1 Week at Zen Monastery

“While knowing is important it is often not enough; I must deeply understand and grasp deeper than having information. I must practice it”

Main and other insights gained

-(Main insight and what this writing is about) Be ok with what is happening right now. If it’s not “good” realize that its ok, its ok to feel uneasy, its ok to have weird thoughts, its ok… Notice them but don’t push them away and chase a “better” state or don’t mask it with activity.

The importance of a community of like minded people working together towards a common goal. In Buddhism the community is called a sangha.

-Be mindful of who and what we allow to reside in our minds. We don’t let everyone into our home but we allow such bad people, bad thoughts/situations to occupy and dwell in our minds which is far more precious. 

– We are what we consume from what we watch, to what we eat, to what we listen to. Basically what we allow in through any of our senses. These things leave imprints in us.

–  The importance of silence and space to allow things to grow. I don’t know what life was like 200 years ago but I bet they had far more space and silence in a day. We don’t know what a such world looks or feels like because we never lived it.

The Start

Just returned home Friday November 1st from Deer Park Monastery. It was founded by Thich Nhat Hanh. The website says this “Deer Park is a place to quite the mind, look deeply and enjoy the wonders of life within and around us though the practices of sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindful eating, and deep relaxation meditation and sharing Togetherness.” All I can say is that I fully agree with that.

Biggest insight gained: To fully embrace every state of being; Embrace every thought and every feeling and every mood and stop trying to make it feel good. There is a saying in Zen “This Is It” and I feel this best describes what I found. Before I entered the Monastery I could have spoke about this. It’s actually the basic purpose of mediation. To accept what is happening and to watch with equanimity as various thoughts and feelings arise but to practice not getting caught up in them. If you do, simply notice you’re caught and come back to the breath. I wasn’t taught this knowledge on the retreat. It’s information I learned from prior studies.

On the second night I awoke around 12:50 am with a very deep realization of what I mentioned above. I didn’t get any new information it was like I internalized it or understood it at a deeper level. I saw that despite knowing this information I realized I had still been grasping for the “good” states of being. At that moment and currently at this moment I am totally ok with feeling like crap or for having bad thoughts. I’m ok with things not working out, I’m ok with what comes even if its not “good”. Because it is actually all good because it’s life. I don’t need to reject what’s happening at this moment and look for a better state. I don’t need to listen to music to make myself feel good because I want to chase some uneasy feeling away. I didn’t realize that I was, though subtlety, always trying to cover up these uneasy feelings with something else.  What I saw was that it was and is ok and I no longer need to run. I don’t need to cover these up. I saw that covering them up prolongs the states I was trying to avoid in the first place; additionally, they would seem to manifest in other behaviors. If I learn how to properly deal with them by accepting WHAT IS I can actually loosen their grip on me, which for me is this ever uneasy feeling, this restlessness, this needing to prove to myself, this needing to prove to others who and what I am. The biggest thing I want to stress is that I could have said all this before and I have but I somehow grasped it much deeper in my being. While knowing is important it is often not enough; I must deeply understand and grasp deeper than having information. I must practice it. It was a blessing that I would have never bet on; an insight I never thought would have helped me. You see what I wanted was for the “bad” to go away but, unfortunately, it never does.

A brief description 
I have never been to a Zen Monastery so I was sure what to expect as far as how a day would unfold. Here is a sample schedule that reflects an average day while staying.

What I wanted to “get out” of staying there was a mind of gratitude and leave with good feelings, which I did but it didn’t happen the way I envisioned it would and the insights I did get were things I wouldn’t have put money on getting.

Arrival time is set for Friday between 2 and 4; I was there shortly after 2. The gentleman checking us in said there wasn’t anything on the schedule for us expect dinner so we had the afternoon free. I dropped of my items in my room and went on a little walk up this pathway to a hill that overlooks the park and you can see a portion of Escondido, Deer Park is tucked away on a hill side of some mountains.

When I reached the topped I found a place to sit. The first thing I noticed was that I wasn’t feeling happy, and honestly I should have know this but I guess wishful thinking. I actually felt exactly the same except for it being very quiet and I could hear all the sounds of nature. However, all my thoughts from before entering were there. I also was getting urges to check my phone but I vowed to myself to limit my access to the phone while I was there, plus I wasn’t sure of the rules.

