These days we hear a lot about mindfulness meditation. But do you really know what that means? You may have noticed that I never use that term. At best, that terminology is off-target. I’ve tried several times to see if there’s something I’ve missed. But each time I read what various people have to say about it, I come up with muddled meanings and unclear ideas. That doesn’t satisfy me. I want straight answers with clear meanings.
If the teachers who promote mindfulness mean awareness of the mind and what the mind is doing, then I agree in principle. Although, that may also lead many students away from self-development aimed at attaining the true meditative state. Yes, you need to be aware of what your mind is doing, but you also need to train it to be still.
But just being aware of your mind—and, for example, knowing that it’s worrying about your income taxes or changing the oil in your car—is not enough. That will not bring you to the true meditative state. In addition to being mindful, you must also train the conscious mind to be still. You must empty your mind of all thought. You must be wide awake, fully aware, and have an empty mind. That is the true meditative state. That is the Zen state.
Yes, becoming mindful—that is, aware of what your mind is doing—is indeed a necessary step toward learning meditation. But it is not the meditative state. Thus, teaching “mindfulness meditation” might be a disservice to many students.
Go see for yourself. The way of the empty mind is the primary teaching of Buddha, Bodhidharma, the recently departed Osho, and other enlightened masters. You’ll find a synopsis of their teachings in my ebook, Original Zen, on amazon.com.
My goal today is to write the simplest, most straightforward instructions for getting into the true meditative state. My definition of the true meditative state is being wide awake with no thought taking place in the conscious mind. It’s also called the Zen state.
First: Find or create a quiet place where you can go and sit comfortably with no distractions or interruptions.
Second: Only when you are well rested and not under the influence of drugs or booze, sit in your quiet place with your spine erect. Relax and breathe.
Third: Use your mind to “watch” your breath. If your conscious mind keeps bringing up things to think about, just tell it “no,” and let the thought drift on out of your mind. “Watching” your breath doesn’t require thinking. But it does tie up the conscious mind so that it has less temptation to start its usual habit of thinking, thinking, thinking.
Fourth: Do Number Three over and over and over. Do it at least five or six times per week. Depending upon your own mind and how driven it is to think all the time, you may have to practice this a thousand times. On the other hand, some people get it right away. It all depends on you.
Fifth: Whether you “get it” or not, keep practicing. It is good for you. If you have short little moments of non-thought, try to catch the feeling. Once you know what the Zen state feels like, your future practices will be easier—and maybe more exciting.
Sixth: Once you know the feeling of the Zen state, you can practice it in many situations. Even during short breaks of a minute or two in your busy life, you can meditate to get calm and centered.
Your reward: After you’ve experienced ten seconds of Zen, you’ll find it easy to get to thirty seconds. Soon you’ll reach a minute. Eventually, you’ll find a five-minute meditation to be a wonderful experience. Even so, the actual number of minutes isn’t so important. With a consistent practice, you’ll be receiving benefits that greatly enrich your life.
It’ll give you a new and interesting outlook on life. Ask anybody who’s faced death. Ask anybody who has looked the Grim Reaper right squarely in his black, beady little eyes. Things change. Money doesn’t matter any more. Your house, your car, all your toys—they don’t mean a damn thing. It’s all just stuff. You can’t take stuff with you when you go.
What is important are the people you love. The people who love you. The relationships you’ve developed. The inner development you’ve accomplished during this life. But there might be something even more important—more meaningful—as you draw your last few breaths: Forward vision into what happens next.
One of the possible rewards of a long-term practice of Zen meditation is receiving enlightening knowledge that provides a wider view of the Universe. One can receive the knowledge and the resultant understanding of his spiritual being as an indestructible energy form.
Discovering your own self-nature is an extraordinary gift. That knowledge allows you to live life on a higher plane than ordinary human existence. With apologies to my religious friends, that knowledge lets you walk through this life in a somewhat god-like state. That knowledge reveals this life as just one chapter in a much greater drama. Of course, that knowledge lets you smile in the face of physical death.
For many years I’ve tried to teach and show people how Zen meditation can be used to block pain. I mentioned it a few times elsewhere in this blog, and I’ve also written about it in my books.** Essentially, pain happens in the body, but it is experienced in the mind. If you can train your mind to not notice pain, then at the least it will hurt less—and perhaps you can learn to ignore it altogether. I’ve been using that little Zen trick for decades.
Ah, but there’s pain—and there’s PAIN.
During the last few days of April, I started having headaches behind my right eye. The pain began during the night but gradually went away in late morning. I usually meditated until I was able to sleep. But the length and intensity of those headaches increased to the point where, by May 1st, I decided to see a doctor. Over the next six weeks I saw five doctors: my family physician, an opthamologist, a neuropthamologist, a neurosurgeon, all in Florida, and finally my family doctor in Virginia.
All had slightly different guesses as to what the problem is, but no proof came back from any test including two MRIs. And the doctors have no solution that works. The medications they suggested did not diminish the head pain except for one that put me into a sort of mild coma—rendered me practically incapable of thinking. Thus far, medical science has failed me completely. And now, that headache has been non-stop for over three weeks. If you’ve never had unending pain for an extended period of time, you may not know that it tears you down, mentally, physically, and emotionally. It can make you have ideas you might otherwise have never considered.
Bottom line: Does my meditation work in this case? No, not very well. And not all the time. However, it does work some of the time, and it nearly always helps me diminish the pain enough so that I can sleep—even though it’s not the best sleep I’ve ever had. I’m learning that blocking pain from out in the body is a little easier than blocking it inside my own mind. Perhaps the Universe is challenging me to improve the depth of my practice.
