Understanding zen

I’ve attempted zen practice for several years. I’m not very good.

It’s a different thought process, of wholeness and emptiness and eternal interconnectedness, which emphasises peaceful presence in each moment.

Atheism, which I found in my teen years, offers the individual freedom from the tyrannical dogma of traditional religion. Shifting the focus instead onto reason, logic, empirical evidence and a striving toward philosophy, over doctrine and base sophistry. (Admitting that we know nothing as a starting point, as opposed to lecturing others in the guise of special authority figures through ego, tradition, emotion or falsehood.)

But atheism leaves a crater, too. An empty slot. Despite our efforts, it seems like humanity has always had some psychological socket for mysticism. For all its virtues, atheism neglects to provide valuable advice on a good way to live, to be content and satisfied, and a way to know what truly matters. Though I seem to have found something to fill this need, in the form of zen practice.

But what is zen? An image search would imply that it’s all about floating leaves and stacked pebbles, or a kind of weird-ass obsession with purity in all things. Perhaps that’s a stock-photo impression of zen, from the outside.

But zen simply means meditation. To pause our hectic lifelong wheel of desire and suffering, and to simply take a step back to sit in peace, with no thoughts.

It’s a school of Buddhism which emphasises practice, mindfulness and sitting in meditation, without the same trappings of scripture and tradition that come with older orthodox Buddhism. It’s simply a clearing of the mind, and total presence in each moment, without distraction. To focus, without thoughts.

If you’re eating, then just eat. If you’re mopping the floor, then only mop the floor. If you’re waxing on and waxing off, then let every other thought and distraction float on by, like clouds in your still mental sky. Only wax on, and wax off. Be like a still mirror to the world, or water which flows and pools peacefully.

We could see our modern lives as an endless treasure hunt. Searching non-stop for those vital things to complete us and finally make us Happy.

We’re obsessed with Being Happy, and I’m not sure it’s the right way to think. Nobody would want to be happy all the time; that’d be the life of a manic. Perhaps it’s better to search for contentment, rather than unending happiness and bliss.

No thought, thing, desire or person will ever make us contented. Contentment is very much an inside job, and zen practice may be one path toward it. It’s an immensely peaceful way to live, when I can remember to practice it.

Zen isn’t anything. It’s not a blessing from on high; it’s not a magical nirvana state. You’ll find it in feeding sparrows, or mopping the floor.

You’ll know zen by sitting for two minutes, and breathing, without a thought in your head.

Crazy though the world may be, you always have the option to step back, and sit, and not think about anything at all. That’s zen. I rather like it.


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