Kosho Uchiyama in his classic book, Opening the Hand of Thought, makes an interesting comparison between the serious approach we often take to our thoughts, and the the layer of atmosphere where clouds appear and disappear above the Earth. The layer itself is only pencil thin, but from the ground, all those clouds can seem dense and expansive. If someone were to move high enough off the ground, it becomes easy to see blue sky and a clear view. The clouds are not as thick and imposing as they seem.
Taking Thoughts too Seriously
Thoughts themselves are compared to secretions. One of the main functions of the mind is to continuously secrete thoughts. The problem becomes when a person takes these thoughts too seriously, believing everything that comes into view. Uchiyama compares the act of sitting zazen, where someone meditates quietly for a period of time, as a process of seeing though the illusion-like appearances of these thought secretions. If someone can get calm and cenetered enough in their meditation, its like moving above the clouds and seeing that the once imposing layer of atmosphere is only pencil thin. Similiarly, its like seeing that the thought secretions aren’t as serious or dangerous as they seem.
Meeting the Buddha
I think the interesting point he makes, is that when one gets calm and centered enough to be above the clouds, someone eventually encounters the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha shining through. He might be implying a deeper experience, but I think this is something reasonably reachable for many practitioners that spend even short amounts of time in retreat. I think within the small stretches of clarity that come from retreat, its possible to see clearly and process all the teachings we’re had, but from an experiential view point.