Most Saturday evenings I go to a Zen meditation group. I love it. It is inconvenient for my family because I have plans for every Saturday evening. As I leave the house each Saturday, I say, “I’m going to Zen”
My daughter told me that I am not correct when I say that I’m going to Zen. She said that zen is an adjective as in that’s so zen. She says it’s like saying, I’m going to fat, or stinky, or tall, or purple. It makes no sense to go to an adjective. It was a zen conversation.
When I say that I’m going to Zen, I use it as a noun, as a specific place I go. If I wanted to describe what we do there, then it could also be a verb. I will meditate, prostrate, congregate and eat. That is what I do when I zen. Zen is also an adverb because I do all of that zenly.
So each Saturday that I am able, I zenly zen at the zen zen center. The rest of the week I zen zenly or unzenly, depending on your point of view as to what is zen. There is really nothing to Zen, it just signifies what is happening.
The Ego and the Egoless went out on a blind date.
Said the Ego to the Egoless. “I see you see I’m great”.
The Ego spoke of all the things that made the Ego proud
And pointed out the special times it stood out from the crowd.
The Ego also toed the line of social grace and style.
It ordered food and drink to please the palate with a smile.
The Egoless enjoyed the show, the games the Ego played.
Observing all attentively, the tales told and traits displayed.
The Ego faced the Egoless and began to scramble madly.
The face of endless happiness switched to feeling sadly.
The Ego wept and wondered why it’s been so misunderstood.
The Egoless again observed, assuring all was good.
“Ego you’re impressive, I can see that you are great.
“I see that we were meant to be. Thank you for this half blind date”.
The Ego, in meeting the Egoless, just suspected what had started,
So the Ego arranged for a second blind date, said goodbye and then departed.
If you want to clue somebody into something that is happening, you give them the heads up. If you think that somebody is clueless, you may say that they have their head up their ass. If you think that somebody has their head up their ass, you may want to give them the heads up. That is the Buddha’s message in a nutshell. Heads up.
If your head were really up your ass, you would have a unique perspective of yourself. You would also suffer. If somebody pointed out to you that your head was stuck up your ass, you probably wouldn’t believe them and you may become angry. Two symptoms of having your head up your ass are not knowing exactly where your head is, and becoming easily angered. If somebody told you that the way to end your suffering was to take your head out of your ass, and you began to entertain the idea that your head may actually be up your ass, then you would probably do all you could to change your head space.
The Buddha’s message is more compassionate and less vulgar, but it is essentially a heads up to the idea that there is a way to end your suffering. One of the roots of suffering is a sense of a separate self. If you see the world with your head up your ass and you recognize where your head is, then you will also realize that everything you see is you. When you notice that all you are seeing is you, you no longer feel so separate from it and your suffering stops.
Your head is always up to something that causes you to suffer. Whenever you notice that you’re suffering, just give yourself the heads up and realize that your ass is perfect.
The purpose of meditation is to improve your life. When your life is well and fully improved, then you can think about the purposelessness of meditation. Meditation becomes purposeless when you notice that your life cannot be improved, not because it is hopeless, but because it is perfect. Imagining that your life is perfect is not quite the same as noticing it. If you feel like your life could and should be improved and you console yourself with the idea that you are likely perfect despite the evidence, then you will continue to gather evidence to shoot holes in your perfect theory. If you happen to be doing dishes or raking the yard and it hits you that everything is absolutely as it is, as it has been and as it will be, and you are somehow okay with that, then you will not give another thought to improving your life. Until that time, it is reasonable to meditate with a purpose.
In real life it is impossible to mediate without a purpose. Nobody accidentally finds themselves in a zendo staring at a wall, enduring leg cramps and brain farts. That is done on purpose. People don’t miraculously get up an hour early every day and set aside 20 minutes every evening to sit quietly and count their breaths. That is a purposeful discipline. Once you are sitting, purpose begins to dissolve. You can’t will yourself to see the Light. You can only see what you will, hear what you do and think what you may. On many occasions you may think that meditation is a waste of time or purposeless. On many other occasions you may think that your life has improved.
Actually, people do meditate every morning and evening with miraculous discipline. When it happens that Nobody accidentally finds Themselves in meditation, it can be quite liberating for you.
It is impossible to enjoy your misery. Enjoyment and misery can only jockey for position in your mind. They compete for your attention like a brother and sister pulling a parent in different directions. Like sibling rivals, enjoyment and misery can coexist. When you are feeling miserable, you can still enjoy a warm cup of tea, or a friendly smile. When you are enjoying a stroll in the park, you can still feel an underlying sense of doom and gloom. Actually enjoying a feeling of misery does not work.
The next best thing to enjoying your misery is acknowledging your misery. When you see that you are feeling miserable, the last thing you want to do is demand happiness. You also don’t want to wallow in misery. Wallowing is projecting your misery far into the future, without imagining the possibility of ever enjoying anything. You just need to give your misery its time. Take it in like a cup of tea. Feel the discomfort. Listen to the story. Cry.
