This past year has been a time of careful reflection, contemplation, study and meditation.
I’ve been working with Zen Buddhist material, and my approach has been minimalistic: not to read volumes of material, but to contemplate this or that, and work with zazen. This means that I have been able to pick up Zen again, for the first time in a practice sort of way since the early 2000s. That time was a time of Zen calm but also of flying sparks and arcs! This time has been much more contemplation, and meticulous.
In this essay I want to present themes on dynamic, balance and mental view. The idea of centering is also involved.
In the 1990s when things were “too focused” for me, I had put my mind on a linear timeline, and the result was decision-making that was fragile (with many unrecognized dependencies) and perception that was one-dimensional. I was dynamic but limited, and I could not see to see people in ways that I recognize now as possible. Now, through the realization of several things, I’ve found a basic view that is resilient and much more aware. What if I’d had this in the early 1990s?
This realized view takes care of dimension, present moment awareness and centering. These all were factors I either took for granted in the limited ways that I experienced them or I did not realize much at all.
I need to make sure that I continue to put this view in practice, to realize it in day to day life.
Let me step back to centering. We sometimes have trouble centering, being aware of the need to center or finding the sense of dimensional awareness with which we can more readily find ourselves in the present moment or open to wisdom.
At least, that’s how I found myself during the 1990s—while it was spontaneous, I was not even aware that I did not have this state of present awareness that would have resulted in a depth of living that I now see as available, and resilience in approaching people, places and things—and their context.
I made decisions too quickly. I did not consider the world before me, to discover it; or the people therein, to really see them (with some exception). I was somewhat centered, in being, but was not aware of the factors going into that, so I lost balance in view.
If I had been aware of this centeredness in being, and its natural strength, I could have begun to notice various features of depth and dimension in the world, including available resources from Zen, or tai chi. Each individual will have his or her own dilemma or resolution to dilemma; it may be that what I share here triggers a thought of insight, provides material for a shift in perspective or deepens one’s appreciation for the dimension and centering they do have.
Here are two excerpts from my book Roll Your Own Religion, that allow for not only contemplation of meaning, but may provide insight into finding awareness of the present moment, and centering.
Roll Your Own Religion overall is meant to provide a resonant view of the domain of religion, and feel free to check it out. But I thought these two excerpts might be a way to view or consider various features of the world around us, and also present a report “from the trenches” (as a result of my now having recently actually stepped into the Zen view, after some time of practice).
First up is an excerpt that is a set of juxtapositions, about balance and relationship:
Key Words To Work With, With The Right Balance Or At The Right Time
Growth. Sustenance. Contraction.
Cooperation. Competition. Teaching. Discourse. Study.
Strength. Flexibility. Steadfastness. Yielding.
Action. Stillness. Observation. Reflection.
Strategy. Tactic. Method. Chance. Cause.
Science. Mathematics. Music. Art. Aesthetic. Reason. Intuition. Paradox.
The second excerpt “Mental View” here takes from personal experience, and recent realization, and indicates a sense of orientation one may work with:
If I would have had the following mental view and strategy in the early 1990s before I moved to NYC, my experience there could have had the same broad circumstances (job type, friends type, art and music type) but the flavor of all this would have been different, and of course many specifics.
1. Tai chi.
2. Worlds within mind within worlds within worlds.
3. Supple form and structure.
I had worked with tai chi for a year or two by 1990, and should have picked it up in NYC. With these three factors, I could then have over time investigated Zen, which I’d encountered already, also. At that time, I would have discovered that point (2) is actually: Worlds within mind within worlds within worlds, yet the world as one.
A mistake I made that I must have particularly learned during (and not necessarily because of) high school was to place my mind along a linear timeline. Because I was intelligent, I made too-quick decisions that did not fit into overall supple structure, or work with form.
I did not contemplate various views, and was far from being able to observe the world, to unfold for myself what its nature might be. Thus, I short-circuited intelligence. I was not aware that there might be a wisdom layer. I was not aware of awareness itself, which allows for resonance.
With the above factors, I would have treated differently relationship (dimension, and to establish identity yet neither the same nor different; relationship to and among people, and to art and music), work and its context and personal time (time of reflection, meals, friendship and contemplation).
