Friday, April 30, 2010

Zen, Baby

As I'm sure you've noticed, one of the things I really enjoy studying is belief systems. I got well-educated in Christianity as a youth, and later, went on to study Eastern beliefs. One of my favorite's is Zen.

Buddhism actually began in India, but didn't get much traction there. When it reached China, it was similar enough to Taoism (from which we get the Yin-Yang) that it really took hold, and traveled further East to Japan, where it developed into Zen.

Zen has more to do with practice than belief. To practice Zen, simply sit and mind your breath. That's it. Just pay attention to the physical sensations as you're drawing, then expelling air. (This is where Buddhism came full-circle to the Yoga tradition, which is traditionally focused more on breathing exercises than stretching.)

If you've tried this, you will have quickly seen the difference between 'simple' and 'easy.' In order to pay proper attention to the breath, you must ignore the mental chatter that fills our heads at all times – that's the point. Most of it is either re-living the past (“ooh, I wish I'd have said that! That would have been perfect!”), or rehearsing/dreaming of the future (“Wonder what's for dinner?” “Next time I see Al, I need to ask him about...”).

Practicing Zen can really bring you into the now. I kinda wish I was more up-to-speed on my practice, but, you know, life happens. When I was practicing, I was surprised at just how much is going on around me at any given time, and just how difficult it was to be bored! Between the ordered chaos within my own mind and body, and the symphony of my surroundings, there wasn't a moment when there wasn't something fascinating happening.

More importantly, I realized just how much judgment happened in my mind. Somehow, instead of seeing things happen, my mind would layer “Meaning” from my own experiences. For example, I'd see an old station wagon with the imitation wood on the side, and I'd think of my grandmother taking us to the cottage, then I'd think of unpleasant family drama. BAM! It's just a car, but suddenly, I've got an eye-twitch and heart burn! None of this was impacting my life at that moment, and if I was being mindful, I could have the detachment necessary to see that.

At the same time, being mindful of what's going on in my head also gives me the mental tools to see when I'm hearing from a more Eternal Voice. Recognizing the mental chatter helps me seperate it from the more important messages.

A fascinating book that takes these practices and gleans the gems from the cultural color & trappings is “Wherever You Go There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Have you taken some time to just Be lately?


  1. I follow another blogger, The Old Silly, and I think the two of you would really relate!

  2. Very informative Will, congratulations on finishing the challenge.


  3. That is so true about layering meaning unitentionally. Great post.

  4. Detachment and mindfulness... detachment is an especially dangerous word. For some people, myself included to an extent, it's really tempting to think detachment means separating from reality, including one's self and one's past. But it's not a complete separation, not a disowning -- it's just getting enough distance to own one's self, one's reality, and one's past through reflection instead of merely through impulse.

  5. Congratulations on a job well done in the A to Z Challenge. You did a great job of posting and networking with comments. I look forward to hearing what you'll have to say about it on Monday and hope you'll join us for the May 17th Fifteen Favorites post. Now I think I'll empty my mind for a while.

    Tossing It Out

  6. congrats on finishing the challenge woohoo fun eh!! hehe

  7. Great post; I also did Zen! Yours gave more info than mine. I agree in your layering theory; It is hard to focus! I am more into guided imagery!
    I love your 777; My husband has a thing about 7's!
    I have a thing about 3's. I am always looking for
    3 7's. I see them often~

    Congrats on finishing the channel; Well done~

  8. I was trying to concentrate on my breathing whilst reading your post and I think I nearly had a panic attack!! ;0)