Zen and the Art of Dealing with Stress or put it simply.. Meditation.

I have just been asked about my stand on dealing with stress.

As a therapist, I have supported my clients in making the contents of their subconscious conscious so that the person has greater awareness of exactly what is going on the deeper mind and nervous system.

One of the most effective ways of doing this is to develop techniques that will assist a person in digging deeper into the subconscious mind. Meditation is one such technique that I have used to with my clients, but it takes discipline, but everyone who has committed to the discipline, has found a new ability to deal with stress and learn how to release it.

This is because I have discovered through my own practice,  that we each hold the answer to every predicament and self-knowledge gained through meditation is a powerful way to access the knowledge. It may be buried deeply in our minds, but it is there and all we have to do, is to begin the practice of witnessing which is what serious meditation is about.

Crazy Thoughts; Something Beyond

There is  something beyond illness and wellness that gets obscured by denial. Judgment and resistance will only get anything to persist. Total acceptance means not calling it illness or wellness, as they are judgments. Illness or wellness is just experience. Being aware supports us in our responsibility for either. 

Can we accept that the mind has vast power and respect it?  If I observe closely I can see that it usually controls a great deal of my life, my habits, my drives and desires, everything really - just triggered by a thought - any thought, regardless of how important I judge it to be at the time of thinking it! 

My justifications and judgments are all part of the minds control and power. And yes, the power is vast and mostly unexplored; existing below the level of awareness!   Every aspect in my life can be transcended if I am  willing to fully accept it.  

Paradoxically, I have to fully experience "fighting" all manner of dualism as I am fighting it, before I can really be on my journey - I am thinking of the Silent Flute with all the fighters risking their lives just to get on a hazardous journey to enlightenment!      And then of the Zen temple where the Zen masters make all newcomers into Zen stand outside and just wait, regardless of weather or conditions. Wait, and wait, risking death perhaps? 

What is more important, realization of self, or continuing life in the physical body..  That is judgment again!  Seems I can't get away from it. But let's be fair, nothing much of value has come about for those of us who sit on the fence and there's nothing like the short sharp shock of a piece of reality to knock us off it.

Giving Space: Winning and Losing

In zazen today my mind became occupied and challenging...

I could see quite clearly that competitiveness is a function of the ego that only wants to win. And what if I do win? I may feel smug for a while, but then that would just be more ego stuff. At the end of the day, winning and losing...   It doesn't matter. I am what I am and my choice is just to go through life looking within myself in meditation, for that is where all my answers truly lay.

Tut, tut!!!  I may tut... But that's just another form of judgment!   Give space to what emerges, even the tut-tutting if it arises..  It is not about winning and losing...  Giving space is about transformation.

What's It Like to Be a Zen Practitioner - #3

Apart from instruction on how to do zazen, there is no instruction in Zen. True Zen masters never claim to be masters and rarely teach. They ask their students to question themselves. They give questions in the form of koans.  The presence of a master saying nothing, often has profound effect.

There is no right way or wrong way, for how can there be when it is one's intent to walk through a gateless gate, going nowhere.

My journey is unique, as is everyone else's. Currently I am working through my own karma, that is truly ancient and huge. Listening to another Zen practitioner sharing his/her experience can be inspiring and trigger insights in myself, but it is still my journey, and whilst listening to the other practitioner, their shared experience becomes my unique experience - so listening without judgment and with total focus is valuable, whether or not I realize it.

Past life karma?  How can it be when the past is an illusion? Intelligent cellular memory?  Maybe, maybe not. This is all irrelevant anyway when all there is, is now.

If you wish... Please share you experiences... 

What's It Like to Be a Zen Practitioner - #2

Zazen is the basis of Zen practice. One can say that zazen is Zen. My zazen is usually mentally "busy" with thoughts flying here and there. But as the years have gone by I have gotten the hang of watching and accepting the thoughts in mindfulness.

Anyway, I have realised that mindfulness is not the same as focus. Mindfulness is where I observe without interference whatever is going on in my mind. I am being a witness. Focus is like concentration and concentration suggests force. Zazen is the achievement of a subtle balance between mindfulness and focus, and it helps to make the distinction between the two. The two! Dichotomy? I just love the paradox of Zen where the aim is to realize that all is one and that there are no "two"! But also, there is no "shouldism" in Zen either. So the balance of the two (mindfulness and focus) is very subtle where both states realize an at-one-ness and simply exist together. But that is just an explanation about it. It is trying to make sense of it, and Zen transcends sense.

