Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Power of Everyday Zen

Jenny Trout:
"I Wore a Bikini and Nothing Happened"
Everyday Zen is a term I use (and, I think, coined) to refer to the practice of bringing the mind state reached during zazen into everyday life. The idea is that, once discipline of the mind is learned through zazen, that it can be applied at any time...or even all the time. [Here are other posts about Everyday Zen on Zen Throw Down: Ordinary Mind is the Way & Everyday Zen and then later More on Everyday Zen.]

I thought of the power of Everyday Zen when a friend sent me a recent article by Jenny Trout called "I Wore a Bikini and Nothing Happened". It's a short, humorous piece about a serious issue: body image. In the article, the author (pictured) describes how she refused to allow others to dictate whether she should wear a bikini, how she should feel about wearing a bikini, and - most importantly - how she should feel about herself.

Trout never references Zen Buddhism or Everyday Zen in her piece, not even indirectly. However, I found the spirit of her thinking to be very much like the disciplined mindset of Zen Buddhism or Everyday Zen. In particular, the way she filtered out and refused to be influenced by the negativity of those around her. This attitude or mind state is in direct contrast with what we refer to in Zen Buddhism as a deluded mind state. A deluded mind state can be many (many, many, many) things, but it sometimes entails creating our own suffering through second guessing ourselves, creating self-doubt, or dwelling on negative thoughts.

Zazen, by disciplining the mind, teaches us how to recognize when we are engaged in the right mind state. For me, I've learned what the right mind state feels like. That way, through Everyday Zen, I can be like an adult providing a gentle course correction to a child who's learning to ride a bike. More precisely, I become both the child learning to ride and the adult making the correction. When I recognize I'm slipping from the right mind state, I can subtly correct myself. Instead of suffering the pain of a fall, I facilitate riding (even if I'm riding a bit ineptly).

I had a situation like this (and like Trout's) occur to me recently. A little while ago, I posted how I'd started taking guitar lessons. While I was considering whether or not to do it, I got discouraged when it occurred to me that most people start learning a musical instrument when they are a child. And then I thought that it might seem strange to people to see an adult doing this. What I was doing was inventing a worry or problem in my head that may or may not really exist and then allowing it to influence me as if it were real.

This is one of the many poisons of a deluded mindset: we convince ourselves everyone is focused on us to a degree that is simply unrealistic. We over think the situation and, in doing so, place ourselves on a rack of self-consciousness and self-doubt that makes us miserable. And/or we allow the thoughts and judgments of others - real of imagined - to direct our behavior. Delusion - simply put - is a torture chamber we create in our minds where we are both the victim and the sadist.

Luckily, I recognized that this was not right-minded. When that happened, I dismissed all those thought and concerns. As it turns out, I have not received any strange reactions from anyone. Of course, I'm not sure what other people think about me taking lessons but, importantly, I am not spending any time pondering it or trying to figure it out. It's ultimately not important and, truthfully, it's most probable that no one is giving me and my guitar lessons any thought at all. If I'd turned away from taking them, I would have deprived myself of a new experience for no reason.

Avoid the maze of delusion (although, in Zen philosophy,
'contentment' might work better here than 'happiness')
The way I caught myself, and the way Trout pushed back on other people's judgement of her wearing a bikini are small examples of the power of Everyday Zen. The important thing to realize is that, by disciplining the mind, we gain power over life. Happiness is much easier to achieve when we're not our own worst enemy.

This discipline also thrusts ownership for one's own life back on oneself (where it belongs). Ultimately, we can't blame our own insecurities on other people when we're the ones with the power to decide whether they or their opinions affect us. Everyone faces self-doubt or harsh judgement in their lives; how we deal with it is what determines whether we will be at peace or not. We can either let self-doubt and outside forces rule us or we can be free of them. If we allow it to rule us, we cannot forget that we are the ones who put the chains on and wear them.

This is not to say that Everyday Zen solves all problems or guarantees life will be blissful and easy. Suffering is a part of life, and I have found there are always people who want to control me and who will punish me or try to hurt me if I do not let them. However, from experience, I have also learned that no matter how unhappy or painful their actions are in the short term, by maintaining the right mind state I will be content in the long run.

A saying by an ancient Zen Master named Dazhu sums it up best: "You are luckily alright by yourself, yet you struggle artificially. Why do you want to put on fetters and go to prison?...When will you ever stop?" (trans. Thomas Cleary).

Ordinary mind is the Way!

No comments: