Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Zen Doesn't Work!

Many of us are drawn to Zen for its qualities of calmness, serenity and peace of mind. In it we are looking to find relief from pain and suffering. What is weird about the process and practice of Zen is that if you try to get these things from it you actually chase it away. To use Zen to achieve any goal is to not practice Zen. Zen is Zen as it is...in our attempts to make Zen work for us we defeat ourselves, get frustrated and stop practicing.

Zen is one of those practices that can't be described by what it is or by what it is not. Zen is actually useless in accomplishing anything. Yet, its practice has many 'benefits'....but to try and get those benefits you actually lose those benefits.

So, how do you not practice Zen? Practice it...but don't practice it with an end in mind. Just sit. Watch the breath. When the mind wanders return to breath. If you feel comfortable or uncomfortable, scattered or focused, happy or sad...just acknowledge these sensations and return to breath.  Each day, each breath is different. Be with it as it is...no chasing after pleasant sensations or running from unpleasant. Be present...here and now....and watch. All is perfectly managed.

That's it.

Hands palm to palm,

Thursday, April 14, 2011

10-Breath Zen

I have to admit, some mornings I run short of time to formally sit Zen...or I am just too damn lazy to get out of bed.

Well, what I do from time to time that actually keeps me in the meditative habit and my Zen-groove is 10-Breath Zen.

I do my ceremonial lighting of a candle and incense, then sit in seiza or on my cushion...then simply focus on breathing, but count down each exhale starting at 10. By the time I get to one I am feeling more settled and calm. It is like doing a hypnotic deepener technique...it feels good.

From here I give thanks for my many blessings and go about my day. 10-Breath Zen. A great way to start your day and keeping in the routine of sitting practice.

Hands palm to palm,

Monday, April 11, 2011

Playing Ball on Running Water

Many years ago I had the opportunity to meet with the founder of Constructive Living, David K. Reynolds, PhD.   He was presenting his work at the University of Nebraska in Kearney at the invite of Dr. Yozan Mosig, a Professor of Psychology and noted Martial Artist. Many of you old time martial artists would know him as Dirk Mosig. He is also now a Zen Priest and uses the name Yozan.

Well, to get to the point. Dr. Reynold's wrote some 6 Key Points about Constructive Living. Constructive Living is a combination of two Japanese psychotherapies, Naikan and Morita. They are Zen-based teachings which I found very helpful...and I hope you can too. Constructive Living contains practices that are helpful in journeying our way through life a bit more, well, constructively.

Some of Dr. Reynold's work is now out of print, so here is Constructive Living principles in a nutshell:

1. Observe, acknowledge and accept feelings and thoughts without necessarily expressing or acting on them.

2. Pay attention to the details of reality in the present moment and bring attention to whatever you are doing when the mind wanders elsewhere.

3. Distinguish between what is controllable (your own behavior) and what is not controllable (just about everything else).

4. Identify purposes and establish realistic goals.

5. Co-exist with unpleasant feelings and still take appropriate action based on the needs of the situation.

6. Examine your behavior in relation to others and assess the impact of your behavior on others.

Take some time and reflect on this. See how following these principles can help make your life flow more evenly.

I invite you to read some of his works or Google Constructive Living. There are some good websites dedicated to his teachings. Over the years I have found his teachings very helpful...and I have fond memories of eating lunch with him and Dr. Mosig.

Hands palm to palm,

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Squishing Frogs

Have you ever squished a frog? I am going to say, "yes. you have squished lots of frogs in your life." I know, because I have too. Let me explain with an old Zen story:

A very young and devout Zen priest needed to relieve himself during the evening. He went out into the dark night, did his business and upon returning to his quarters stepped on something extremely squishy. The thoughts went through his head that he had stepped on a frog...and not just a frog, but a frog full of eggs. He felt really bad as he had taken a vow of not killing. Not wishing to disturb anyone he vowed to return in the morning to clean up the mess.

All night long he tossed and turned in bed, worrying about breaking his vows of not killing. He even had a horrific dream of frogs chasing him and wanting him dead. Upon the break of dawn he rushed out to where he squished the frog only to discover he had stepped on a rotten eggplant! His eyes were opened and now he "understood."

Can you see you how have squished frogs? I've done this so many times in my life as well. The biggest frog I ever squished was when I needed a job 8 years ago after getting laid off from my previous job. We had lost a major contract in our agency and I had least seniority, so I was given a severance and let go. The job search wasn't easy, but a job for a child therapist opened up on a nearby reservation. My wife encouraged me to apply but I told her my specialty is not working with children and plus I am not sure if I would even like working on a reservation. I was imagining a whole bunch of negatives.

My wife, in her sweetest kick butt voice said, "You need a job. Fake it till you make it" So I applied. During the interview I discovered it was the wrong ad in the paper and they were looking for someone with my skills....ah, eggplants. What a relief. To make a long story short, I got the job and have been there ever since....one of the longest and best jobs I have ever had.

If I would have not applied due to my squishing frogs delusion, I would have missed out on a wonderful opportunity to work in a great community and meet some really fantastic people. How many of us live in these delusions without ever going into the daylight and seeing that all along we have just been stepping on eggplants?

So, ponder how you squish frogs. Be here now....it is where the sunshine is.

Hands palm to palm,