Meditation is not escape from what we don’t want to face.
Meditation is not indulgence into ecstasy.
Meditation practice is learning to restore our contentment faster.

The main way to do that is to recover/discover our sense of self.
You are more than you think you are and it’s wonderful.


I reviewed WAKEFUL pages 26-51 where the practical aspects of meditation are described. The pages after that are focused more on the challenges of meditation once you start practicing. WAKEFUL was Sensei’s expression of traditional Buddhism. Over the years he started focusing more on being than on meditating, saying “be happy and strong” instead of “just meditate”. Still I think we struggle and get in a rut as we learn to be happy and strong, and confrontation as you do in meditation helps us come to our senses with a more accurate self-perspective.


WAKEFUL (pp 1-25): We had an excellent discussion on many ideas and ways of expressing them here. One thought I had about the middle path between the two ways forward that Sensei talked about in this section and the extremes Buddha experienced as a sheltered prince and later as a wilderness ascetic. Should we seek comfort or should we seek to overcome pain? The answer is: that’s irrelevant, we should seek to know ourself. This is much like ‘before enlightenment chop wood carry water, after enlightenment chop wood carry water.’ Daily life continues before and after we know what and who we are and we stop being attached to what we are not. We are so much more than we think. We’ve often settled on being the cheap dragon; of being a comfort-seeking being. There is more to you than that. Dogen Zenji says: “Please, honored followers of Zen. Long accustomed to groping for the elephant, do not be suspicious of the true dragon.”


The Buddhist “version” of Santa Claus is the Chinese Buddhist monk, Pu Tai (=Hotei in Japanese), which you see as the common big-bellied Buddha statues. The Happy China-man has a story in 101 Zen Sayings (Zen Flesh Zen Bones). The significance of Jhana (=Zen in Japanese)? stop and pay attention. The realization of Jhana? just continue on. They say before enlightenment chop wood carry water, after enlightenment chop wood carry water. Meaning what you do doesn’t change, it’s how you experience it: without attachment. We’re going to do a book club type study, initially with WAKEFUL starting next week.


Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) wrote a pivotal book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces where he pointed out commonalities between various religious stories. The idea taken from that of the Hero’s Journey seems to fit many “coming of age”- type fictional stories like the Ramayana, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, various superhero stories, etc. It doesn’t fit others such as tragedies and comedies like Hamlet and Oedipus. Also, I’m not sure it fits Gilgamesh or Beowolf either, though they are ancient heroic epics. The Hero’s Journey, however is clearly an archetypal story and part of our human collective as Jung described, and is a useful story-structure to consider for our own life-story. We might even look at our relationship with meditation in this way. How did you first encounter the idea of meditation? What made you decide it was something you needed to do? As you learned to meditate when did you stop searching here and there and realize you just needed to practice? What was your impossible challenge that you overcame? how was your first experience of jhana? then after that how did you see yourself as a different person? Did you share your new experience with those who were with you when you started the journey? Personally I’ve gone through the full circle with Chapel as my starting/ending point. Maybe I’ll write my own little epic someday. Think about writing yours, even just for yourself.


A basic message of Buddhism is that our attachments create our suffering so we should meditate. But why? It’s because meditation is training to develop our relationship with our own wants and don’t wants. That is, how do we act, feel, think about the things we want to have or want to avoid in our life? It could be that we feel greedy, needy, unworthy, pessimistic, entitled, or any other form of not so healthy relationship. So what is a mature relationship then? Well, we’re happy when we encounter good things and unhappy when we encounter bad things; that’s simple enough; mature and healthy you might say. But when we are seeking, exerting our effort, and working for our goals that we have some expectations positive or negative based on various things. Here it makes sense that patience/persistence (khanti) is a good thing. Generally speaking, we can be happy in our goal-oriented efforts and at the same time not insist on getting a result. In a sense it’s like being respectful of the Universe to respond as it will to our efforts, and recognizing that we are not in absolute control. Should we create the life we want or discover the life we should have? Neither. Forcing life to meet your expectations is bound to fail, and allowing life to pass you by is also bound to fail. The answer is that the question is incorrect. Instead of asking ,”should you create or discover your life?”, how about, “what attitude shall I have as I strive for what I want?”. There are a lot of ways to think about your relationship with what you want to have or avoid. Generally a conscious pause can help you see how you are holding your mind. Meditation is just such a pause.


I learned an Ancient Greek phrase today watching a history documentary: “Kalos/Kales Kai Agathos” = he/she is beautiful/noble/handsome and good/virtuous/dutiful/brave of character. How do we be that? What about “Find Your Bliss”? This common phrase started with Joseph Campbell (famed for the idea of Mythical Archetypes) and is nicely explained in this Psychology Today link: “Sometimes people equate bliss with being in a state of euphoria, but in reality, being blissful is the state you’re in when you’re doing whatever instills a profound sense of joy within you” It was initially referring to finding your life or career path. So I might replace “bliss” with purpose or better yet contentment: find your contentment. Commonly we work to attain circumstances that match our vision and if we succeed for a time, then we feel content for that time. But don’t we try to do this in meditation, despite circumstances? So I’d also replace “find” with “create” because it’s not a passive or lucky thing at all. Circumstances require some luck, but in the long run “create your contentment” is how we can grow to be a content person regardless of circumstances. How? by holding your mind steady. That’s fundamental to the process. It could be while jogging, watching the sunset, meditating, etc. The other things we do in meditation that are helpful are: refrain from effort, pay attention to now, wake up, relax and let go, etc. As we practice and develop a greater capacity to be a content person, we become more aligned with our personal purpose and values, and that brings out the best in us. We become kalos/kales kai agathos: beautiful and virtuous.


