions in a positive way that gives a richness and fullness to our life. Instead of fearing or suppressing our emotions, we actually use them as the petrol for our life.


In the Eightfold Path in Buddhism, the first component is ‘right understanding’ or ‘right view’ and the second is ‘right perception’ or ‘right attitude.’ It’s absolutely true that when you have the right view and right perception in a relationship, it’s beyond being just about sexual satisfaction. Then you are really in a relationship as partners, and it is all about growth, spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, and psychological. It’s all about both parties doing well, and being attuned to one another. In this situation, your sensual and sexual relationship often improves because of the enhanced intimacy.

Think of yourself as the sitting figure outlined by a triangle in the illustration. The left corner (knee) represents the self that desires and loves conditionally. The right corner (knee) represents egolessness, what I call Big Mind, pure being. The apex includes and transcends both of them. At the apex, our true self, we can recognize the patterns and habits of our thoughts and emotions without having to be run by them, and we can see more clearly what we really need and what is sufficient. We can also be in touch with the mind of pure being and unconditional satisfaction that does not require anything to be whole and complete.

This doesn’t mean we disown the more sensual, sexual, physical side of ourselves. We want to embrace all aspects of ourselves, and transcend them, which means to include and go beyond them. Every aspect of ourself has its own wisdom and vitality. We don’t want to lose this energy, and we’re not going to get rid of it anyway. We know this through science. What we can do is recognize and be aware of negative tendencies. Many people believe the ego is negative or bad, and try to repress it, or even to get rid of it. We need the ego to function. By recognizing the ego, being aware of our self-centeredness, we have the choice not to act in a selfish and self-centered way.

The same is true of any emotion. When we are aware of our anger, for example, we have the choice to express it in an appropriate or inappropriate way. By not suppressing it, it doesn’t fester and explode at an inappropriate time, or at the slightest provocation.The same is true for fear. By recognizing the positive aspect of fear, which is to warn us of danger, then we can use fear in a positive way. We want to embrace it for what it is, and go beyond it.

Going beyond means we do not exclude or suppress any aspect of the self or its energy. It means that we allow every aspect to perform its function. We can choose to move from a negative to a positive expression of each aspect or state of mind. This means that we don’t hold a preference for or against any part of ourselves, but include all and allow them to function in their most appropriate and meaningful ways.

Finding balance and intimacy is all about coming from the apex, rather than from a self-centered place in the relationship, which is from the egocentric corner of the triangle. When you include Big Mind, the egoless side of the triangle, then you reach an understanding of both the personal and the impersonal. From the apex you include our human desires and emotions, and unconditional compassion, as an integrated sexual human being. From here you see a relationship in terms of how you are supporting one another in growth, maturation, and feelings of love. It’s a much deeper, much more profound place than where we normally come from.

Zen Master Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi is the creator of the Big Mind process, which he has been developing and refining for the past ten years. He will be at the Big Mind Big Heart Weekend Workshop with Bill Harris at the North Embassy Suites Hotel in Los Angeles, March 7 – 8: bigmind.org.