Sitting Meditation / Zazen
Zen sitting meditation, called zazen in Zen Buddhism, has had a significant impact on my life. I had never been particularly susceptible to stress and anxiety but after my first son was born I started to feel like time was running out for me. Still having not achieved any of my major life goals, I raced every day to try to get somewhere only to end up causing myself more and more stress and anxiety.
When I was first introduced to Zen Buddhism I immediately started my sitting meditation practice. After just a few weeks my stress and anxiety disappeared. All of it. I felt completely different. I slowed down and yet I was more productive. This is probably because I wasn’t doing things with as much of a “monkey mind” as before. I was happier. Noticeably happier. I also felt more resilient. Anytime I met a challenge during my day I was less affected by it. I felt like I had developed a shield around my mind and could handle anything that came my way.
Mindfulness: Meditation For Everyday Life
Mindfulness is, essentially, meditation in action. In The Miracle of Mindfulness, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh describes mindfulness as “keeping one’s consciousness alive to the present reality”. This generally involves following the breath.
Our breath is always there with us, no matter what we’re doing, so it works as an ideal anchor. By keeping our focus on our breath, whether we’re driving, walking or talking on the phone, we can stay grounded in the present moment. There are many benefits to mindfulness, but most of all is a renewable peace and happiness independent of outside circumstances.
No matter what is going on outside you can always take a moment to stop and follow your breath, or you can practice mindfulness while doing a basic activity like walking in order to regain your sense of peace and happiness and take back control of your emotions. Adopting the practice of mindfulness has had such a deep and resounding effect on me that it’s difficult to put into words. I discovered an infinite well of peace and happiness.
I used to worry about getting enough time to work on “my” things. It’s hard to describe, but, now I feel like I have an infinite amount of time. Every moment is mine, whether I’m working on my own things, sitting down with my son or spending time with my wife. This is because most of us want our personal time in order to nourish our minds and bodies. Especially after a long day.
But mindfulness is the most nourishing practice of all. It allows you to find true happiness as opposed to the temporary and shallow fixes so many of us resort to using such as watching TV, buying something new or eating sweets and you can do it at any moment in the day. No matter what you’re doing.
Buddhism teaches us the power of compassion. This is a major aspect of all Buddhist teaching including Zen. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that compassion is an aspiration, not just a passive emotion. By working to express compassion towards others we realize the true nature of our existence and discover a deep sense of peace and happiness.
Compassion helps us see the greatest illusion of all- the illusion of self. This is one of, if not the, most fundamental teaching in all of Buddhism. Everything in Buddhism is built upon awakening from the illusion of a separate self.
This is the deepest of Buddhist teachings and a part of Buddhism that is impossible to properly put into words. It can only be experienced by clearing away all illusions and attachments through the dedicated practice of looking within yourself.
This can be a lot to take in at first. Just know that aspiring to live with compassion will change your life and the lives of the people around you in a significant and measurable way. Practicing compassion is probably one of the most difficult things you’ll do in your life. But for good reason. As soon as I began practicing compassion towards others I started feeling many positive effects.
As opposed to feeling stressed when someone did something that would typically anger me I’d seek to understand why they would do that thing (whatever it was) and come to terms with it in my mind. I began feeling less stress, all the close relationships in my life grew stronger and things stopped getting to me as much as they once did. Compassion takes a lot of strength. Real strength. But it’s worth it.
Discovering the True Path to Happiness (and About Our Need for Success, Power, and Money)
Zen led me to one of the most profound realizations of my life thus far- the realization that everything we do is to be happy and at peace. This includes the pursuit of success, power and money. So many of us don’t see it, but we just want those things so that we and the people around us can be happy.
Everyone from the stock broker on Wall Street, the musician following their dream with no guarantees of success, the factory worker toiling his years away in hopes of living out his golden years in peace to the woman or man searching for their soul mate so that they can fall in love and build a family.
And while some of those things can bring us further happiness, joy and better overall well-being, true happiness doesn’t exist outside yourself. If you can adopt the practices of living fully in the present moment through mindfulness, looking deeply into yourself through sitting meditation and seeking to understand those around you and treat everyone including yourself with compassion, then you’ll be able to achieve a true peace and happiness that is like nothing else you’ve ever felt.
