Sally in the Zen

Confessions of a Befuddled Zen Buddhist

Apples in my Eye

These beautiful people are the apples in my eye.

I would move mountains, crawl through burning desert, and even eat brussel sprouts (yuck!)  for Zen Master and Zen Mum.

People come and people go out of my life, but my parents are irreplaceable.

I resolved a long time ago to have as little regrets as possible when it comes to Zen Master and Zen Mum.

It’s the least I can do for them.

And very happy to do it.

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Inspiration

Sometimes I get in a funk.

Sometimes with myself, sometimes with life.

But there are some days which are tougher than others and besides turning to Guan Yin, I turn to my Zen Master.

And he would say take a deep breath and just let it go.

And when I heard this song from Linkin Park, his words echoed in my head and my heart.

 

 

Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes.

What can I say?

I’m quite open-minded for a Zen Buddhist.

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Introspection: Mindful Awareness

Life is a succession of moments.  To live each one is to succeed.~ Corita Kent

I’ve been pondering this — mindful awareness — for awhile, and I still don’t quite know how to tackle this topic.  Have you ever had those moments where you know what you want to say but you just can’t find the words to say them?  That’s where I am with this.

I’m trying to find the words to convey how mindful awareness, such an intangible concept, is an everyday way of life and living for me.

It’s like trying to describe how a body needs air.

I think.

So I do what I normally do when I’m puzzled, baffled or just go blank.

I Google.

(Sidebar:  what in the world did we ever do in those pre-Google days?)

Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.  ~ Yoda

What?  Sometimes I seek wisdom from Master Yoda too.  What of it?

Anyway.

So I’ve been looking for examples of moments.

Why am I bothering, you ask?

Because mindful awareness is all about moments for me.

Moments.

Of time.  Of feeling.  Of awareness.

Before we go any further, I need to throw out this reminder again. 

Although I am a Zen Buddhist, I have absolutely no formal training in this religion and philosophy.  Zen Master – my father – is my teacher.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. ~ Buddha

Bingo.  Finally something I can wrap my hands around.

Concentrate the mind on the present moment.

But how? 

Through mindful awareness.

According to Wikipedia, now I’m paraphrasing here, mindfulness is part of Buddhist meditation.  But honestly, after reading the link three times, I still don’t quite grasp what it’s describing.  From the Terminology section on the Wikipedia page:  “The state or quality of being mindful; attention; regard, with obsolete meanings of “memory” and “intention, purpose.”

Huh?

And as I read further along on the page, I become uncertain and unsure of what I already know from Zen Master.  This is not good because the whole reason why I’m Googling in the first place is to find clarity.

So what do I do?

I pull a Neo from The Matrix, and go back to the source.

Don’t get me wrong.  This booklet didn’t bump Zen Master down the ladder in knowledge and wisdom. 

No…no, not at all.  As if a booklet can displace him.  And NO, this is not an advertisement for this book.

Ok, let’s focus here, people.

Zen Master may be the source of knowledge, wisdom and guidance of all things Zen for me, but I have to admit, that sometimes I just don’t get him.  Sometimes his wisdom is too cryptic.

Newsflash:  bafflement doesn’t lead to enlightenment.  No siree.

Ask him to clarify, you say?  Oh HO, easier said than done.  I’ve tried many, many, many times.

Zen Master:  Life is suffering and you need to embrace mortality.

Me:  Wha?

Zen Master:  Time is finite and your hands are your instruments.

Me:  Can’t you just speak in little words?  I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.

Zen Master:  Bah!  College-educated, and you can’t understand something so simple!  Phoo on you!

So you see, it’s no use asking for clarification on such things. 

I, Grasshopper, must venture on uncovering its true meaning on my own.

Hence, this booklet.

It speaks in clear and concise words and it’s easier to understand than my Zen Master.

But let’s get back on point here, shall we?

I was speaking of moments.

More specifically, mindful awareness.

Mindfulness, mindful awareness is part of me.  It’s part of Buddhist meditation and it’s something I actively practice.  I love my little booklet, Everyday Meditation, because it translates this complex topic into bite-size ideas.  I’ve had it for years and I’ve pondered over it off and on for years. 

On page 40, there is a section called Awareness in Every Moment.  The gist of this section speaks about actively being aware of your thoughts and actions in everyday moments of living.  Observing yourself, watching your breathing, watching your reactions to given situations.

All to gain personal insight.

All of my posts are about moments.  When I meditate, I’m in the moment.  When I’m sweating at the gym, I’m in that moment. 

And when I mean I’m in that moment, I mean that I’m vividly aware of:

*  My heart pounding in my chest as I struggle with the dumbbells.

*  My hands perspiring through my fingerless gloves.

*  My back of my head soaked and dripping with sweat.

*  My muscles so fatigued that I can’t even lift myself up.

