Buddhism, Mindfulness, Zen, Zen practice

Pleasant? Unpleasant? Neutral?

I feel that the smell of a gardenia is pleasant.

I feel that the looks of a maggot are unpleasant.

I feel that the taste of water is neutral.

When practicing mindfulness, we become aware of our feelings.  We notice or take a look at our feelings.  We think about what is happening outside and inside of us, in our mind and our body, and around us.   These feelings that we notice are simple and basic.  We look to see if something that we experience through our senses (what we see, hear, smell, taste, or touch) is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.  We just notice.  We don’t judge and say that is good or bad.  We don’t slip into a story.  We ask ourselves, “Is this pleasant?  Is this unpleasant?  Is this neutral, neither pleasant nor unpleasant?

When I hear a bird singing, I notice in the moment that I feel that the noise is pleasant.  That is all.  I just notice that I find it pleasant.  When I walk on the street and a loud motorcycle goes by me, I feel that the noise is unpleasant.  When I hear a noise that I feel is not pleasant and is not unpleasant, I notice that it is neutral.

That is the practice of mindfulness with feelings.

Buddhism, Mindfulness, Zen, Zen practice

Let’s Get Physical

When I was seven, I had plans to go see my first movie at the theater.  While my cousin and I waited out on the front porch for our parents to get ready to leave, we played chase with a broom.  My cousin pulled the broom behind him and I tried to catch it.  At first, I used my foot and tried to stomp on the broom’s bristles.  When my cousin pulled the broom away and my first strategy failed, I came up with a second:  I dove for the broom.  I had one obstacle.  The corner of the concrete step on the porch got in my way.  I caught the corner square in my forehead.  My cousin screamed and my dad and aunt came running out of the house.  They brought wash cloths to try to stop the bleeding.  My father carried me to the car and we rushed to the emergency room.  I left the ER with three stitches in my forehead and an awareness.  I realized that my physical body was an important part of me.  When it was injured or sick, I, as a person, suffered.  My body, in and of itself, is what is.

When we chant the Heart Sutra, we say “form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” Form is our body.  Our body is form.  While in practice, we don’t identify as our body, we do realize that our body is an integral part of who we are: our body and our mind.  As a foundation of mindfulness practice, we pay attention to our body through our breathing, through our posture, through clear understanding of every thought, word, and action, and through our anatomy-our body parts.

Buddha said that we reflect “on this very body, enveloped by the skin and full of manifold impurity, from the soles up, and from the top of the head-hairs down, thinking: “There are in this body hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidney, heart, liver, midriff, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, gorge, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, nasal mucus, synovial fluid, urine.”

We take stock, without projection or judgment, of our body content.  We reflect on our body and its parts.  We contemplate the body in the body.  We are mindful through our awareness of the true nature of our physical body.

Buddhism, Zen, Zen practice

Drink in the Face

When I was a teenager, I saw at a birthday party this guy named John who stole my girlfriend from me.  Even while she and I were going together, he started hanging out with her.  He knew we were together, and still he moved in and stole her.  She went with him and I was crushed.

I heard that John would be at this party, and I was nervous.  I didn’t know if I wanted to face him.  When he came in, he acted as if nothing happened.  He walked up to me, smiling, and said hello.  He acted like he was happy to see me and that he actually cared.  He took no interest in, or responsibility for, the pain that he caused me.

I felt like throwing my drink in his face.  I thought about doing it in that moment.  But I didn’t.  Something stopped me.  I thought better of it.  On one hand, I wish I had thrown the drink in his face.  On the other hand, I’m glad that I didn’t.

I knew, even as a young person, that striking back at John would not be appropriate or helpful. It would not have brought back my girlfriend. It probably would not have changed John.  It probably would not even have made me feel better.  And it would have ruined someone else’s birthday party.

When talking about establishing mindfulness in our practice, Buddha instructed that we observe our bodies, our feelings, our minds, and the objects of our minds, with clear understanding.

As part of clear understanding, when we face a situation in the moment, before we take action, we are mindful of four questions.  We ask ourselves why we are taking this action.  Is it in my best interest and in the best interest of others?  Does it lead to growth of my Zen practice?  For me with John, I might have thrown the drink out of bitterness and revenge, but I would answer no to all the questions of mindfulness.

We ask ourselves if what we are doing is appropriate for the circumstance.  Is it appropriate for the time and place, and does it fit into my personal capacity as a mindful and loving person?   Does it apply skillful means?  As I said, with John, I knew that it would not have been appropriate.  It might have felt good for a second, but it would not have been particularly skillful.  Even when I left that party, I knew, with just a little misgiving, that I had done the right thing by restraining myself.  As it was, of course, I went on to other relationships that opened my heart and developed my wisdom as a loving person.

We ask ourselves if the action we take is appropriate for our Zen practice. In essence, we can decide whether what we do in the moment is wise and compassionate.  Throwing my drink in John’s face would have been neither.

We ask ourselves if what we do separates ourselves from the reality of our innate and intimate connection to the whole of existence.  Is it mindful of the fact that everything is impermanent and always changing? Does it help stop suffering?  I can see that my awareness in that moment at the birthday party of the need to let go of my anger and hatred toward John best served myself and everyone else, including John and my ex-girlfriend.