When you walk that line between allowing and wallowing in your feelings, you open up some space for peace. In the midst of a deep cry, there is peace. In recognizing that misery is a passing feeling and not a permanent state of affairs, there is peace. Although you cannot enjoy misery, because misery is miserable, within your misery, you can find some peace. A little peace is always enjoyable.
Sometimes, people who meditate may be considered a bit fruity. If you’re very self conscious, just sitting on the floor with your legs crossed and your hands resting in your lap or, even fruitier, with your hands resting on your knees in a mudra, is enough to ruin any meditation with thoughts about how ridiculous you appear.
***Before I continue here, I would like to excuse myself, and beg forgiveness for using the word fruity and speaking of fruits. When I was young, the terms fruit and fruity were used as derogatory, homophobic slurs. Like we rinse fruits and berries before we eat them, I would like to wash that term of its hateful history and use it as a delightful, loving, nutritious, fun word, like nutty, goofy, silly, and funky.***
If you don’t worry about looking ridiculous while you meditate, you may assume an air of spiritual pride and pompousness. That is about the same as feeling foolish. The best way to sit is like an apple. Just sit there.
As you sit there like a fruit, you come face to face with yourself. You see that these ideas about yourself like fruity, fine, foolish or fantastic are all just ideas. You will come to know what you are, so you won’t concern yourself with laden labels. When you sit with focused attention, you notice that your are full of dignity. At that point your practice is ripening.
If your fundamental Self of selves, your most basic nature, is the entire universe, including its awareness of itself, then your regular life is an illusion, a game of make believe, like a child’s tea party. In order to live your life, you buy into that game with your soul.
Imagine you are a parent joining your child for a tea party. Your child, focused on the matter at hand, pretends to pour you a cup of tea. You sit at the little table with your child’s stuffed bear and favorite doll and daintily sip a cup of air with your pinky extended. As a parent, you are thinking of other, more important, things you need to do, but there is nothing more important you could possibly do. Those more important things are the illusion. You joined the tea party filled with love and compassion for your child. The tea party real.
When you suspect that your Self may be something other than a body trying to sustain itself in comfort and prestige, you still have to live among others in the illusion. All you can do is dress up in your fanciest hat, sit with the delightful company and enjoy the most delicious tea you can imagine.
The nature of delusion is that it is convincing. It is tricky to become alert to your delusion. If you think that you might be awakening, how could you be sure that the awakening is not just a fancier layer of the delusion? What if what you experience is actually reality? If you are not deluded, but just living in reality, then there is no hope of awakening. Dream on.
Fortunately, we can tell the difference between delusion and reality. Sometimes, when we dream, we can tell within the dream that we are dreaming. The dream feels real, but we can recognize we are dreaming. Even if we don’t notice we are dreaming when we are asleep, when we wake up, we know that we are back to reality.
In our reality, we can tell that most other people are kind of deluded. We know little kids are in their own world. The older generations also have their way of seeing the world. Every country in the world has a different view of how things are. People of different races, various sexual orientations, on different diets, and from the many religions all experience things from their unique perspectives. It seems so likely that our particular way of seeing the world will have an element of delusion to it. Yet that is reality.
Recognizing that you might be a little deluded gives you options. If you don’t like the way you are feeling, you can console yourself with the idea that things are not exactly as they seem. If you feel sad, you can feel your sadness. You can feel the richness of the emotion, while understanding that beyond the sadness there is peace and joy. There is reality and there is delusion. There is sadness and there is joy. Such is our marvelous dream.
The drive of curiosity is the desire to know. The way of curiosity is not to know, but to wonder. When we are curious, we just want to see will happen next. We are open to the world. We are alive.
When curiosity is pure, there is no hope and no fear, there is simply looking and seeing. As soon as we expect something, we begin to wish for it, or guard ourselves against it. When that happens, our happiness or misery depends on the outcome. If we get what we want, we are happy. If we don’t get what we want we are sad. The world is closed, either way.
When we have no expectations and watch each moment with wonder, we are continually delighted. What actually happens can be horribly disappointing or wildly amusing, but those feelings pass quickly. What feels those feelings is a source of constant wonder. What are we? What now?
Words contain our experience. They give us a sense of control. They put a lamp around our genie. They help us navigate the world as we know it and provide an island of comfort amidst the discomfort of the unknown.
Thinking is mostly done in words. We see a rose and we think, that is a rose. It becomes a word, something other than it is. We have contained it. We have defined it. We think we know it. Then we smell it and it is much more. We don’t know anymore. If we don’t have the words to describe how the rose smells, we just think good or bad. We can’t stop the words. We can’t stop the thinking. We can’t help running to the comfortable island of what we know.
When we become uncomfortable with what we know, our words and our thinking have turned against us. Suddenly, there is nowhere to run for comfort. At that point, we can either stay on our safe island of what we know and continue to suffer from our doubts and worries, or we can step out into what we don’t know and seek comfort there. Words will inspire us to take that step, and words will help us to find comfort. Instead of thinking, good or bad, we will think what? Instead of thinking, I feel awful because this is terrible, we will wonder, what is this feeling, what is going on?
When we step into the unknown, we will notice that we were always there. What we thought we knew was a lot of pretty words and ideas. There was never an island. There was never a lamp. The genie was always free.