The experience of zazen is very different! Experience! Now there's word. Just a word that points to the fact that experiencing is constantly in a state of flux, and an experience is already gone! An experience can only be thought about and therefore is not an experience at all, but the experienced! Past tense. Tense being the operative word when I try to nail down what the experience of an experience is! But that's how we grow… through tense (tension). In-tensely... The never-ending story.. The never-ender wrestle?

Looking at what the distinction between the two (experiencing and experience) is, can be very frustrating and annoying. Bah! Oh! I was wondering why Zen masters uttered that word in so many Zen writings. Bah! is Zen..

On occasions, I have been asked if I am a mystic. Mysticism is an illusion that doesn't really exist, because as far as I am concerned, the profound comes from the mundane - or better still, probably is the mundane. That to me is mysticism. Right there in front of my nose in every consecutive moment of now.

Zen really messes with my head sometimes! But that's what it is meant to do and I invite it to do so. Zen wants me to get out of my head and into my experience! Oh, I had better say experiencing to be semantically correct, but still… Experiencing what it is like to be in the head? Probably. Again the one and the other merge and disappear into each other, becoming one.

So this is the journey. A journey-less journey. There is only one destination and that is now and I am arriving and leaving here and now constantly. I won't be back in this moment again, but my head will try and drag me back here to this moment that is fast becoming an illusion.

What's It Like to Be a Zen Practitioner - #1

Probably need to change the title there to What's it Like For Me to be a Zen practioner.....

 I was asked the other day what is was like to be a Zen practitioner. My answer had to be no different to being a non-Zen practitioner I guess. I do the same things. I have the same desires now as I had before I "met" Zen some 30+ years ago. In the beginning I thought that I would become all-knowing, all powerful, but that is not the case at all and most Zen practitioners I talk to have similar tales to tell.

Zen meditation (zazen) can be painful as I uncover more and more of the barriers that have been erected by my conditioned mind.  Not that Zen is a method of changing that conditioning, it's more like a matter of choosing the way rather than having it chosen for me by society's "rules and regulations". I get to choose what the "right and wrong" of things in a natural way, rather than feeling them to be a "must".

Is to have desire is so wrong?   Ah… No… I didn't say that. Buddha discovered that desire is the source of all suffering. To desire not to desire, is still desire. Nothing wrong in desire. Nothing right in desire.  I do desire, and I am a witness to the karma of desiring as it unfolds.   More to come on  What's it Like to be a Zen Practitioner later… or not.

Stress and Zen

Stress is a part of life in the relative world that we live in. As a Zen practitioner (of some 30+ years) and as a therapist, my interests have been in stress management. The ultimate goal in Zen is enlightenment, but even looking for enlightenment will hold it at arms length. Resistance always causes reciprocal resistance from the mind. Therefore, to still the mind is bound to create stress, but as a Zen practitioner I use this stress to discover more and more of what it standing in the way of my progress, rather than trying to relieve stress. Paradoxically, accepting whatever is in one's experience eliminates that experience, In zazen, this is achieved by focusing on the breathing, and acknowledging all "messages" from the body.

After much practice, such mindfulness can be extended into every-day activities being totally present in the moment of here and now with each and every task, and dropping the habit of hurry and worry. When a person is totally in the here-now, stress cannot occur, but stress has to be accepted and transcended. It is not the evil that some people think it is. It has a lot to teach us on our journey.

Zen Misconceptions

I have just finished reading a book called, ZEN Wrapped in Karma and Dipped in Chocolate written by Brad Warner who is a Zen teacher.

As a Zen practioner and therapist, I have often had to explain to clients who thought that I had something special, or some privelege that meant that I was not above getting stressed or screwed up in any way, so I can certainly applaud Brad in the way he takes away this illusion that Zen teachers are spiritually superior and completely enlightened.

A great read that gives the reader the truth about Zen practice, Zen masters and enlightenment.

Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate (USA link)

Alone or Lonely?

As a Zen practitioner, aloneness is something that I have recognised as a result of many years of meditation practice. The truth is that we are alone - always - yet we are together in that alone-ness. We cannot live in the mind of another, so everything we know about others, is created in our own minds.

As I continued meditating and contemplating this through the years, I have realised that alone-ness and loneliness are two different things. The difference is desire.

If we desire to be understood and needed by another and it is not forthcoming, then we will feel lonely. but if we drop this desire then we can be full of "self presence" and realise that we are part of the whole universe and that nature itself cares for us. To realise this though, we need to accept and realise that we are more than just a physical body. That we are an energy (or spirit) inside a physical body and mind. We came into the world alone.. We go out of the world alone.. In between we worry about being alone sometimes, but really we don't need to.

