As I’m typing this post, each stroke on the keyboard has my full attention. Part of me wants to race ahead and “git-r-done”, as Larry The Cable Guy says. Often that part has to take over, such as when work deadlines force me to be productive and, well, git-r-done. I’ve learned to type well enough that I don’t have to think about it – I just form the words in my mind, then direct them to my fingers and they come out on the computer screen.
Except when that racing part of me gets ahead of itself and the letters come out in a jumble. Then it’s type-type-type-type … backspace-backspace-backspace … type-type-type … backspace-backspace … you know how it goes.
The alternative to this kind of breathless living is being 100% deliberate with each thing we do. When you can, put your whole being into every move you make. Look at any video of Keith Jarrett playing piano – sometimes he stoops over the keyboard and uses his entire body to play a single note. This isn’t just great showmanship!
Stop and take a deep breath if you need to, to clear the mind, before making your move. When you take action this way, how many mistakes do you make? When you race ahead, driven by the breathless mind, how many mistakes do you make?
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Is “Zen” something that takes us somewhere else? To where everything is hunky-dory?
Is meditation a transporter to an elevated state of mind, or even Nirvana?
My root Zen Teacher, Taizan Maezumi Roshi, was quoted in the Tricycle Daily Dharma on New Years Day, when he said, “We do not see that our life right here, right now, is nirvana. Maybe we think that nirvana is a place where there are no problems, no more delusions. Maybe we think nirvana is something very beautiful, something unattainable. We always think nirvana is something very different from our own life.”
“our own life” refers to our complete life, not the narrowly limited lifetime we typically believe it to be. Our life has no limits – there is nothing outside it in space or time. When you set your narrow agenda aside, even for just a moment, Nirvana is right there … right Here!
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This is Kanzeon Bodhisattva sitting in a “Royal Ease” pose in my garden. I had been looking for a nice statue of Kanzeon, when this one just appeared! Actually, it had been set out in the community “share” space at my friend’s apartment complex, and he knew I was looking for one, so he brought it over.
On the spiritual path, sometimes we need to tighten up and sometimes we need to lighten up. Statues of Buddha seated in meditation inspire us to equanimity, standing Kanzeons move us to greater compassion, and fiery images of Manjusri Bodhisattva help increase our clarity. But sometimes we need to rest! As summer approaches, take some time out to assume this Royal Ease position.
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Are you right here, right now? Or are you somewhere else?
My approach to a Zen-based mindfulness is rooted in seeing “where we’re at” in terms of a mental/emotional roadmap. It graphically lays out all the places we can be when we’re not totally here-and-now (which is also a place on the map). We give names to these mental realms and learn to go from one to another as needed.
Are you flushed with anger, and the whole world seems to be turning red? You’re in the realm called Storyland. If you don’t think it’s helpful to stay there, you are free to step back from it into a cooled-down, objective realm called Orientation. Here you click into clear awareness of your surroundings, which include your mental state. Which you immediately notice is much less agitated than it was a few moments ago in Storyland.
Now you know where you’re at, and you’re no longer being driven by your Storyland narratives. At this point you may decide to step back even from the clear here-and-now awareness of Orientation and enter the Zen side. When you’ve released all notions of place, distance and time – all possible boundaries separating you from anything, or anything from anything else – you’re in the realm I call Presence. This is the place of not-knowing, the source; this is the realm that underlies all the others, and is the only one you yourself didn’t create. Note that as soon as you’ve given it a name, you’re no longer there!
None of these realms is better than any of the others, they’re just different “places” you can be. And, once you’ve become familiar with them and how to cross from one to another, you can choose to do so at any time. There are more realms than these three – you can read about them and learn how to use them in the online 3-steps manual of the Zen Mindfulness Cloudbook.
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Whatever it is that bothers you or brings you joy, frustrates you or astounds you; what is always the same? What is the constant?
Your job is giving you headaches, so you work at fixing it. Your relationship is giving you great happiness, so you work at making sure it stays stable. Someone cuts you off on the freeway so you flip them off. You really like a certain prepared salad from your local deli so you talk to the manager to ensure a steady supply.
All of these things “out there” bringing happiness and pain, and they are virtually infinite – there’s always a new detail. How can you deal with an infinite sequence of issues?
It’s all about you. At the center of all these details is the one that perceives them. If you try to resolve your issues one at a time, you’ll never finish. So, how about clarifying the one element that is the constant in all your situations? Look directly at “you” and see clearly what it is that is reacting to all these external happenings.
What would be better – fixing all the details one by one, or changing the way you perceive them all at once?
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Zen Mindfulness is complementary with Zen meditation. They correspond to the last two factors in the Eightfold Path of Buddhism: Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
Called “zazen” in Japanese, this kind of meditation isn’t what is known as “mindfulness meditation”, but rather an extended visit to the essential source of our life. “Za” means “sit”, and “Zen” means “concentration”, so the word literally means “sitting meditation”. When learning zazen we’re told that this is the zazen of the Buddhas, even that it is Buddha that is sitting. What could this mean?
Our physical posture influences our life more than most of us know. Here is an interesting TED talk on the subject by social psychologist Amy Cuddy. She mentions the phrase “fake it til you make it”, which can sound a little cynical the first time you hear it, but is actually a very practical guideline to getting us from where we are now to where we would like to be.
Zazen works on many levels. One important facet is the physical posture. Sit like Buddha from the beginning, and the more you do it, the more both body and mind are conditioned to be Buddha. Eventually you will realize that – yes! – you have been Buddha from the very beginning, and it was Buddha sitting as Buddha from the very beginning.
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New things are exciting. Especially spiritual practices. But after a while they lose the luster, and you either accept that you now have to put effort into it or you leave it behind and move on to the next exciting thing.
Mindfulness sounds great, Zen sounds great, and they’re rewarding when you first start working with them. They’re fun! But sooner or later comes the time when you know you “should” be mindful, but you simply don’t want to. You know that responding from your hara brings your best Zen result, but you find yourself choosing to react from your “little self”.
What then? Don’t expect yourself to be perfect! Let go of what you “should” be doing and deal with the situation without any guilt. Later you can return to being mindful. But when you do, remember how things had gone, and use that memory as inspiration to strengthen your practice.
If you turn your mindfulness practice into a habit, that habit will carry over into your next “little self” episode and make it easier to release your story and respond sanely to the current situation. This is why we often use the word “training” in Zen – more and more it becomes your natural action to respond from that place of mindfulness instead of the place of reactivity. But again, no one is perfect, so don’t expect yourself to be! As soon as you’ve cooled down from the emotional involvement, let it all go and return to your cycle of mindfulness.
Eventually it won’t matter anymore – your consistent training will let you be mindful through everything that happens, whether it’s fun or not fun.
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