*  The heavy stench of sweat from other bodies attacking my nose.

I’m not thinking, Gee, what’s for dinner tonight?  or Damn, that guy’s a hottie.

My focus is in that moment, 100%.

That’s what mindful awareness is to me.

What’s the end game for this entire exercise, mindful awareness?  Why am I going through the trouble of trying to be mindful of all my actions?  Why bother in becoming acutely aware of every single moment for the rest of my life?

WHY?

Simple.

Because I am a Zen Buddhist, and I want Enlightenment.

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Introspection: I Can’t

I HATE these words.  I truly despise them.  I loathe hearing them, and absolutely loathe saying them.

Why?

Because these seemingly simple words are poison to the mind, heart and the soul.

Zen Master believes that a human being is capable of anything.  He has always taught me that if I can think it, I can do it. 

The one true obstacle that stops me from achieving my potential, from becoming the very best person that I can be is me.  By harboring self-doubt.  By lacking courage and faith in myself.  By saying and believing in I can’t.

He has been preaching this to me for as long as I can recall.

I remember a conversation from when I was either 9 or 10 years old:

Zen Master:  Why don’t you focus and be a doctor?

Me:  Nah, malpractice sucks.

Zen Master (more persistent):  Being a good doctor makes a lot of money.

Me:  Nah, malpractice sucks.

That was the extent of my thought process back then, which is to say that I absolutely had no focus and I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.  But the truth was that I believed I couldn’t be a doctor because I just wasn’t smart enough. 

That’s the beauty about hindsight and the 20/20 thing.  While there is still breath in me, I still have the chance to learn from my past failings and grow from them.  I tackle each new day with this attitude.

That’s progress, right?

As a Zen Buddhist, I’ve come to understand that fear closes off my mind from my heart.  Fear in whatever form, whether self-doubt or afraid of looking stupid or whatever, is poison to the mind.  I’ve also come to understand that to overcome this poison, I simply embrace it and still move forward.  Because moving forward is progress.  One more step towards Enlightenment.

But it’s hard.  Sometimes I falter and fail.

Like on Thursday night, when I was working out at my night-time gym.  Our group exercise was straight up and simple. 

Military presses. 

If you don’t know what these are, here’s what I found on Youtube.

I really don’t know who Kara Bohigian is but I’m in awe just watching her go to work.

Back to my story.  Our workout on Thursday was military presses:  5 sets of 5 MP, with increasing weights for each round.  For me, it was in increments of 5 lbs.  And this was the first time I have ever done such a thing.

During round 4, I had struggled with 50 lbs and if it wasn’t for my instructor standing in front of me, pushing me on, I would have dropped that barbell and quit.  But he wouldn’t let me quit.

My 5th and last round stopped at 55 lbs.  In my mind, I kept thinking Oh my God!  I can’t do this!  I can’t do this!  And as I struggled that barbell up over my head for the third time in this last round, I actually shrieked “OH, JESUS, HELP ME!!”

I wasn’t too far gone to not notice the snickering in the room.  And no, I didn’t forget my religion when I was screaming Jesus’s name in vain. 

As I finally pushed and grunted my 4th thrust up, my mind screamed STOP!!  YOUR ARMS ARE TOO WEAK AND YOU CAN’T FINISH THIS!!

But I heaved that damn thing up over my head, completing that 4th lift.  And as soon as that happened, my balance faltered and I dropped that barbell on the ground.

There was only one more lift in this final round and I refused to pick it back up.  I instead walked away.

Now let’s put this into perspective here.  I was exercising alongside an older gal who pushed through all 5 sets ending at 55 lbs.  She was calm, cool and focused.  And she was half my size in build, height and stature.

And she got it done.

Moral of this lesson:  Try it.  Do it.  Finish what I’ve started. 

And believe a little bit more in myself because at age forty, I still have a lot more life to live and more challenges to face.

And I can’t is a complete buzzkill.

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Thank You

Thank you God, Guan Yin

…for life

…for health

…for family

…for house

…for home

…and most of all, for Zen Master and Zen Mum for being my two best friends in the world, who never judge and love me as I am.

Thank you.

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Meditation

There’s nothing like when a day ends.

When the sun sets and the night rolls in, when the dinner dishes have long been washed and put away, when the house finally comes to rest from the daily activities, there’s really nothing like the feeling of calm that settles over everything at day’s end.

And this is when I meditate. 

I have read about group meditations, and occasionally Zen Master and I do group meditations.

However, ultimately, meditation is a solo act.

It’s in this one act where the world around me fades away when I close my eyes. 

It’s when I’m acutely aware of my breathing, focusing on the deep pull of air that enters my nose, filling my body to capacity before slowly exiting my mouth.  My Tai Chi instructor labels the inhale as “breathing in the flowers” and exhale as “blowing out the candles.”

