Thursday, September 1, 2011

Got Gusto?

The impetus for this post comes from a conversation of mothers I overheard while at a coffee shop. In fact, as I write this I am at the coffee shop. The mom's had all just dropped off their young kids at school and were talking about how to achieve Zen calm, Zen happiness or this was 'zen' and that was 'zen'. 

I got to asking myself, "Do they really know what zen is?"  Well, actually, that is a loaded question, for zen can't be known, only experienced...which brings me to my point.

Zen is usually equated with calmness and serenity...but that is for those who see from the outside of zen practice and have not engaged in it directly. In the middle of Zen practice is angst, painful knees, doubt, suffering, peace, quiet, heaven, hell. The insides are always churning, while an outsider will see people just sitting 'peacefully' not knowing that perhaps this person is grieving the loss of loved one and in the midst of great turmoil.

Zen is about entering into where you are with 'Gusto!' Now, sitting on a zafu doesn't look like an activity full of gusto, but it is. When your asshole is burning cause you have been sitting on and off the zafu for six hours into the second day of a sesshin, the only way 'out' is 'in'....and with gusto. You must lose yourself only by pushing yourself in.

It's like training in Karate. You must enter in and embrace the battle. It is easier with an opponent in a dojo...more difficult when it is your own mind, body and emotions. In the dojo you push yourself to the limits till you 'lose yourself' go past the point of what you can endure and run on adrenalin and spirit. 

Same in zazen. Push yourself, Enter in till the self is lost and all there  In Karate we attack and defend with Gusto! Lotsa of screaming and grunting and laughing. In is quieter without physical movement...but the Gusto! must be there. Push, push, push till you can't push get to that point of letting go...this is Zen. Leave no trace of the Self...burn yourself out!!

When you cross 'the gap' in Karate to defend yourself it is an all or nothing adventure. If you go in with hesitancy or reserve or half-assed you will lose. You must give it all. You must die and leave no trace. Same in Zen...give it all! Give it Gusto! Leave not trace of the self....burn it to the ground. 

Gusto! Give all of your life's activity Gusto! Leave no trace. Zen looks calm from the outside...and it can be on the inside, but first there must be Gusto! The gusto of fire in the belly.

Wow...those Mom's sparked a fire in my brain. 

Hands palm to palm,


  1. Zen has become a terribly packaged marketing word hasn't it. Zen scented candles, zen mp3 players, zen fashion collections...

    although I can't speak like you on the martial arts I do see how mind control and meditation are a million miles from the zen art of dropping the kids at school and watching Oprah.

  2. Hi Ta-Wan...thanks for the comment. It is a double-edged sword with zen. Glad it's part of our vernacular yet its use is questionable. I wanted to get on my soap box and tell these moms what I was writing and thinking, but that wouldn't be zen :-) lol...

  3. A great post . . good to see Ta-Wan about! And I agree with him . . gee, can't believe I just wrote that! ;-)

  4. Hey Doug...we have to get TaWan on FB...think of the fun!