Posts in the “zen” category

Albert Einstein, Zen Master?

Knowing of my interest in Zen, a friend of mine sent me this photo of a letter from Albert Einstein to a parent grieving after the loss of a child:

Albert Einstein, Zen Master

If you know something about Zen, you know that Einstein is writing about the “oneness” of the universe. Zen tries to teach us about this through techniques like Zen Meditation (zazen), and the concept of all things being interdependent.

The same cosmic forces that mold galaxies, stars, and atoms ...

“The same cosmic forces that mold galaxies, stars, and atoms also mold each moment of self and world. The inner self and outer self are born in the cleft between expansion and contraction. By giving yourself to those forces, you become those forces, and through that you experience a kind of immortality — you live in the breath and pulse of every animal, in the polarization of electrons and protons, in the interplay of the thermal expansion and self-gravity that molds stars, in the interplay of dark matter that holds galaxies together and dark energy that stretches space apart.”

~ Part of a quote from The Science of Enlightenment, How Meditation Works, by Shinzen Young

Make a game of active mindfulness meditation

The best advice I’ve gotten for practicing mindfulness meditation while not sitting in meditation – i.e., in active meditation – is to make something of a game of it. When I wash the dishes it’s like, “How deep can I get while I wash these dishes?” Or when talking to another person, you both put down the cellphones and think, “Okay, we’re both here right now, how much can we focus only on each other and be here in this moment while we talk? How deep can we go?”

I was reminded of this when I read this line recently: “Finally, I got it! The menial tasks I had been assigned to around the temple were meant to be an exercise in meditation. Whatever I was doing, my job was to try to stay in samadhi.

(That quote comes from the book, The Science of Meditation.)

You are not your thoughts (a note on the Shinzen Young hear/rest meditation technique)

You are not your thoughts.

As you learn in this meditation technique, it’s easily possible to sit back and observe all the crap that spews out of your brain. As you’ll quickly find out, “you” are the observer, and all those thoughts — I’m too fat, I’m not smart enough, I’m too sexy for my shirt — just keep spewing out of your socially-conditioned brain machine.

Observing the thoughts is the beginning of ending them.

Stopping breathing during meditation

Apparently I have sleep apnea. But during the day. During meditation.

When I was meditating this morning my body stopped breathing several times for more than a minute and a half. At first I observed and wondered about it, but then I just let it be. The new normal.

~ July 6, 2021

Two notes from meditating this morning (Feb.11, 2021)

As a note to self, while I was doing a Shinzen Young style “noting” meditating this morning (Feb. 11, 2021), I felt pressure on the right side of my head. It was like if you have a sinus infection or had some dental work, and the right side of your face has that pressure. Meanwhile, the left side of my face/head felt perfectly clear. So in addition to noting “rest” and “hear,” I started noting “pressure.” The more I focused on the pressure, it eventually went away.

Another thought from this morning is that many thoughts come and go during meditation, but some of them are particularly sticky. You try to let them come and go, but they’re like flypaper or something — ridiculously sticky. I felt like a cat who gets tape on its paw and keeps shaking the paw, but the tape won’t come off. This reminded me of Pema Chodron talking about getting stuck and unstuck, though I can’t remember her exact terminology.

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.

Should I buy Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha?

I recently bought the second edition of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book (I already read the first edition), and it occurred to me as I was reading the introductory pages why I like this book so much: As the author (Daniel Ingram) writes, “... it is a very strange thing to have such a completely different language, set of experiences, and perspectives from most of the people around me. I can often feel like an alien wearing a trench coat of normalcy ... If you go way into this stuff, you will discover this same loneliness.” I know that feeling well.

If you’re debating about whether this book might be right for you, my recommendation is that if that description applies to you, this book is probably right for you.

Also, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to read the book. Mr. Ingram often explains mindfulness and meditation techniques in great detail, and without archaic language.

In fact, I think one of the prime reasons to buy the book might be the thought, “I had some sort of unusual experience that I find hard to talk to other people about, but I’m courageous enough to want to learn more about it, and understand it.” As Mr. Ingram explains, sometimes experiences that happen to some people while meditating happen to other people who have never meditated a moment before in their life.

I suspect that some of my early experiences happened because I was a pitcher on baseball teams in my high school years, and I took that very seriously and concentrated hard while pitching. While other players had more talent, I had great concentration (and control). These days when I meditate I sometimes think, “Yep, this feels just like the concentration required while pitching.”

If you want a truly hardcore book with no-nonsense language from someone who is willing to talk about these things, this book is for you.

A moth is a mapmaking creature (and Zen koans)

A moth is a mapmaking creature. When it flies into a candle it’s working from an erroneous map. Maybe the moth’s map says, “Mating opportunities here.”

A human is also a mapmaking creature. Everyone operates from a map, and the map is always getting out of date. Life, the territory described by the map, moves quickly. This means that the map drifts away from the territory, eventually becoming more of a historical artifact than a useful guide.

When there is a wide gap between the map and current world, the person who made the map feels discomfort.

For however long it worked, it was a nice map, and now it doesn’t work any more. In this situation, unlike moths, humans have two choices. One is the path of discovery, in which the map is abandoned or redrawn over and over again.

The other path is one in which the more doubts you have about a map, the more strongly you insist it’s accurate. This is the path that leads the moth into the flame. If you follow this path, you’re living by a fiction, an erroneous map ... essentially what you’re doing is building a prison cell of non-reality to live in, your own little Alcatraz.

It’s the job of the koan to take down your prison walls, to undermine your fictions. Then you might discover that you’re not really suffering from other people or from circumstances. You’re suffering from your maps, your fictions, the prison you yourself have created.

A quote from a book titled, Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life, by John Tarrant

Prolong not the past, invite not the future

Prolong not the past.
Invite not the future.
Alter not your innate wakefulness.
Fear not appearances.
There is nothing more than that.

(Sounds like something Yoda might say, but according to a Ram Dass book, it’s a stanza from the Tibetan school of Buddhism.)

Treat every moment as your last

I used to meditate in what I now call a “lazy” way, more of a savasana “withdraw from the senses” style. These days my meditation is more active and alert, and I like this quote by Shunryu Suzuki: “Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.” (Last spring (2014), when I thought I might die as I laid in a bed in a hotel room, my meditation was extremely intense, just like this quote requests of us.)

I don’t know the original source of this image, but this quote is from the book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind