Meditation doesn’t do anything

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Testing Week

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Testing Week

6 Alt Pistols
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18 Wallball @ 10’ (20/14)
During the first week of the Whole Life Challenge, we took up the practice of meditation, specifically, a sitting practice called zazen. Now I’m good at doing something for a reason. If it has a purpose, I can go at it all day. I can also do nothing for a reason. Chill out and just relax so that I can recharge? No problem. I can even do something for no reason. Like singing in the shower. I really do it just to do it. Then there’s zazen – the meditation for this week’s challenge.

Zazen (as I think I understand it), is not something to “do.” And you “don’t do” it for no reason. Kind of warped, right? How do you not do something for no reason? The only thing I can think of is just to sit there and have no goal for sitting there. Turns out that’s pretty much it.

Last weekend I found a local zazen group and after sitting and staring at the wall for a total of 50 minutes, the teacher asked “how was it?” I talked about trying to keep focused on being in the room and conscious of my breathing and having a constant stream of thoughts running through my head. And how sometimes I’d get caught up in the thoughts and realize it several minutes later and bring myself back to the room and to my breathing. But I didn’t really “get” it. Nothing happened. I didn’t “get” anything. No inner peace, and nothing that looked like a path to enlightenment.


What does THAT mean? Great? When do I get GOOD ? When does my mind shut up? When does enlightenment happen? How long does that take?

Turns out that’s the “no reason” part. You don’t sit zazen for a quiet mind, for enlightenment, or to be good at it. Definitely not to be something different from what you are. If you’re a “jerk,” notice how you are. It’s not so that you can stop being a jerk. In zazen, it would be just fine anyway.

And the the whole “don’t do” anything part? Just be. We probably spend about 99.9% of our lives doing things in order to get somewhere. That means that about 99.9% of your life you’re barely aware of the one you’re in the middle of, and in large part, trying to get somewhere different from or even “better” than where you are. If you’re working you’d rather be on vacation. If you’re at the office, you’d rather be at the beach. If you’re in traffic, you’d rather be at home. Meditation is pretty much the opposite. And it’s not being celibate, leaving the material world, or reaching enlightenment. It’s living, right where you are, right when you are, with your eyes open.

It’s not so that you can become a better person, more relaxed, or enlightened. Just be. Consider you’re a human “being” and you almost never just “be.” And your thoughts? In zazen can have your thoughts (and believe me, I have thoughts), but they’re just there, like rain is there. Not to be judged, not to be thought about. That would be doing something. They’re just there to be your thoughts. Easy to say, hard to do.

That 10 minutes you do each day is your chance to be “for nothing…Practice…for the sake of [practice]. There is no goal to reach, nothing to long for and nothing to attain. Just follow life in this one single instant, right here, right now – the life that you are presently living.” (1)

When I thought about it, the things that really mess me up are when I judge my thoughts or think about them as I’m having them. At the very least, it’s a prescription for running into things. At worst, it makes me wish I had other thoughts – even another life. Quite schizophrenic, isn’t it?

“Being” without needing to be someone else, somewhere else, having different thoughts is not thrilling like surfing the Amazon, but that’s almost exactly the point. What is a life spent wanting to be someone else or somewhere else? Zazen doesn’t work. It doesn’t do anything and it doesn’t change anything. It brings your life into focus.

What wouldn’t be possible if that happened?

“No matter how many years you sit doing zazen, you will never become anything special.” Kodo Sawaki

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