We were OK when we entered the world, so who is to say that we are not OK when we leave the world?

From a discussion I have particpated in.. For other points of view click here

Expansion and Suffering.

This is interesting discussion on religion I got involved in regarding resistances from the point of view of my own Zen life.

As a Zen practitioner, I do not believe in a creator deity as such, but will acknowledge the existence of the Whole or Universal.   When something is experienced to completion, it disappears as it becomes one with the whole. So if I am suffering, I focus my attention fully on the experience and allow it to be, allow it to expand into the realm of everything or All.  At the point of complete expansion, it disappears. With a headache or other pain, I feel it expand to become everything as I meditate upon it. With the emotions the same thing can happen.

There is no time limit to the duration of such experience, for if I am motivated to free myself of the pain and use acceptance to do this, I will get to keep the discomfort, because I am looking to rid myself of an experience, therefore resisting and not experiencing it to completion.

It is not always easy because resistance to discomfort feels to be wrapped around my mind layer by layer, like onion skins, each layer will disappear to reveal the layer underneath, which may or may not be more pain, and there are some problems that as I get closer to the core, where before it will disappear, it will grow more intense.

So Why Meditate?

Yes, why meditate? I even find that I still ask this question, but what is the point of any answer to any question? The "answer" I feel lies in the experience.

I have learned from my meditation over the years, that in life there is no comparison between one person and another, between one thing or situation and another. But in the mind there is! 

There is a saying in Zen that states "without you the universe would be incomplete".  

The feeling that everything is fruitless is just a feeling and in life, all things, including feelings, are impermanent and subject to change. To feel negative about life today, will disappear to manifest a feeling of positivity tomorrow. But no point in chasing tomorrow as it doesn't exist. Be with whatever is so right now, and see that there is no comparison between what is, and what isn't. Because what isn't doesn't exist. All is what is!

Opinions, are just opinions and are just as subject to the change.

And because of this universal truth, opinions, are not really real because they disappear and become changed.

The only reality is here and now. What you can sense; what you can feel. But then, the here and now is instantly gone.

So if you can contemplate these lines, the experience may feel strange at first, particularly if you have not really come here before, but  it can be quite empowering.

Perfect Zazen!!

In my zazen, there are often distractions. At first these may be annoying, but then I remember the process of acceptance. Not that I can force myself to accept, but it is more like an invitation from my self to my self to simply accept. The other day for instance, there was the sound of a door gently opening and closing in the breeze created from an open window…

At first, I felt distracted and my mind urged me to get up and close it just to make my zazen silent and "perfect". Yet, a deeper part of me that knew that I just needed to connect with whatever arose in zazen. Perhaps this deeper part was "true" self. But one never knows in Zen, as not knowing is a desirable and "perfect" state. Did I mention desire there? Did I mention perfect!? What illusion! What paradox!

Anyway, whatever happened, I slipped into a state of just listening. The door would touch its framework and then nothing. Touch its framework again, and then nothing. No rhythm at all, so I didn't know when the next noise would occur. I realized that I was anticipating the noise and had slipped out of the immediate moment. The noise wouldn't come and just as I felt relief that I could get on with zazen, there is was again! I knew this was not correct practice! But reminded myself that there is no correct practice without there being incorrect practice.. Trapped in dualism again?

Then it all stopped. The noise came and went, came and went, and it was OK. Zen became perfectly imperfect. Without expectation or disappointment that my zazen hadn't been… Perfect! Ha!

Past and Future: Non-existent. Peace of the Moment.

This is a copy of a response to a discussion post I have done on myLot forum...

As a Zen practitioner I do not follow any conventional religion but through my practice of zazen every day I have no beliefs about what is to happen at some future time or when I am dead.

My Zen practice takes me to the truth that the future does not exist and neither does the past. How can it!? There is only now, and it is constantly available. The moment of now, disappears immediately and cannot return again. If you can understand, the past is an illusion - that is, it is not real. The future is also an illusion and not real. Only now can exist. If I am to keep looking and focusing on this moment of now, I am focusing on the only reality that exists. My mind becomes still, and I connect with everything in my awareness that exists.

There cannot be fear, only when I allow my mind to fear what may be in the future, which I have already established (within myself), is not real! So that means I fear what is not there! A ghost!

I have found that no matter what I experience whether I be comfortable or in pain, if I just stay focused on this moment of existence as it comes and goes, I recognize that nature provides me with a natural inclination to the peace and calmness of the here and now.