This is when I focus on calming the constant stream of random thoughts in my mind, lulling them to rest.

And this is the only act that gives me the strength to shelf all the troubles that may ache my heart, at least for awhile.

Sometimes I still struggle with calming my thoughts, especially when it was a doosie of a day. 

Meditation is a living, breathing personal work in progress.

Let’s put it in another way. 

You know how you can appear calm on the outside but in the inside, your heart is torn up, in turmoil?  Meditating is about getting the mind and heart in sync with each other so that you actually are calm.  You don’t need to project an image of calm.  You are calm. 

Hence, that’s why I say meditation is a work in progress.  It’s easy to say but extremely hard to do.  But given time and practice, it becomes natural. 

Zen Master tells of a Chinese legend of an evil Zen Master, who when he sits down to meditate, when he’s truly in the zone, nothing could break his concentration.  Even when he was surrounded and was physically being attacked by others armed with swords and weapons, he was untouchable.  It took the combined efforts of three good Zen Masters to take him down.

Now that’s something to strive for.  Except the evil part, of course.

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Life Lessons

When people find out that I am Buddhist, their first question to me is inevitably the same.

“Aren’t you suppose to be bald?”

And my answer is usually the same.

“I need to make a living, so I need my hair.”

(Here’s a tip.  Not all Zen Buddhists are bald.)

I need to point out again that although I am Buddhist, I have had no formal training whatsoever in this religion/philosophy.  But with my Zen Master — my father — who is a lifelong Zen Buddhist himself, I am in very good hands.

It was almost eight years ago when I consciously began walking this path, this way of life and living.  According to Wikipedia, Zen Buddhism is “a form of Buddhism that lays special emphasis on meditation.” 

For Zen Master and myself, it also centers around Guan Yin.

Zen Master teaches by example and by wisdom, always emphasizing that life is precious. 

But I’ll be the first to admit that being a Zen Buddhist is hard.  It’s not just a religion or philosophy. 

It’s a state of being, and living.

It means that each and every day is a beginning as well as a progression to a better person than what I was yesterday.  It means that I face each day pondering cryptic Buddhist wisdom imparted by Zen Master, trying my best to make heads or tails of what he means. 

So begin my Introspections on Sally in the Zen.  These are my stories of life lessons with Zen Master.

Photo taken by my cousin's husband, HP

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Why I Blog

Many years ago, I was visiting family in New York City.  While at my grandmother’s house, I made my way to the basement.  In the back of the basement was an impromptu recreational area, with free weights in one place and a computer workstation in another.  But what I was interested in was the PlayStation console that sat on the floor near a small couch nestled in the corner of the basement.

While I was perusing the game deck on the desk, a movement caught my eye.  And it was then that I met Buster, my cousin’s dog.  I don’t remember what kind of dog he was, but he was small, like a terrier.  Maybe he was a terrier.  I had no clue.

In those days, I really wasn’t a dog person.  Cats were my dope, and they still are.  Dogs really didn’t do anything for me. 

But Buster was unlike most dogs I’d come across.  For one thing, he was quite calm.  No yapping or snapping at my feet.  And he looked at me with such knowing eyes.  Maybe he knew that I wasn’t a dog person and he chilled out just for me.  I respected him for that.

For the next few hours, Buster sat with me as I played video games.  And sometimes I found myself talking to him and he would sometimes grunt or snort in response.  At first, he sat a few feet from me, but over time, he inched his way towards me until he sat right next to my feet.  He was a smooth operator.

My brother came down to find me and Buster in the dark, heartily playing PlayStation, completely oblivious that it had turned into evening.  There was a gathering of friends and family topside, and I wasn’t paying it any mind.

“God, you’re so anti-social!”  My brother said as he snapped on the lights.  “You came all the way from Maryland just to sit here and play video games?  Come upstairs!  Socialize!”

I looked at Buster and he looked at me.  I tell you, if I could’ve taken him at that moment, I’d have snatched him up and taken him home with me. 

But instead I gave him a pat on his little head and made my way upstairs.

But what my brother had said stuck with me.  And he was 100% right.  I am at my most happiest in relatively solitary activities, with my usual company being Zen Master and Zen Mum.  So in the subsequent years, I self-reflected and worked on my appalling social skills. 

You’ll be happy to know that they’re still appalling.  But the difference is that now I am at peace with it. 

I am friendly but I still don’t truly socialize.  Making small talk is a big accomplishment for me because I never did.  Sometimes I still find myself struggling with it but I deal.  It’s all about baby steps, right?

And then I started this blog.

I have been a lurker of food blogs, and have been one for years.  I realize now that I am essentially “playing video games alone in the basement” again. 

It’s time for me to go topside again, but this time I wish I had Buster with me.

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