Sally in the Zen

Confessions of a Befuddled Zen Buddhist

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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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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