Everyday Spirituality: 5 Zen Lessons Everyone Can Benefit From
It doesn't matter if you're an atheist, devout follower of your faith, an agnostic, or anywhere in between—there's wisdom to be learned from the world's religions. Here are some of the most important, universally applicable teachings from sacred texts everyone would benefit from learning. Putting aside differing beliefs—about the afterlife, the nature of the divine, and religious rituals—we can all glean life lessons from ancient traditions. Here are some of the most notable ones from Zen Buddhism.
The Buddha said there are four ways to meditate. Sitting, standing, lying down, and walking. So, by “sitting down,” what I’m saying is marking out a time and a place and give your body as well as your mind that space and that period of time dedicated to exploring the wisdom of your body, heart, and mind.
Meditation is one of those words that has too many definitions, basically it only means “doing something with your mind.” That “doing something” may be useful, and it may not. Among those kinds of meditation that can be called useful as far as finding our heart’s goal is concerned, the range of possibilities remains large. However, they share some commonalities. Learning to be quiet is the most important thing. Although there’s a critical point in understanding what “quiet” means. There are those who say being quiet is stopping the mind. And, yes, there is a sense in which this is true. That phrase, at is truest, is a pointing to something about our consciousness, how we can meet our thoughts and feelings. But its an invitation into something, not an assertion to step away from something. Too many people hear these words, sometimes even say them to others meaning physically stopping the movement of the mind. That is a mistake. The invitation is to see the thoughts arise, and not follow them.
Bringing one’s whole body consciousness to the matter is the heart of the practice. This is a difficult thing. The mind wanders. We are filled with regrets and longings. We plan. We fret. We scheme. So, here’s the secret ingredient. Our invitation is into the heart of curiosity. The practice is to notice what’s going on, whether it is regret or longing while adding nothing to the fire. Just notice. And. Be curious without entanglements in the content of the thought. Thoughts rise. You don’t have to follow them. But, notice. Be curious. That curiosity can be a burning coal in our gut. It can be diluted and simply hanging a hint in the air in an open minded, mind like the sky, sort of way. Just notice/be curious. Is that one? Is that two? Pay attention.
Notice the connections
Doing this you will learn much about yourself. Sometimes our thoughts are filled with desire. Sometimes our thoughts are overtaken by resentment, anger, hatred. Sometimes we obsess with an idea, seeing how it has put everything into place. And then as we watch we see how these thoughts are themselves insubstantial, they rise, they try to take us with them, but if we let them go as they rise, we open doors. The invitation is to not stop here or there. Bring your curiosity to the rising and falling of your mind. And then the next iteration of your mind. And the next. Hold on to nothing. Just notice. Just be curious. Perhaps you will at some point notice how vague and permeable the boundaries of your mind and life are. Keep looking. Where is the solid line? Keep looking. When do you and another in fact separate? Notice how cause and effect relate. Be curious. How are these two things different? How are these two things one? Be curious. Is there another way, as well?
Get up and do something
I’ve noticed how often this step is missed by spiritual practitioners. One of my favorite stories about the Buddha is how after achieving his great insights into the nature of things, resolving his pain, and finding the wise heart, Mara the incarnation of chaos whispered in his ear, “you have won liberation. Go, now, and retire to a cave and enjoy the bliss of the cosmos for the rest of your natural days and then with your last breath pass into the great empty.” You can call this the Buddha’s last temptation. Now, this can be missed because he had been a renunciant, and he continued as a monk after his awakening. But at the heart of the matter, what he did was return to the world with his saving message. He spent the next forty years of that natural life guiding, giving counsel, pointing to the deeper matters, and the larger possibilities. We sit for half an hour, an hour, whatever. Perhaps we engage in intensive periods of training. A week. Three months. A decade. We walk with a guide and we explore the fundamental matters of mind and heart. If we are just a little lucky we discover our heart’s longing. The great way becomes no different than our own. And, and this is critical at some point the fullness of our opened heart and mind contains within it an invitation to return to the world in one felicitous phrasing, with bliss bestowing hands. How we do this is going to be different at different times in our lives and within different lives. There is no judgment here. The simple call is to open our hearts and minds and to respond as is appropriate. Life a box and its lid. As natural as natural can be.