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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Method to Achieve Zen-like State

In Zen meditation, the objective is to clear the mind and end its monkey-mind nature. So commonly do our minds drop into a state in which we are at the mercy of self-propagated illusions; monkey-mind. Our minds quickly shift from thought to thought. What is the harm of monkey-mind? An immediate problem is a decrease in attention span. This can be simply viewed as how long one can keep focus on one individual thought or object. My explanation can be proved by a simple test: close your eyes and focus on one color. Quickly, our minds flood with common associations that we have each individually made during our lives. Uncontrollably, we lose our focus on our chosen color.
Zen Buddhism has established an ancient meditation method that resolves this problem that we encounter frequently in a matter of seconds. Multiple aspects of posture, breathing, and relaxation are used to achieve a seemingly impossible task: silencing our minds. It’s also crucial to point out that Zen Buddhists do not restrict their meditation to a set ritual. However, the prescribed method does indeed have a variety of benefits and is thus encouraged. The danger of falling into a repetitive “tradition” is losing what Shunryu Suzuki, zen roshi, calls beginner’s mind. Beginner’s mind can be seen as the first time one encounters the divine, an epiphany, or rather a rare state in which we are enveloped in pure innocence. As soon as we retrace our footsteps to achieve beginner’s mind for a second time, we are no longer able to grasp the same intensity of innocence. Thus repetition and tradition can both be seen as hazardous to meditation methods, even prayer in our Western religions. Suzuki states that we must come ready to meditate with a beginner’s mind.
I casually plotted out when my mind was jostled the most, and for me, this seemed to be when I was alone, or blotting out people around me. I found that looking inwardly was somewhat dangerous to do with limited experience in meditating because as soon as I tried to be still in my mind, I realized how loud and rambunctious my thoughts really were. My alternative method begins here: instead of facing my monkey-mindedness as a Zen Buddhist might, I thought, “Let’s attack the monkey in my mind when he’s not expecting it.” A devious but detrimental plan. I flipped the zen technique, if it can be said to be treating the monkey mind head on, to a more passive aggressive plot. When would my monkey-mind be unavailable, I thought. When would my thoughts be lulled asleep? [I write this as a narrative, but it so happened that I stumbled across this following method rather than planned it out.]
I played an excessive amount of video games over winter break, which really brought nothing but headaches and strained eyes. However, my mind felt fried, like unhealthily deep-fried french fries. With this feeling, I felt foggy, which can also be translated as dull-minded. My brain wasn’t working hard, or much at all after playing video games. After suffering these side effects, I found that the monkey mind was temporarily eliminated. [This isn’t to say that video games lead to some soft-core state of zen.]
It was what I began to do in this glazed state that reflected zen’s ideals. It’s very easy to fall into a negative mood when our minds half-asleep after staring into screens. I usually mumble or try to avoid talking which comes off as rude or obnoxious. Not very zen-like. But having cheated my monkey-mind for a few minutes, I found that the first thought that came into my head had to be a positive one. Buddhism does not try to shut the brain off or shut off our senses from reality. Rather, its goal is to have the mind cleared but still function on a very high, focused, and trained level that embodies equanimity. So in order to have done anything in the relative neighborhood of zen, I had to process through my deep-fried state in a way in which that I would fashion equal mindedness with my few decisions I had to make getting ready to go to sleep. With my gaming partner in crime still awake with me at these early hours of the morning, this was not easy. In fact, I failed every time I tried to act positively out of this state of exhaustion. I believed this was in part to the day having ended, and there was no apparent reason to act with equanimity.
So instead of trying to act positively after playing video games, I thought of a more natural, healthier method of reaching this fo-clear mind. As a reaction to staying up late, I woke up later. Unfortunately, this pattern was crudely disrupted when I was forced to wake up at the cruel hour of five a.m. in order to drive to Maine for Christmas. But again, I found a state in which my monkey-mind was shelved. And in this instance, the day was very young, and there were many benefits from being equal-minded at this hour. For example, getting on the road after packing was simplified with a positive attitude rather than a groggy, sappy one.
Having barely awakened when I embarked on my journey [as a passenger,] I was looking
at a thirteen hour drive. What better to do than meditate. In this specific instance, I had thought of the idea before doing it rather than finding myself in the midst of doing some techniques that surround zen’s method for meditating. Getting into the lotus position as best as I could with a seatbelt strapped across my stomach, I succeeded surprisingly well, I must say, at this early hour in staying focused on my breathing. My monkey-mind did not have the chance to wreak havoc on my fresh mind. I sat, eyes closed [non-zen technique] and inevitably fell asleep. The intriguing part was when I woke up, my mind was still blank, and I was able to control my initial thoughts very well. I found this to be a huge success because I was able to avoid monkey-mind’s invasion. And while this is quite obviously not a full on zen experience, I would highly recommend trying to use this model in order to take advantage of small slots of time we overlook or allow monkey-mindedness flood. Rather than meeting the monkey-mind head on, I thought that maybe beating the monkey-mind to “unadulterated areas” of my mind would possibly give me some confidence in order to face a very steep challenge.