To see that everything is one does not take a great spiritual realization, it just takes a different approach to counting. You just look at everything and count to one. One. That’s it. That’s everything.
We are used to doing that with ourselves. We look at ourselves and we think, this is me. We know that we have eyes, ears and noses, but they are all parts of the one thing that is us. We like to look at ourselves and the world around us and count to two. This is me, that is not me. One, two. That’s when things start to get complicated. That’s when we start to worry about the part of the world that is us.
When we look at ourselves and the world and count to two, we try to grab things from the world to make them part of us. We grab people, things, and ideas. We get the idea that the part of the world that is us is inadequate, so we try to make ourselves better. There is nothing so wrong with us except how we count. When we think of ourselves and the universe and just count to one, we see that we are amazing.
The idea of time travel is amusing because we like to go to new and interesting places. It is facinating because we are constantly trying to get away from the present moment. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see what life was like when the dinosaurs walked the Earth, before any of us existed? Wouldn’t it be amazing to see what the world will be like in a thousand years, after all of us are gone? Isn’t it amazing that we are here, now, and able to exist?
We are traveling through time. There was a time, long ago, when we were babies. Just before that we didn’t exist at all. There will be a time, in the distant future, when we will take our last breath and then stop existing. While we exist, all we do is time travel.
Because we live in the future of an ancient past, we live with the consequences of our ancestors’ actions. Because we live in the ancient past of a distant future, our actions will have an impact on people in the years ahead. What you do today will set the stage for what you are able to do tomorrow. What you did yesterday, made you who you are today.
Time travel is not a fantasy, it is life. If you want to observe an amazing time, look. This is the only time this time will ever be here. If you use this moment to exercise compassion and act with kindness, the people thousands of years from now will be grateful. You will be grateful tomorrow.
I heard a news story about a man who was arrested for fraud. He had been collecting disability for several years, claiming that he could barely walk and dress himself, but then posted pictures of himself on Facebook vacationing and living it up. He was busted.
My first thought upon hearing the story was, what an idiot. My second thought was noticing that I was judging the man’s intelligence for getting caught rather than judging his morality for committing fraud. Neither my first nor second thoughts were particularly Zen of me. A good Zen thought would have been feeling compassion for the man, who doesn’t know right from wrong and is facing a world of pain as he and his wife head to prison for fraud. What I did think was, what an idiot.
There is not really a good or bad Zen thought. A good Zen thought is no thought at all. All of the other thoughts that I had highlight how I habitually judge. I judge a stranger on the radio, I judge his intelligence, I judge his morality, I judge my judgement, I judge myself for making all the judgements, I judge the Zenness of my thinking. Judging, judging, judging, thinking, thinking, thinking. Zen, Zen, Zen.
My practice is to notice all of this going on. My practice is to create harmony. My practice is to notice when I don’t. My practice is to figure out what I am. When I think what an idiot, what an idiot I am. That is not so much of a judgement, it is an observation of a fleeting moment. That is Zen.
When you feel like nothing matters, you’re wrong. Nothing matters. We get all caught up in things and we forget how important nothing is. When things get noisy, nothing sounds better. When things get too busy, it’s nice to do nothing for a little while. When everything is perfect, you want nothing. When everything seems like it’s falling apart, nothing is working out for you. When you have nothing nice to say, its best to say nothing. When things are getting you down, nothing can pick you up. Do nothing, say nothing, feel nothing, think nothing and you will see nothing matters, a lot.
There is suffering and there is suffering. There are all sorts of situations where we suffer. We suffer when we’re tired, cold, bored, angry hot, sad, scared, hurt, hungry, lonely, in pain, stressed, annoyed or just basically discontented. There are hundreds of ways to suffer. It is possible to experience these feelings without actually suffering. We suffer when we resist these feelings. We suffer when we give in to these feelings. We suffer when we get carried away with these feelings. To stop suffering through suffering, pay attention to your suffering and pay attention to suffering from your suffering.
People learn to live with suffering. If you look at a professional football player you may wonder what kind of fool would go out on that field knowing that they will be pummeled by 300 pound men trained in inflicting pain. The players learn to suffer without suffering. They become adept at dealing with physical pain. As you notice your various ways of suffering, you will be able to experience the suffering without suffering so much.
