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.

Emotional spasm

1) Placing inordinate emphasis on the most trivial matters by reacting to shallow momentary emotional spasms are not the best grounds for developing any sort of deeper fulfillment in life and leads one to continual momentary dissatisfaction.

2) I say explore life’s deeper values and exercise the governance (not blind governance) of all deeper values in ones life while rejecting the shallow emotional reactions. Just the starting point to any sort of meaningful life: practice.

3) Balance and moderation in all things is an art: habit.

Learn To Setting Systems, Not Goals

I thought the below video was great and several years ago I sort of abandoned goal setting and starting the process I call ‘learning to live’, or as the video says “Setting systems”.  As we age we begin to see that life has this sort of pulse feeling to it.  We set a goal and achieve it but soon after we feel empty again.

The idea that I construct is I somehow think that once I arrive at a particular point then I will have made it, then I will feel satisfied, or then I can rest; however, this is one of the greatest lies. The lie persists in our society that it is money or obtaining a particular material wealth. I found myself achieving my personal goals as well as the societal goals; however, I still had this permanent uneasy unsatisfied feeling. Why? (If anyone reading might now think this is about bashing on our current system/culture but I don’t believe so.)

Over the past several years I started to teach myself to enjoy the process. I can set goals but this is merely one aspect of the process; learning how to enjoy where I am now is another; learning how to be ok with this uneasy feeling within is a part; learning how to connect spiritually; learning how to connect culturally. Lastly, and this is for me the most important part, learning that ITS ALL LIFE!

An example in my own life right now is that I’m learning to play the piano.

1) I want to learn how to play and I have an idea of where I’d like to be; this for me is setting the goal.

2) I now set sail on that journey; now I must understand and be OK with exactly where I am in this process. This part is very important to practice. As we practice this step, and this might sound weird, but it get intergraded with our entire being. A flowing with life begins to emerge.

3) There have been days that I don’t want to practice but I do it anyway. This is being ok with feeling uneasy and knowing that these feelings are fleeting.

4) I learn that I never really arrive. It is always a series of journeys. Its a process of learning to be fully in where I am are AND being able to move forward. I begin to see that all these daily practices and daily investments in being is an opportunity for me to finally start living my life and while also moving forward at the same time. I’m learning to understand how to properly and see this friction and move with it, adapt if you will.

5) Some days are good and some aren’t. I see more clearly that it is all life! I move, I practice, I feel, I practice, I enjoy, I practice, I hurt, I practice, I set goals, I practice, I listen, I practice. I see that it has never been me, I practice. I added 5 which might seem off topic but really isn’t. It’s all connected. I’m not just practicing playing the piano when I’m sitting in front of it. Habits don’t really care.

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?

Response To The Minimalists #60

Hi Guys,

I wanted to quickly take a moment to address the journalist in episode #60, a critic, for which I know your response is crickets chirping. The problem with the journalist, and many other critics, is minimalism doesn’t fit their narrative as to what the problem actually is. Additionally, the degree to which they believe in their narrative and the degree to which they accept your message is the degree to which they have to admit they are wrong. This is a tough pill to swallow when your identity is deeply embedded in your world view. Here is an interesting article regarding : Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence.

You have done a superfluous job at staying out, and I would argue above, the political arena and the reason being is simple. You have kept your message fixated on what you value and intentional by cutting out the excess, all with razor precision which is exactly what minimalism is about. Ryan alluded to this in the podcast as well. Thanks guys for all your hard work and the message you bring forth; keep up the great work!

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!

Where is there to go?

I know this person who is always in a rush at work, day in and day out. I often wonder where she is really trying to go?  I wonder what it is that she is really trying to achieve and if she’s ever really found it? I wonder if she even knows?

I see this person in traffic racing around, day in and day out I see someone else. I often wonder where they are really trying to go? Do they know that it will literally only save them 5 minutes at most, and probably only less than a minute! I wonder if they even know?

I watch this person standing in the grocery line looking angry and impatient. I often wonder where they are really trying to go?  Speeding around the parking lot looking for the best spot; look at all this time they saved! I wonder what they will do with it? I wonder if they even know?

Where is there to go?