When I woke up this morning I was very refreshed and my brain was quiet, so I decided to meditate. Shortly after that the room got a little busy, and then a terrific Michael Jackson song started playing. As I watched what was going on in the room and listened to the musicians and the lyrics, I realized it was a song that doesn't exist here in awakeland. Stuff like that will make you wonder about the nature of reality.
“You must concentrate upon and consecrate yourself wholly to each day, as though a fire were raging in your hair.”
~ Taisen Deshimaru, Questions to a Zen Master
For many years I struggled with how to combine two of my main interests, Zen and work. I have read that the Zen mind is the mind before thinking, so it seems like Zen and work must be totally unrelated. Over time I came to understand phrases like, “When working, just work.”
This article contains a collection of quotes that have been helpful to me in understanding the relationship between Zen and work. Please note that I don’t wrap each quote in double quotes, and I also try to attribute each quote to the correct author/speaker. If you’re interested in how to combine Zen and work, I hope you’ll find them helpful.
Back in 2011 I was meditating in the mountains of Hatcher Pass, Alaska — a place where you generally don’t have to worry about bears, unless you’re picking berries down in the valley — and I heard some yelling. Then I got up, came around the side of where I was, and saw the paragliders at this YouTube video.
The following is a (long) discussion of some things you might run into during deep meditation.
Fake Absolute Silence
These days in meditation I spend a lot of time in a place I call “Fake Absolute Silence.” In this state you might be fooled into thinking that you’re in the real state of Absolute Silence, but that’s part of the problem — you’re still thinking. Things are definitely quiet in this state; there aren’t many thoughts, and your concentration is focused on your breathing without distraction. However, I find that I’m still very aware of my body and outside noises. But despite that, it’s generally a mentally quiet place.
Introduction: After reading the following text in the book, The Science of Enlightenment, I decided to try meditating outside in sweatpants and a hoodie in the freezing cold in the evenings. It’s now my favorite form of meditation because you either do it right, or suffer the consequences.
Several months later, as winter approached and it was getting cold and uncomfortable, the Abbot told me that if I wanted to be trained in traditional Shingon practice he would allow it — but I would have to do with the old-fashioned way. I would have to do a solo retreat for one hundred days in winter, most of the time with no source of heat, in complete silence other than occasional instruction from him, and with no meal after noon.
My training began on December 22, the day of the winter solstice. The Abbot had warned me that part of the old-fashioned way involved certain ascetic practices derived not from Buddhism, but from the shamanic tradition of Shinto, Japan’s pre-Buddhist tribal religion. One of the most common methods that tribal cultures use to obtain visions of gods or spirits is through prolonged exposure to extreme hot or cold. In India, Hindus have the five fires practice; in North America, Native Americans have the sweat lodge and the sun dance. These involve heat. The traditional Shinto shamanic practice goes in the other direction. It involves cold — squatting under freezing waterfalls in winter, standing in cold springs, dousing your body with ice water, and so forth.
From this LionsRoar.com article on how to have lucid dreams: “Studies have shown that meditators have more lucid dreams, and for a true meditation master, all their dreams are lucid. We’re non-lucid to the contents of our mind at night to the extent we’re non-lucid to the contents of our mind during the day. Become lucid to your thoughts during the day by practicing mindfulness meditation and you’ll naturally become lucid to your dreams at night.”
A couple of stories are bouncing around in my head, so I thought I’d write them down to get them out of there.
In story #1, I was meditating a few nights ago when “Boom!” I was standing in the house I grew up in. I always wanted to go back there to see what it was like with an older set of eyes, so I took my time in walking around, looking at and touching everything. Eventually I walked downstairs, and when I got there a young version of my mom came out of her bedroom and seem concerned about something. Then she looked at me and said, “Money is important, isn’t it?” I replied, “I suppose so,” and then she kept walking around with that concerned look, and then the scene ended just as fast as it began and I was back in the darkness of meditation.
In story #2, my family was at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, and I probably wasn’t a teenager yet, maybe thirteen years old at the most. I think I went to get a drink of water, and when I turned around an older hippie girl was standing there. She leaned down and pinned a little fake red flower on my shirt and said something spiritual, which I thought was cool. Then she asked if could give her some money. I didn’t have any money, and when I told her that, she ripped the flower off my shirt and stomped away much less peacefully. I remember thinking that her behavior wasn’t correct, and I suspect that incident made me mistrust religious people for quite some time.
(From a Facebook post from May, 2018.)
I usually just encourage people to meditate so they can learn to relax, but there’s another good reason to meditate: It helps you find out who you are. Since you were born, you’ve been programmed by your parents, siblings, other relatives, friends, and teachers; meditation is a way undoing all of that programming. Once you shed that programming, what remains is your true self.