A good way to notice suffering is in the shower. As the water temperature changes you begin to suffer. You quickly adjust the temperature. That little tiny suffering you endure before you adjust the temperature gives you an opportunity to observe your suffering. If you experience this, just notice your suffering, then adjust the temperature. If you have run out of hot water, notice how your suffering from cold turns into suffering from anger at the person who showered before you.
When you practice noticing your suffering you see how you lean into or pull away from your discomfort. You notice that you are able to manage the feeling. You notice how the feeling feels. When you get good at observing your suffering, you will find yourself suffering without suffering. When you can do that, you’ll also notice yourself not suffering at all. You’ll notice yourself feeling good.
Chuang Tzu describes the situation where a man in a boat sees another boat on a collision course with his own. If the boat is empty, he just deals with the situation. If there is a person in the boat, the man will scream out to him and get increasingly angry as the boat driver does not heed his call. The parable advises you to become like an empty boat, with no ego, or sense of loss and gain, wandering peacefully through life. Besides being the empty boat, you can also be the man seeing the empty boat.
Although becoming an empty boat will bring peace and harmony to your life and the world, until you get there, you can recognize all the boats around you. See what makes you angry and upset. We are always getting upset with each other. The empty boat can help you explore your emotional reactions to those around you.
When you find yourself getting angry with somebody, try to imagine them as an empty boat. Imagine that you are getting upset because of your ideas instead of the other person’s. If your mom tells you to clean your room before going to the movies. Instead of thinking, my mother is ruining my life, imagine that the idea that you need to clean your room before you go to the movies has occurred to you. There is nothing more to be angry about.
On the busy river of life, boats are always bumping into each other. Until you are able to empty your boat, learn to recognize the difference between boats and drivers and then be compassionate with the drivers you encounter.
One way to gain an understanding of your suffering is to install a suffering meter in your mind. As gauging suffering is not exact, a suffering meter can be a rough instrument. The most important thing about a suffering meter is not how precise it is, but how often you check it. Your suffering meter only needs to have a positive, neutral, and negative value, such as: suffering, nothing, and contented, or miserable, neutral, and joyful, or 1, 0, and -1. Simple.
Every time you check your suffering meter, also check your thinking and figure out just what you were thinking that inspired the reading on your suffering meter. That way you will see the connection between your thinking and your suffering. The more often you check your suffering meter and check in with your thoughts, the more likely you will catch yourself thinking up reasons to suffer. If you just watch your meter all the time, you may recognize the cause of your suffering and see the way out.
You can also use your suffering meter on others. When you notice somebody else is suffering, as they often are, offer them compassion and kindness. See what that does to your own suffering.
Moods matter. The difference between being happy and being sad is your mood. The rest is all the same. Moods matter because they impact how you interact with the world. If you don’t pay attention to your moods, your moods will seem like a reflection of how things are. You will forget how things really are.
If you think things are how you feel about them, your interactions will create problems for you. If you see a cute and cuddly grizzly bear, and you feel so wonderful that you go tickle its belly, there could be problems. If you pay attention to your mood, you can observe your happiness and the grizzly bear from a comfortable distance.
It matters immensely if you are happy, sad, scared or angry. You should know what you are at all times. You do not need to congratulate yourself for being happy or berate yourself for being angry, but know what you are and know that you are much more than that.
One of the aims of a Zen practice is to create an identity crisis for yourself. If you are already having an identity crisis, you are well on your way. The purpose of the identity crisis is to change your idea about who and what you are. This is an especially compelling idea if you are not content with who or what you seem to be now.
To create an identity crisis for yourself, throw out your idea of what you are. You may think that you are you, with all your problems, challenges, gifts and graces, but to create a crisis, you have to imagine that is not you. You have to entertain the idea that your idea of what you are is wrong.
If you manage to lose your idea of what you are, you will find yourself in an identity crisis. Then you will become obsessed with figuring out what you are. You will search for yourself like you have misplaced your car keys when you are late for work, or you can’t find you cell phone. When you resolve that crisis and see what you are, you will be delighted. You will also see that you are already that amazing thing that you are.