Our thoughts materialize constantly. Sometimes they manifest in actions. We cannot avoid negative thoughts, and we should not try to avoid negative thoughts. We should be aware of our thoughts, both positive and negative. The difficult step, in being aware of negative thoughts, is not immediately believing those thoughts. We need to practice not getting carried away by those thoughts.
We think yes and no all the time. Yes is positive, no is negative. Yes is no better than no. We also think good and bad all the time. These thoughts impact the way we feel. When we think good, we feel good. When we think bad we feel bad. Good and bad also work the other way around. When we feel bad, we think about bad things. When we feel good we think good thoughts.
If we are feeling bad and we think about the past, we will see a bad past. If we think about the future, we see a bad future. If we think about ourselves, we will feel bad about ourselves. That is why we need to be aware of both what we are thinking and how we are feeling. When we are aware, we can engage with our thoughts as they materialize. If our thoughts are negative, we can notice the negativity, check in with how we are feeling, and see where the negativity is coming from and where it may lead.
When we practice noticing and releasing our thoughts, we learn not to buy into the negativity or positivity too much. We learn to engage our executive function to interrupt negative thought patterns as they feed negative feeling patterns.
Feeling good about ourselves and our prospects helps us work toward our goals with energy and enthusiasm. Feeling bad about ourselves and our prospects, makes it more difficult to achieve our goals. Having a primary goal of peace and peace of mind, helps us achieve that goal regularly throughout the day.
Mediation is an important part of Zen practice. You don’t have to be a Buddhist, or even a spiritual person to meditate. You only have to be a person with a mind. Meditation is a way to work with your mind. The act of sitting meditation is a simple and bold act of recognizing that you have a mind, that you have awareness, and that awareness of the mind changes the mind.
The mind changes whether you change it with awareness or it changes itself without your awareness. Compassionate awareness recognizes the suffering that comes from the activity of the mind and seeks to make it better. Awareness without compassion also affects the experience of suffering, but it can intensify the suffering because it habitually scrambles to get away from the suffering.
Mediation is the act of sitting and engaging with what comes up. If you have been avoiding some sort of suffering that suffering will come up, again and again until you deal with it. That is why starting a meditation practice is so hard. It takes great courage to face into suffering. Avoiding suffering makes the suffering bigger. Facing suffering makes it manageable. Simply sitting and facing your mind, with courage, compassion and kindness, changes the habits of your mind. When your mind habits change, your life changes. Just like that.
The purpose of life is to suffer. Another purpose of life is to be compassionate to that suffering. The third purpose of life is to meditate.
When we expect not to suffer, to transcend suffering through practice, we end up suffering more whenever we suffer. When we make the purpose of our lives to work with that suffering, we don’t resist so much when the suffering appears again. When suffering appears, we remember to work with it. When it goes away we remember our practice works. Compassion is the practice of working with our suffering to help it pass.
When you meditate, the purpose of life is to meditate. All the rest of the stuff that you do opens up the space to sit with your awareness, in your body, being alive. That is the purpose. Life is the opportunity to experience all of this wonder, and to wonder what it is all about.
The practice of Zen is the practice of mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness is not the practice of Zen. Zen is a Buddhist tradition of awakening. It has a rich history of crazy and wise teachers and students working toward that awakening and trying to pass it on to others. It has customs, rituals and practices all designed to help practitioners find liberation by coming to an understanding of how little they understand. Zen is confusing that way. It uses confusion to dispel confusion. Zen is a science of the mind and a religion of the spirit. Mindfulness has nothing to do with the Buddha. It is a practice of watching the mind in a compassionate and non-judgmental way. It is the practice of being aware of the present moment. It has nothing to do with the Buddha. Mindfulness doesn’t advertise awakening. It doesn’t talk about delusions or ignorance. It doesn’t challenge the idea of the self.
Buddhists often take a vow to save all beings from suffering. For some people, the idea Buddha is repulsive. They believe in other things or see religions as superstitions. These beliefs make it hard for Buddhists to save them from suffering. Part of a Zen practice is cultivating patience. It is generally understood that saving all beings from suffering is a long-term project. It will require the participation of all beings. Mindfulness is available for people who are unconcerned with spiritual transformation. It can help people who don’t like the idea of religion or different religions. With no religious undertones, mindfulness can help people observe the habits of their thoughts and see how those habits lead to stress, anxiety or depression.
Meditation is a central practice of Zen and an important skill in mindfulness. The practice of sitting quietly and observing your mind gives you a different perspective on life. It allows you to see how your thoughts come and go, arise and pass through your awareness. Observing thoughts is a skill, which meditation enhances. The practice of mindfulness is intense during mediation and more intermittent throughout the day. In mediation we sit still and actively practice observing and letting go of our thoughts. In meditation we often get carried away by thoughts. In mindfulness, as we go about our lives, we actively practice observing and letting go of our thoughts, we often get carried away by those thoughts.
Zen teaches us not to be concerned with our awakening, but to spend all of our efforts opening up to that awakening. Mindfulness only asks us to watch our minds with compassion. It does not even suggest that we will become something other than we are. A compassionate attitude saves us from beating ourselves up and cutting ourselves down in our internal dialogues. Mindfulness helps us to be aware of the contents of our internal dialogues. WIth awareness and compassion, mindfulness helps us change our mental habits which cause us excessive stress and anxiety.
Whether we practice Zen mindfulness or mindfulness depends on what works for us. Whether we are suffering from Buddhist ignorance or stress, depends on our outlook. Whether we are concerned with personal or world peace is only a matter of the scale of our compassion. However we come to practice, learning to live with our minds is a skill we can work on. We have to live with our minds anyway. Life becomes more enjoyable when we are able to do things that put our minds at peace.
If love leads to happiness and attachment leads to suffering, how can we expect to love without attachment? Love is bigger than attachment. Love is a force that binds us all together. Attachment is what happens when we think of ourselves as separate. As soon as we think of ourselves as something other than what we love, we start grabbing onto love and that grabbing causes us pain.
Buddhism teaches us that attachment causes suffering. It is the glue of desire. When we desire something that we don’t have, or that we imagine we don’t have, we start to suffer. The suffering is not in the having as much as in the imagining. We attach to ideas about what we are and what love is. We imagine that we are lovable or not lovable. We base our happiness on being loved by a certain person in a certain way. When we are happy in love, love seems to work that way. When we are sad in love, love seems to be missing. Love is always there. Other people’s love for us does not make us happy. Loving makes us happy.
When somebody loves us, and that love awakens the love in us, we will feel happy. If we attach that feeling of happiness to love, when the happiness goes away, we may imagine that the love has gone away too. Happiness comes and goes. Love is eternal. When we attach to things that go away, we feel the pain of loss. When our happiness comes and goes with our thoughts about how we are loved, we like regular reassurances that we are loved. We are loved. Rest assured.
Love is easy. Relationships are hard. In love we are one. In relationships we are two. When we become two, we begin looking at ourselves as though in a mirror. If we don’t love what we see, we are probably attached to an idea of what love should be. If we do love what we see, we feel happy.