So yes, I am practicing what I preach. Doing so appears to be the only means I have of managing this pain without resorting to strong narcotic pain-killers—which none of the doctors has recommended yet. I hadn’t really considered that I have no acceptable alternative other than Zen meditation until I began writing this post.
The truth is this: If I weren’t well-practiced in meditation, I’d have very few long-term choices, and at least one of them would be very ugly.
**In the “First Secret” chapter in Original Zen, see the heading “Leave Your Body.”
Why and how can my Zen practice help me make difficult decisions? This is a real easy question to answer. It’s a no-brainer. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write one of my shortest blog entries ever.
Zen meditation is all about shutting down the conscious, thinking mind. When that happens, no thought occurs. But the rest of the whole mind can be just as active as ever—or even more active. Thus, with the noisy thought machine not hogging the stage, the whole mind (aka the “supermind”) is sometimes able to create images that come from other resources normally kept “behind the scene.” Voila! These other images often contain a special form of knowledge that I call true wisdom.
Among the most important resources of your deeper, non-conscious mind are your intrinsic values. They are the basic guidelines built into your core being that tell you what is really important in your life. Normally they are covered up by all the noise from your conscious mind. Only when the conscious mind is stilled can you access your core values.
Here’s how you use Zen to make a tough decision: Relax. Think about the decision and all the factors surrounding that decision. Now meditate. With the thought machine stopped, a clear answer based on your intrinsic value may pop into view. If not, repeat these three steps.
One caveat: If you don’t have an already-established practice of Zen meditation, this suggestion is unlikely to work. Establish your practice now, when you don’t need it. Don’t try to start a meditation practice when you’re being marched to the gallows.
There are several hundred books that might teach you how to meditate. But 98% of the people who want to learn meditation can’t do it. Why? It’s actually not difficult, but I think a lot of would-be teachers make it too complicated. Let me give you a shortcut that works. Using this method, you can learn to enter the true Zen meditative state in a week or two. I guarantee it.
The primary definition of the true meditative state is stopping all thought. But the adult human conscious mind is difficult to train (to not think), especially when the training didn’t start in early childhood. I’ve found a way to get the mind to quit thinking—even if only for short periods. However, as soon as you do it for a short time you’ve broken the barrier and then all you need is practice.
Here’s what to do: Go buy a good meditation cushion so that you can sit on the floor with your spine erect and straight. Also, get a pair of sound attenuating earmuffs, you know, the over-the-ear sound cups that decrease noise by 26 dB or more. You want the ear protectors so that you can’t hear anything. My hardware store sells pretty good ones for about $20. Get in a comfortable sitting position on your cushion and put on your ear protectors.
Close your eyes. Keep your spine straight, relax every muscle that you can (without falling over), and let your breath and heartbeat gradually slow down. As your body and mind get calm, begin noticing your breath. Don’t control your breath. Let the body breathe as it wants to. Voila! Now, you are using your mind to “watch” your breath.
Continue noticing the breath with your mind and then begin listening for your heartbeat. As you get very quiet, and with the earmuffs blocking outside sound, you will soon notice that you can hear a repetitive pshhhh, pshhhh, pshhhh sound that your blood makes as it travels through the arteries into your head.
Here is where the magic begins. As you continue to use your mind to watch (that is, notice) both the breath and the heartbeat, you will find that your mind is too busy to think. Essentially, you are tricking your overactive, out-of-control mind into a kind of busy work that keeps it from thinking. The main point to this is that noticing is totally different from thinking. As soon as your mind’s attention is focused only on noticing your breath and heartbeat, you have achieved the Zen state.
Of course, as soon as you start thinking about what you are doing, the exercise no longer works. Poof! The Zen state disappears. Thinking about the magic stops the magic. But it’s not a problem. Just take a few breaths, relax, and start over. It’s a simple trick. Try it a few times every day. You’re on your way to becoming a Zen master.
With thanks to Khalil Gibran and other writers, we know the eyes of a person can tell us much about what lies within. If this isn’t something you’ve thought much about, why don’t you try it? Take the time to look deeply into the eyes of someone you love—or want to love—or just somebody you want to know better. Therein may be the key to a deeper connection. Also, that may give you information you need to decide how to manage that relationship.
When I’m listening to another person who is talking directly to me, I often take the opportunity to watch their eyes carefully. That gives me an opportunity to observe them very closely without making that person feel uncomfortable. It also adds another dimension to what they’re talking about. But most importantly, it provides a very important read-out on that person’s personality.
The most important thing I notice when I’m watching a person’s eyes is the amount of energy coming from inside. Vacant, listless eyes indicate low energy—which is usually an indicator of deeper problems. Eyes that are bright and active indicate a higher level of energy. A person with high energy generally uses that energy to create a happier, more productive life for himself. Whereas low inner energy often indicates a glass-half-empty person who is prone to being negative and unhappy.
If you’re like most people, you will choose to be friends with and spend time with a higher energy person rather one with low energy. Friendship with negative, low-energy people requires more work, and the payback is usually minimal. Overall, you’ll find that people with a high level of energy inside themselves are more popular, more creative, and more successful.
So, where am I going with this? Answer: I want you to look at yourself in the mirror. How much and what kind of energy emanates from your eyes? That might be the key to changing your whole life for the better. Now, if you can’t tell from looking at your eyes in a mirror, then come and see me. I’ll tell you in a minute or two what kind of energy you radiate—or don’t.
The bottom line: Abundant quantities of energy are inside you. If too little of it reaches your eyes—and thus the outside world, there are blocks and barriers preventing it. That indicates that you could profit greatly from what’s known as inner development.