The third leak is unnecessary muscular tension—the physical contraction that results from the constant struggle to make our life strategies work. I sat for years with my head turned slightly to one side. Each time the monitor would come by, she would adjust my head back to the center. But then slowly, my head would turn back to the side. Finally I saw that I was turning away almost imperceptibly; I just didn’t want to face something. So our bodily tension reflects the configuration of our mind. When we try to win, to please, to hide, to avoid discomfort, all of that effort is a form of aggression towards our self. Refrain. Remember the Buddha said, “not too loose, not too tight.”

The fourth leak is the manifestation of negative emotions. We squander a lot of energy that way. Negative emotions, in this case, does not mean bad emotions. It refers to an emotion that negates or denies, that says “no” to life, like anger or irritability. “I don’t want this,” we say. Or, “bug off.” Nobody escapes anger—it arises as judgment of our selves, of others, as impatience. How much precious energy is consumed in the slog and slush of anger?

The area that has required the most attention in my practice is how to work with the negative emotions. In beginning instruction, we’re told that if a strong emotion comes and we feel like we can’t let it go—if we’ve just created a thought that has a very strong hook for us, that feels very real, and we’ve identified with it—the instruction is to “be it.” Not our story, but the raw sensation. Get to the feeling on a cellular level, experience the energy of it—of anger, of being hurt. Experience our trembling jaw, our tightened throat, our pressed-in chest. This is zazen. This is being where you are. It’s the hardest practice, but I think we often skip over it. We are afraid to feel.

Our practice is to be where we are—so we don’t repress or reject emotions, and we don’t indulge them. When we refrain from expressing them in words or actions or inward thoughts, when we stay with the raw feeling and hold the leak, we can see the vital energy clearly and can actually feel it directly. This is direct experience. That’s what’s so wonderful about our experience. It’s direct. It’s ours. Nobody can give that to us. Nobody can take that away.