After awhile I went down and before I knew it the dinner bell was ringing. The first 20 minutes of dinner is eaten in silence which I knew meant to eat mindfully. I think it was the first time, since I can remember, eating in such a manner. What I noticed was all the different tastes of the food as well as the textures and that it took me a long time to eat. A good 30 minutes. Each bit was fully chew and then swallowed.

Shortly after dinner I retired to bed and woke up the next morning for morning meditation. The second day was filled with thoughts and feelings similar to the first day. But we had an orientation that went over what to expect and expectations of us while there. The Brother (monk) discussed the basic meditation process. I believe what he said had something to do with my new understanding though he didn’t tell me anything “new”. But life is vastly interdependent and usually when we look for a single cause we can’t find it. If there is a single cause we can look at that deeply and see so many other causes inside that moment.

After the orientation I asked myself a question “what is this feeling?” “Why do these thoughts keep coming back?” I felt the question go deep and I’m sure the all the space the monastery offered allowed the question to really work it’s way in. But who knows exactly how these things happen, they just seem to.

One Thought, Right Thought

Someone might have these thoughts: Who am I and why do I matter? I’m only one person what difference do I make? What difference does anything I do make?

He then bends down and picks up a stick.

There are 7 billion people on this planet and each and everyday it moves and it all happens.

If one action doesn’t doesn’t matter how does it all happen? One thought ate a time, in a moment; one step at a time, in a moment.

Maybe there was once a single atom that asked such a question but here we are and here the universe is.

——

I think we do not know and understand the importance of one thought in one moment. Thus we conflate lack of understanding with it doesn’t matter.

These moments string together with the collision of time. Bang, bang, bang the moments go. Each nothing but each is absolutely everything.

If we actually think thoughts like that in the first lines we should reflect to see how life works. This shows how powerful right thoughts are.

Just learning (my thoughts)

I struggled when I search for meaning outside of whats happening. It is all life and I’ll never arrive. When I forget a host of, usually, negative emotions (self created due to the paradigm I constructed) become present.

My particular path is learning to enjoy all of it as I do not see another way to get satisfaction out of life. When I believe that once I get a particular object and ‘then I’ll be happy’ or ‘then I can rest’ is only a deceit that I use to fool myself. In the past I was unaware of such trickery. I know all things will not create the same feelings and emotions but this is a great source of joy as I can experience them fulling without wishing I was someplace else or holding on; I can strive, journey and accomplish all in a non striving manner, a striving manner that flows, a striving manner that is fluid.

When I see the obversion arriving I must reorientate myself to truth, which is, ‘there is no where to go and there is nothing to do.’

Individualism: The Me Paradigm

Has the value we’ve place on individualism actually made us less happy and view the world with more contempt?

Has this value actually made us more isolated and brought forth a bounty of depression, anxiety and suicides?

Has this value divided our relationships, our family and our communities?

Has this value been a contributor to all the polarization that we’ve been seeing in our country?

His this value made us indifferent to those around us because it is all about me, the individual? “Fuck you! Do you know what you did to me?”

Has this value caused us to place excessive emphasis on feelings/our own feelings?

Has this value eroded other values such as free speech?

Is it this value that has been caused the breakdown of the more wholesome societal  norms?

Is it even ok for me to even question such a thing without being branded and labeled as some sort of collective extremist?

To Know and To Not Do

Yesterday my wife, son and I went downtown to this little art/car show. We invited my mom, and she never declines an opportunity to go, go, go! As we were out my mom was complaining about her knee, and I reminded her, with a smile, that she knew we were going to be out walking around. She said, “I know and I’m sorry for complaining. It’s not really my knee. I’ve just had a bunch of frustrating things on my mind the past week.”

We began talking and my mom was concerned about (I will call this person Ab) Ab and there current situation in life. She said, “I just don’t understand why Ab just can’t get it.”
I then quoted one of my favorite quotes, “To know and to not do is to not really know.” by Stephen Covey.  We then spoke about all various programs they have undergone, counselings, and books read. We chatted for awhile about the different type of knowledge one can posses, and also touched on how Ab’s life has has been in a disarray for some time. It was a nice afternoon.

