Posts in the “zen” category

Meditation: From Guilty -> I could do this forever

I’ve been listening to the song Guilty by Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb lately, and it reminds me that when you first start meditating there can be a lot of guilt associated with attempting to meditate. Various thoughts include:

  • This is dumb
  • This is a waste of time
  • I’m not getting anywhere
  • I should be doing [fill-in-the-blank]

These thoughts can last a long time, until that one day that your meditation finds your groove, all of the “mind noise” goes away, and you think, “I could do this for the rest of my life.”

So today’s thought is one of persistence: If some part of you finds yourself wanting to meditate, there might just be some voice hidden deep in your mind wanting this. So vow to keep working at it until that one day when you find the sweet spot and then think, “I could do this for the rest of my life.”

You can’t learn to meditate in the middle of a crisis

Wednesday Zen:

One time an employee came into my office, closed my door, and said, “How are you so calm? I’m going nuts!” As I would learn, he had some stress from work, but even more from his personal life. I tried to help him slow down, breathe, and talk, but he was frantic and almost impossible to help.

The thing about meditation and stillness of mind is that you can’t just start it one day in the middle of a crisis, like when you feel a sudden twinge of chest pain or you’re laying in a hospital bed with a virus trying to suffocate your heart. By then it’s too late.

True emptiness is before thinking

I wasn’t able to take any pictures of them, but last week we had some beautiful full Moon sunsets over the Rocky Mountains. Then I just came across this photo of the Moon and some mountains, with this “true emptiness” quote by Zen Master Seung Sahn. (The image comes from this link.)

Morality, the first meditation training

I wrote a long time ago that compassion and forgiveness are important when you get into deep meditation states. As this paragraph from Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha suggests, they’re also helpful for beginning meditation states.

(As an example, a long time ago I went to a Zen center for a meditation retreat, and when I’d start meditating I’d think, “I wish I had done X when I was at home, it really bothers me that I didn’t do that. In fact, it’s driving me nuts.” I was eventually able to meditate, but whenever I lost my concentration, this was always the first thought that came up.

RZA: Ghost Dog: Form is emptiness, emptiness is form

I don't know much about rap/hip-hop, but thanks to Ghost Dog I do know about RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan.

From Ghost Dog:

“Our bodies are given life
from the midst of nothingness.

Existing where there is nothing
is the meaning of the phrase,
Form is emptiness.

That all things are provided for
by nothingness is the meaning of the phrase,
Emptiness is form.

One should not think that
these are two separate things.”

New meditation cushion (zabuton)

Legend has it that Bodhidharma sat facing a wall for nine years. I’m going to sit facing my faux fireplace on my new cushion (known as a zabuton, which was a Christmas gift this year).

On Zen and finding true sanctuary

When we enter the empty meditation hall we experience a tangible awareness of peace. The uncluttered space, accentuated by the orderliness of the simple cushions, seems quietly alive, a reflection of inherent beauty. We find a feeling of safety and sanctuary.

However, in Zen practice, true sanctuary is not isolated from everyday life. True sanctuary includes everything, shutting out nothing, because it has no doors and no walls. Finding true sanctuary means expressing who we really are.

~~~~~

Tozan and his disciple Sozan were the founders of the Soto Zen school in China. When it came time for Sozan to leave his teacher, he want to say goodbye.

Tozan asked him, “Where are you going?”

“To an unchanging place,” Sozan answered.

“Is there really any going to that place?”

“The going itself is unchanged.”

In this story Sozan is saying that the activity is the place of unchanging. He is pointing to continuous effort, uninterrupted practice, as the “place” of sanctuary.

The farther you get away from the body, the more you know you

On a drive back to Colorado in 2017 I listened to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. In the book, The Lady Chablis talked about how much the estrogen shots affected her, mentally and physically — her thoughts, such as who she was attracted to, and her physical attributes.

I’ve often thought about how our thoughts and behavior are affected by our hormones (estrogen, testosterone, etc.). That’s one reason I like meditation: The farther you get away from the physical body and chemically-influenced brain, the more you can figure out who you are.

The intensity of a monk’s meditation states befuddles science

“While his brain was probed by the fMRI, Mingyur (a Buddhist monk) followed the instruction to engage compassion. Once again the minds of everyone watching in the control room felt as though they had stopped. The reason: Mingyur’s brain circuitry for empathy rose to an activity level 700 to 800 times greater than it had been in the rest period just before.”

“Such an extreme increase befuddles science; the intensity with which those states were activated in Mingyur’s brain far exceeds any that had ever been seen in ‘normal’ people. The closest resemblance is for epileptic seizures, but those episodes last brief seconds, not for a full minute. And besides, brains are controlled by seizures, in contrast to Mingyur’s display of intentionally controlling his brain activity.”

~ from a story about brainwave tests of a monk in 2002

Shinzen Young’s story of Shingon/Shinto training

Years before I heard of Shinzen Young, I had always “enjoyed” practicing meditation in the cold. Some part of it probably goes back to childhood, when I had to wait for the schoolbus in the freezing cold of northern Illinois winters. (This was in the time before global warming.) I used to stand there without moving, and mentally I’d concentrate on not being cold, or at least not feeling the cold.

Many years later when I lived in Alaska, I used to enjoy going up into the mountains to basically inflict the same thing on myself. I always thought the “meditate deeply or suffer the consequences” approach forced me to meditate more deeply. This past winter that same “Do or die, there is not try” mentality forced me to maintain my focus and helped to combat my medically-induced lack of energy.

Zen, mindfulness, and compassion don’t mean “be a wimp”

When I first started studying Zen and the Tao, I interpreted many of the quotes I read as “let things be just as they are.” For a while that led to me acting as a doormat, letting other people do as they wished, even treating me poorly. I did that consciously, so even though I was acting like a wimp I didn’t feel like a wimp, I was just trying to practice what I was learning.

After a while I realized that was a wrong approach. Even if I lived in a Zen monastery, it would be wrong to allow someone to bully me.

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