Where to Put Your Mind While Doing Zen Meditation

At my Facebook account an old and dear friend forwarded me a cartoon that’s been floating around for a while now. It’s called “Geek Meditation System.” The single panel has people sitting together in various meditation postures. The leader is saying, first, “In your mind’s browser, clear your cache…” Then, “Now delete your history…” and finally, “Now navigate to a blank web page…”

Cute.

And, it points to something people do. No doubt, it actually more or less describes what many people hope for as they “meditate.”

Of course that word meditation has become one of the garbage words of our times, forced to do way too much work, to stand for what many different people are trying to do when they sit down in a formal posture, or sit on a chair, or walk around. Meditation these days pretty much means doing something with your mind.

In the Zen world there are those who think (pardon) that Zen meditation is navigating to a blank web page.

And, there are states of deep concentration where it can be hard to discern the motions of the mind.

But, here’s a small truth. The mind doesn’t stop. Well, it does, but that means you’re dead.

Zen meditation isn’t about chasing spiritual chimeras.

Today is the feast of the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier. For me he is most interesting as one of the first sources of Zen’s encounter with Westerners. In the middle of the sixteenth century he became close friends with the Zen master and abbot of Fukusoji in Kagoshima. The (Jesuit) historian Heinrich Dumoulin records how the two men were walking together when they encountered monks sitting in zazen. “Deeply impressed by the modesty, the concentration, and the repose they displayed, Xavier asked the abbot, ‘What are these monks doing?’ The abbot laughed and said, ‘Some are calculating the contributions received from their followers during the past months. Others are thinking about how they might get better clothing and personal care. Still others are thinking of vacation and pastimes. In short, no one is thinking of anything important.’”

Now the good Christian priest just didn’t get what the abbot was pointing to.

Lots of people don’t.

Here’s the deal.

Our Zen practice is one of presence.

It isn’t about following the mind road. Ideas come, ideas go. Feelings come, feelings go.

We think. But if we don’t cling to the thoughts, well…

Then we witness…

The practice is ally ally oxen free.

Come out, come out, wherever you are.

Or, a pretty good pointer from another tradition

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving — it doesn’t matter,
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times,
Come, come again, come.

Try it.

Just notice. Just keep coming back.

You may be quite surprised where it can lead…

  • Ellen Skagerberg

    I remember back when I knew what meditation was, before I tried it for myself …

  • Jen

    Thanks for this, it’s exactly what I needed. _/\_

  • Daniel Kaplan

    Thanks for this , James. I still find many people who think the point of meditation is to have a blank, or calm mind, instead of just noticing the mind that is. I too spent many years with this misconception. Reminds one of a few koans, like the tile polishing, as well as one I really love, Chao Chou’s, “what is meditation”, wherein a monk asks Chao Chou, “what is meditation?” Chao Chou replies, “it’s not meditation.” Perplexed, the monk then asks, “well, then, what IS it?” Chao Chou responds, “It’s ALIVE, It’s ALIVE.”

  • Jonathonp

    fail
    fail again
    fail better
    Samuel Beckett

    Or. Perhaps.

    Nothing to be done- Waiting for Godot.


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