So now you know that Zen just seemed like not enough to me at the start of my journey. I could not understand how something as simple as focusing on the breath would be helpful.
The simple task of focusing on the breath doesn’t seem so simple when we are bombarded by all of our thoughts. So when the mind wanders away, we reel it back into the breath. I used to feel pretty angry with myself that I was unable to do it. Then, those negative thoughts about my inability to meditate would come crashing in to join the others. It would mingle with other thoughts that reminded me that the dishes weren’t done yet, that the cattle needed to be checked, that my kids need me. Far worse were the thoughts of regrets about my past and the anxiety about my future.
So, what is the point of focusing on it (our breath) anyway? It is to train our minds to behave. If you want to be joyful and present and not identified with negative thinking, you will need to do the work. Imagine your mind as a small puppy. This puppy is excited, running around, whimpering, and accidents all over the place. It just won’t stay still! Can you compare your thoughts to such a puppy… happy, then anxious, sad and misbehaved? In order to train our puppy, we must put in the work. For example, as we are walking our puppy, it will stray off the path that we intended on walking. An owner that wants to train will gently bring the pup back. We must treat our mind the same. When the mind wanders off, we must gently bring it back to the path. You alone are the only one that can do this work. No one else can do it for you.
In traditional Zazen practice we sit quietly and still in a comfortable upright position. During that time when the mind wanders off the breath (as it always does) our practice is to bring it back. In doing so, when life throws us a bone, or takes our bone away, we are able to maintain a more calm and peaceful mindset. This allows us then, to respond more appropriately, more often, unlike our old patterns of reaction.
If you are still considering whether or not to give Zazen practice a try, answer this question: have reactions in your life been a joyful experience? Or have reactions in your life caused pain and suffering for you, people you love, perhaps even strangers?
In my own experience reactivity has been a negative one. I’ve experienced much shame and regret for not responding appropriately. However, without my practice, there was just too much trying and not enough doing.
Our breath is the only thing we have with us our whole life. From the moment we are born right up until our death, it is with us. This is a very profound concept. Giovanni Papini has a nice take on it with this statement: “Breathing is the greatest pleasure in life.”
What do you think about the puppy mind concept? Let’s start a dialogue on the subject!
~On Ji, Becky Kuczer