With clear understanding, I know that if I had it to do over again, I would put my drink down and walk away from John.  I would wish him well and move on with life.

Buddhism, Mindfulness, Zen, Zen practice

Paying Attention Step by Step

We are careful when we carry an egg across the room.  We stay alert when we cut up an onion with a sharp knife. Clipping our fingernails, threading a needle, walking on slippery cement, scratching an eyeball itch:  these are all times that we pay attention.  When we are careless or distracted, something unfortunate or even painful can happen.  When we practice mindfulness, we bring this same awakeness and awareness to everything we do.  Everything. We.  Do.

When Buddha described mindfulness, he said: “When we go forward or backward, we apply full awareness to our going forward or backward. When we look in front or look behind, bend down or stand up, we also apply full awareness to what we are doing. We apply full awareness to wearing our robe or carrying our bowl. When we eat or drink, chew, or savor the food, we apply full awareness to all this. When we walk, stand, lie down, sit, sleep or wake up, speak or are silent, we shine our awareness on all this.”

People talk about being aware and mindful.  People talk about being in the present moment.  But Zen practice is not talking about things.  It is being completely present in every moment and mindful in everything we do.  Every-thing!

When we practice and live this way, as Buddha said, we overcome grief and sorrow, end pain and anxiety, travel the right path, and realize nirvana.”

Buddhism, Zen, Zen practice

Every Movement of Hand and Foot

(Painting by Gülcan Karadağ)

“Every movement of hand and foot creates a new breeze.”  A Zen master offered this hopeful observation.  Every single moment, in every situation, brims with freshness and originality.  I also take the quote literally to say that we stay aware of our bodies. Every movement of hand and foot gives us the chance to be awake.

Just as breathing is a way we stay mindful with our bodies, we also pay attention to our posture.  Posture is a major part of our zazen practice.  We keep upright, relaxed, and vibrant throughout our meditation.  It is not “I” or “Richard” sitting in zazen posture.  It is just sitting.

We maintain mindfulness in our posture at all other times, as well.  When we are standing, we know we are standing.  When we are sitting, we know we are sitting.  When we are lying down, we know we are lying down.  Nobody in particular is doing it.  It is just standing, sitting, and lying down.

It seems so simple, but it is the very foundation of mindfulness.  As Buddha said, we contemplate the body externally and internally.  We keep our practice and our understanding inside and outside of our body.  When we sit in our chair at home, it is different from sitting in the chair at the dentist’s office.  What is going on inside of me and outside of me in each of those situations?  Standing in front of someone who is angry or sad is different from standing on a diving board. What goes on inside and outside?  Lying down on my bed with a good book is different from lying under a hot sun on the beach.  Inside and outside!  All opportunities for mindfulness practice.

And through it all, we live in the world without clinging to anything.

Buddhism, Zen, Zen practice

Interview on Life on Purpose

The interview I did with Greg Berg on the Life on Purpose podcast is live.  Greg and I talked for an hour about my book, Living in Blue Sky Mind.  We explored what it means to live in blue sky mind.  Greg asked me about my life experience and my spiritual practice.  Greg is a smart and gracious guy.  It was fun spending time with time.

Listen to the podcast here: Life on Purpose.  It is also available on Stitcher and iTunes.


Buddhism, Zen, Zen practice

Mindful Breathing

(Painting from http://melissasstudio.blogspot.com/)

I went to the swimming pool at Pickwick Park in Burbank with my older cousin.  When we got into the water, he swam toward the raft in the middle of the pool.  I didn’t know how to swim, so I guess I thought I would walk out to the raft along the bottom.  As I moved toward the center of the pool, the water came up higher on my body.  I walked to where it was right below my nose and took one more step.  The bottom of the pool slanted away toward the deep end, and I was in over my head.  I jumped up and down on my toes to get back to the shallower part.  I didn’t seem to make any progress and I started to panic.  I stood as tall as I could to keep my nose out of the water, and I huffed and puffed to keep the air coming in.  I took another step and got back to the level part of the pool floor.  When I looked across the pool, the lifeguard was just about to jump in to save me.  He saw that I had gained control and went back to his seat.

Our breath is our source of life.  We take it in from the world around us, move it through our lungs, and breathe it back out into the world.  Because it is essential to our well-being, to our very being, our breathing is central to our Zen practice.  We stay mindful of our breath.

Buddha said, “This concentration through mindfulness of breathing, when developed and practiced much, is both peaceful and sublime, it is an unadulterated blissful abiding, and it banishes at once and stills evil unprofitable thoughts as soon as they arise.”

When we meditate, we keep in our mind our breath as it moves in and when it moves out.  We are aware when we breathe in a long breath and when we breath out a long breath, when we breathe in a short breath, and when we breathe out a short breath.  We train ourselves to breathe with our whole body.  Our whole body becomes breathing.  We feel our breath moving in and moving out in our feet, in our chest, and in the top of our head.

As we are mindful of our breath in our whole body, breathing in and breathing out, we calm our breath and we calm our body.  We are mindful in our whole body.