It doesn’t have to be tai chi. It can be yoga, tai chi, other, the gym or an at-home workout. There are schools and types within each of these.
A chef must work with worlds within mind within worlds within worlds. As he or she selects the vegetables that go on the cutting board, the same vegetables then (the world of the vegetables, now cut up) that go in the soup, already simmering on the stove, the world of the finished soup in mind. . . the world of the finished soup forming. . . as complete attention is given to the vegetables in front of the chef, selecting them from the pantry.
A gardener also reminds me of this. The cucumber is in the refrigerator (in the kitchen) in mind as the cucumber is in mind in the hand (or the mind is in the cucumber in the hand), picked from the world of the cucumber plant in the world of the garden under the vast world of the hot summer sun, all beside the world of the house. (Two stories already here, with the cucumber).
Supple form and structure means that we can place things; that we can reference across the three times (past, present and future) as well as current understanding; and that we can better recall that which is relevant, and past experience.
One can notice the present while considering the past and future. Forming a sense of identity yet differentiation and non-attachment with people and events and all that you encounter leads in part to compassion and the resonant domain, allowing each of these to reflect each other while retaining their features. These can be ever-shifting or static, depending; yet, stable, as we consider what is before us. Then, one’s understanding and relationship deepens.
Note that if I would have had another factor:
4. The present moment and the three times.
I would have been prepared. The three times are the past, present, and future.
There is the relative in the present moment, and you can see this from the vantage point of the present moment. And awareness of the relative, and the simultaneity aspect of it, helps one to see from the vantage point of the present moment.
An explanation of the relative in the present moment is this: I’m in the kitchen looking out the window and the tree is outside the window (because someone planted it long ago). At the same time I’m holding a coffee cup and it’s empty but the coffee is made (so I can have coffee in a minute).
I’m looking at the tree with the aggregates (skandhas) that form my being: form, feelings, perception, impulses, consciousness. So these are relative to each other and to the window and the tree. My mother hasn’t called me yet (we’re supposed to have breakfast) because she’s brushing her teeth (but she’ll call me in a minute). This all occurs in the present moment, yet you can consider the three times past present and future.
This all is simultaneity. And it unfolds because of another feature of emptiness (sunyata) besides the relative: things are impermanent (emptiness also says that things are without self-existing intrinsic nature). That is, it is the very thing of emptiness that makes it possible for all this stuff to happen (the world’s “container” is empty in this way, such that it can be filled with all this stuff). ~ Roll Your Own Religion
I hope you can see what I mean in this. Of course, your approach may be different, one that also allows for dimension and present moment awareness.
I’ll point out one thing that I see as possibly important in today’s society: that one of the sources of difficulty we sometimes find in centering is that we place our minds along a linear timeline. It was through study and contemplation (along with zazen, Zen meditation) of Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom Of The Middle Way (translated by Nishijima) that I began to consider linear time. I think that by operating our very selves along a linear timeline, we find it difficult to “drop back” to our true selves, the actual expression of our being.
Nishijima’s version simply for me has meant the dynamic working with Zen in actual life and view, and Buddhist thought, in study and meditation; and I haven’t consulted Garfield’s version. It also is a factor that I have Nishijima and Cross’ version of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, a fine dimension translation; and I appreciate Nishijima’s view on that, and his integration of certain of Dogen’s thought into his translation of FWOTMW. It’s (Nishijima’s FWOTMW) a clarity version, that you yet have to work with to realize.
If you or I or we have trouble centering, then we can consider material such as in Mental View above, or other material, reflect on it, try its application and find a new framework that is resilient and clear.
A book I’d recommend for centering is Ten Zen Seconds by Eric Maisel. In that book he outlines and details a number of incantations or short phrases that are aligned with a brief attention to breath (the 10 seconds part). It is a book well-written, very clear minded, with shared actual experience alongside the author’s presentation.
I’m sure there are many helpful books and resources on centering and present moment awareness; plus various forms of meditation and other training such as yoga.
May this be of benefit.
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Apprentice Editor: Dana Gornall/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
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