This happiness is renewable. It is available to you in every moment and under your total control. This is true power.
Learning Mindful Consumption
This includes not only what we eat and drink but also what we watch, read and listen to. Anything that comes into your body via the 5 senses is a part of this category. The conversations you have or listen to, the TV shows and movies (and advertisements) you watch, the books, magazines and websites or blogs you read and the substances you put into your body including food, drinks and drugs.
Most of us need lot of work here. We talk about people behind their backs negatively, complain about our day at work when we’re home or about home when we’re at work. We watch reality shows filled with nothing but people fighting and insulting one another for entertainment. We read articles and blogs about Hollywood drama and partake in bashing our politicians and government officials instead of trying to create that positive change ourselves.
Take it one step at a time. First, cut off most TV and begin reading a new self-help book. Then a week or two later stop reading gossip articles and begin reading a few self-development articles each week instead. Next work on the conversations you have at work or at home, if you feel you could use work there. Whatever it is, the point is take it one step at a time.
If you’re looking for a simple and easy change to make that can have profound results then work on this. It’s easy to change what we consume and quickly changes how we feel and act. And keep in mind, being perfect isn’t the point. You likely won’t follow your plan exactly, especially at first, and that’s OK. As long as you keep your focus and make progress.
Discovering Your True Nature
Zen doesn’t necessarily speak of finding your purpose in life, but it does talk about discovering your true nature (Buddha Nature). That is a great example of Buddhist wisdom. So many of us search for a sense of purpose in life. And many of those people search in all the wrong places.
What’s important isn’t so much finding a purpose as it is quenching the feeling of being lost and disconnected. Most of us don’t know it but it’s what we’re really after when we go searching for a purpose in life. This is a major aspect of discovering your true nature.
By doing so you see that (part of) your true nature isn’t you at all, it’s in the oneness of all beings. Your are a separate person, but that’s the “small you”. The “big you”, or true you, is your true nature.
But as I mentioned earlier, Zen Buddhism isn’t about understanding. It’s about direct experience and gaining insight. In order to begin on the path to receiving insight and discovering your true nature you’ll have to practice. In Zen this is primarily through meditation (and there’s many forms of it, not just one). This is difficult to do and can take some time.
What’s important to take away right now is to know that what we want isn’t so much a sense of purpose as a sense of connection. A sense of connection to the world around us. Generally this sense of connection with all others leads one to want to contribute to the greater good, but you can work it the other way. By contributing you can find that deep sense of connection to others.
You can do a million things in your life. But, whatever you choose to focus your time on, make sure it’s something that allows you to help to others. You’ll begin to feel that sense of connection as well as a deep sense of fulfillment in your life. And this doesn’t have to happen through your job or career. You can satisfy this simply by the way you live your everyday life.
Simplifying Your Life
Zen Buddhism shows you how to naturally simplify your life. It does this by showing you, through your practice, what is essential and what is not. Adopting a practice of meditation and mindfulness will naturally lead you to simplify your life by revealing to you not just the mental illusions that have been in front of you all along but also the physical ones. It will free you from your craving for material items.
This doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with wanting a larger house for your growing family or a second car now that both you and your wife are working again. But this does mean that you will cease to desire material objects for your happiness. Your practice will help you realize that these things never gave you true peace or happiness.
A key aspect of all Buddhist practice is becoming aware of the illusions that are all around us. To see reality as reality, illusion as illusion. This goes together with simplifying your life. In Buddhism this refers to primarily mental illusions, but I’ve found simplifying my life in a physical aspect to have had a positive impact on my noticing of various mental illusions as well.
There really is no separation. Those physical things are there in your life typically because of an idea in your mind you felt it necessary or desirable to uphold. Once you see the idea for what it is, an illusion, you can rid yourself of it. Also keep in mind, I’m not just talking about simplifying your life in a physical sense. As I said, there’s no separation. Simplifying you life includes mental constructs and ideas as well.