Generally society, does not teach this, but teaches us to focus on the future all the time. Get better, richer, healthier and do not rest on the moment, for we have to "improve life" constantly! The truth I have found is that we can only really improve the quality of our life by being focused here and now and becoming totally mindful of what we are doing or experiencing. We are not working things out, so much as allowing nature to allow us to evolve and grow. Contemplating these ideas in meditation, I have found for myself, that problems have a tendency to sort themselves out. It is our very being (or soul) that allows energy to flow allowing such evolution to naturally occur.

I thought with this post, that I would share my experience and insights with you.. If you just look within yourself, I feel you may find something far more valuable than any beliefs that come from outside yourself. My truth cannot be yours, and yours cannot be mine, but we can certainly find our own and they will sound remarkably similar...

Please feel free to share your insights or experiences..
Love and light..

Zen: Just Awareness

Zen. It is just awareness! When it is not present, it is present, but through the ego we are stuck in the pretence that we are not aware! A rock and a hard place, for to try and be aware is a desire and will only cause us to sink into the quicksand of the finite mind. So what do we do to become aware? Exactly!

If we want to get it right, then it will be wrong. So, we need to transcend both right and wrong to that state of awareness where we get the experience that everything is just so.

Letting Go

Letting go needs to be on a moment to moment basis in order to remain focused in the here and now.

But to have such a desire to achieve this, wouldn't work, because desire would immediately bring one back into a world where the random, planning mind would once again be in control.

Letting go, in each moment of now, is liberating and the way to mindfulness. It is quite simply Zen. As all is.

In Zen. What is Absolute Truth? Is it Truth That We Lie?

I have just involved myself in an on-line discussion on why people lie. It will be interesting to see what reponses I get, but being a very Zen answer. What I have written can be quite challenging to some, so there may not be any responses at all.

As a Zen practitioner and therapist, I have studied the tendency to lie.  In Zen I aim to deal in absolutes, that is, we are either lying or telling the truth. Lying is usually done  out of some sort of fear. The fear could be great or small.  For instance if you see someone who is wearing what you believe to be an awful outfit, but they seem very proud of it, it may difficult to tell absolute truth because there is a fear. Not a big-deal fear, but a fear of offending them. It is easier to say that it's nice, than to say it is hideous and doesn't suite them at all.  So, it is not easy to tell the absolute truth all of the time.

Another part of this equation is that the mind exists on a lie, meaning that what we may totally believe is a lie.

For instance, in Zen, the truth is that whenever we judge another person, we are judging our self.  But we totally believe that we are judging and perhaps blaming another person for something that upsets us. This is not so.

We can only perceive the other person as part of our own awareness, which we consider to be our self and then we create our ideas of what they are like, but thos ideas still isn't truth. It is only our ideas about what may be truth.

So judging others is judging our own awareness which we believe to be our self!  It's a neat trap, if you can understand what I'm saying here.  Most of life, we are strongly identified with our self as being separate from others in the world, This is another lie. But no-one will believe you if you were to realize this, because believing is not truth either, only realization and experiencing is! Only now is true as the past or future which we may think of as being real, is not truth.

As a Zen practitioner, I am as honest as living in this world permits me to be, and to tell absolute truth is a great challenge whilst the mind keeps interfering!

Nothing wrong or right about that, so it's best not to worry about it.

Can we really say that there is truth in the world everywhere we look? I think there may be more untruth than truth in the world.  That's is a mystery that I love about Zen practice!

Please click here if you want to read the discussion or responses... Or lack of them! Or sign in/sign up and respond yourself.

Judgement: Memoirs of an Encounter Group: A Zen Challenge

My challenge as a Zen practitioner and group therapist was not to judge. And I found it to be a great challenge as  judgements came up, In fact judgement still arises - for its roots seem ancient - imbedded in my mind as in the society I belong to.

In my encounter groups, I used profanity a lot to "shock" people into awareness.  Bashing people with a Zen stick, wouldn't have made me very popular and would probably have got me arrested! 

Yes, the judging mind  raised its objection and considered such ways of communicating as bad, so I had to get past my judgemental considerations  because I wanted to cause a stir in my groups.  

Once past that first hurdle of my judgemental mind, the space in the group room became what I can best describe as light and free as the language amongst the participants got to be more expressive and although encounter groups are based more on spiritual development than therapy, such expression provided the space for some very rapid and therapeutic effects to take place.

Getting Better, Getting Real.

In Zen, some of us look to get better. Others look to get real. Can there be an "better" without "reality"? If we can drop the struggle to get better and focus on the task of getting real, will we not then get better anyway?