This morning I was thinking about our conversation, Ab, and the to know and not do quote. I think this quote is correct but I approached it from a different angle. This is the new angle: To know and to not do is to not have developed the habit. This is more of an Aristotelian approach/thought.

We are in an age of information. We can access the most profound wisdom known to mankind. However, this information is actually pointless. This information changes nothing. We merely reflect the habits we cultivate in our life. A lot of the time we let life, people, culture, norms, and our inner impulses cultivate us. We are the pin ball inside the machine destined to get launched by whatever we rub up against. Thus, as time passes, a gap emerges  between what we know and what we do and inverse for those that practice intentionally.

Build new habits. Sounds easy enough. Often we confuse excitement with habit but the moment the newness wears off we are left standing  with all the old urges, impulses, feelings and habits we spent a lifetime cultivating, a lot of the time unknowingly. This new building habits business isn’t as easy as the books like to tell us its. Those of us who have tired to “start anew” know the strength of our old ways.

Solution? I don’t really have one but I can share how I starting practicing mindfulness 3 years ago. How can I remember to be mindful when I’m not mindful, I thought. For my first couple of weeks I tried this mindfulness stuff but I was usually lost for the whole day before I’d remember to be mindful. I wanted to step my game up so I downloaded an application (insight timer) so I could have a reminder bell. For the first year of my practice I set a bell to chime every 10 minutes, I am not laying and I do know this is sort of extreme. 99 percent people thought I was weird, and may people would say things like, “what the hell is that noise?”, “Is that you dinging all the time?” “Oh my god, that is so annoying!”

But, hey, nothing changes if nothing changes. This is what I will continue to say to Ab and the advice I would give to anyone looking to change. There is research, and I know for my practice, that thoughts, feelings, emotions, urges only last 90 seconds (I never timed but I know they arise and fade quickly) if you do not “feed the beast”. So your only 90 seconds away from to reinforcing your new habit and slowly cultivating over the years will change many things.

Below is a book I read about 3 years ago that I really enjoyed. The link is for an amazonsmile which gives a small percentage of the purchase to a charity at no cost to you. In this case it is a local food bank called Harry Chapin Food Bank.

The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner

Poverty Mindset

A couple days ago I read this nice little article by Reynolds Made called the Power of Silence in which  she speaks about the importance of silence in her life and then gives some very piratical ways incorporate some silence in your life.

My post today is regarding a comment that I read that really struck a cord with me and it’s been on my mind since.  It went something like this, “I would like to have some silence in my life but I have two little kids.” I felt a great amount of compassion and understanding because this type of mindset is something we all find ourselves in, albeit to varying degrees.

To me, whenever we are here or in this state we are in a poverty mindset, in that it is disempowering and lacks creativity. What we want is outside our control or, first, in order for us to achieve (anything) our external circumstances must change before we can. If only I had this… then I could be happy; If only I could do this… then I could finally do what I always wanted; if only things were different.. then I could… if only, if only.

In David Deutsch’s book The Beginning of Infinity he say’s problems are inevitable and all problems are soluble given proper knowledge. For me there are several ways to achieve knowledge but it almost always starts with a question, and the way we framed and/or reframe the question becomes very important.

There is one question that I like to ponder when I find myself in a poverty mindset: Well, what can I do? Sometimes the solution is a quick one and other times the solution takes several years to achieve. It all depends on the complexity of the problem, and then I do what is within my control and leave the rest.

Thank you!

Painfully Aware

Today I awoke without a headache! It’s quite a marvelously and I’m so thankful that I don’t have one, well come to think of it I really haven’t had one in years. Just like the The Minimalist article The Worst Christmas Ever about the child that become painfully away of all the presents he/she didn’t get after only after ungifting all their presents, we too are usually only thankful and/or grateful for something after it has been stripped away or shortly after suffering a painful infliction, and this could be physical or mental.

We have so much to be thankful for but sometimes it takes deliberate attention and cultivation to remind ourselves how rich we really are! What are you thankful and or grateful for today?

Thank you!