After this weekend’s retreat I’m thinking about 3 things that meditation typically does for you. 1) After an exciting or upsetting day, meditation settles us down. In my experience, that can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours of zazen, depending on your day and how your life is going. Years ago the first hour of my two-hour practice was always a settling time, but I’ve gotten better at it and now typically I’m settled even before I ring the bell. 2) The next thing meditation does for you after you are settled down, is re-center your perspective. I find this happens after a day or two on a meditation retreat. It takes time to fully disengage our mind from all the efforts we are juggling – both consciously and subconsciously. But when we do, things stop getting blown out of proportion. 3) Then what do we get out of a longer meditation retreat? I’ve found that most people hit a point of difficulty after about 2 days (maybe 1 to 3 days) where continuing is very difficult. This is confrontation as Sensei often said. This is when specific personal issues and crises arise. Our mind is working perfectly by bringing the most urgent things to our attention. And when we give it a couple days focus and spaciousness on a meditation retreat, we might suddenly start crying and not understand why until later.

Of course we might be living daily with this confrontation already. These are our personal koans, like a conflict of values; which way do we go? what can we say? How can we help our suffering loved one? what “should” I do? Facing it in our mind is a requirement for getting through it; of being resolved in how to proceed; of ending our internal struggle. Maybe there actually is no solution as we’ve framed the problem. In some cases we can’t help our loved one, but we can be present with them so they are not alone. When we realize this is the truth for those cases, then we feel confident, clear and strong with how we move forward.


The Catholic Cathedrals in Italy were beautiful, and learning details of those stories showed me that GRACE is maintaining your self/values despite suffering. It’s like the word METTLE, meaning “the ability to meet a challenge or persevere under demanding circumstances; determination or resolve.” It’s human to lose ourself in reaction, and the growth out of that is our path forward. The Buddhist 5 hindrances is a convenient list of common reactions; in my words: indulgence, anger, depression, anxiety, confusion. Personally, I typically react with anxiety because of the personality that formed from my own upbringing, genetics and past lives (i.e. nature vs. nurture) to various degrees. But I do fall into the others, and in the past month have felt some frustration (a shade of anger) a few times. Noticing myself when that happens is a kind of “observation-meditation” (often labeled vipassana), and is basically just being mindful/present (sati). One universal observation is that we tend to lose ourselves more often when we have less extra space or energy before we reach our limit, for example when we are sick, in pain, exhausted, sleepy, or generally when we are suffering. Those are the demanding circumstances that test our mettle, and that’s when we can put extra effort into being present and perhaps reach a state of grace. When we meditate we similarly face a demanding circumstance, and it can be the exact same thing like an injury that captures our attention. But beneath those layers there’s a fundamental conflict we must face and resolve: how content are you willing to be right now? Ultimately we can go beyond grace into glory, but we have to be wiling to give up our self and trust in Nature/God/the whole.


The Bhagavad Gita is a short story expressing Hindu philosophy and one of the ancient foundational texts of the religion. It expresses the Samkhya philosophy upon which Patanjali’s yoga is based, that the fundamental essence of things is a mixture of three characteristics: Sattva (air, reflection), Rajas (fire, activity), and Tamas (earth, inertia). You might recognize this as the basis of an Ayurveda diet (see Deepak Chopra). So you can consider yourself to be more often Rajasic, or Tamasic, or Sattvic – busy and can’t stand still, lazy and hard to get going, or accommodating and uncertain. And as you sit to meditate you may find the same typical difficulty faces you accordingly. So let me talk about how a rajasic person might overcome the obstacle in order to meditate. In that case, consider, what would you rather be doing this evening rather than sitting and waiting to go to sleep? Maybe watch TV, read a book, go for a walk, talk with friends, a hobby, exercise, shopping, cleaning, or (my favorite) organizing. In order to meditate more fully, we need to be done with all these things.

As the Tao Te Ching 38 says, “doing nothing, yet nothing undone”. We will never get to the bottom of our to do list so we have to decide this is “done enough” for now. Meditation practice is when we can strengthen our resolve and ability to set things aside for now. This is khanti, the highest virtue we can cultivate according to Buddha (khanti paramam tapo titikkha), translated as patience, forbearance, or persistence. I think for a rajasic person it’s patience and for a tamasic person it’s perseverance. While we sit, a rajasic person may be struggling to remain still without thinking of all the things worthy of thinking, and thereby can’t settle down. Whereas a tamasic person might be slowly sinking into sleep and will need to continue bringing their attention back to center over and over again, persevering. And one last thought, we can’t always force our self to meditate. That’s good initially, but eventually we have to let go the effort of that force. Practically that means we have to be free to choose to meditate without any “because I should”. A simple parallel reveals how we miss this so much. Many dog owners control their dog with a leash so they don’t run away, act aggressive, etc. But that’s not dog training because the dog has no choice when being controlled. Dog trainers tell you that you have to give them the choice and reward them when they choose correctly. After some time, the leash is only used to communicate the command not to enforce control. Can we do that with our own mind? I think it naturally happens when we start to crave meditation just simply because it’s so good.