What is the nature of Zen? Nothing absent.
For many of us... oftentimes it begins at a very early age, there's a thought... it's an idea that something's missing. Oddly without having any tangible evidence or knowing what is missing, most get caught by this poverty mind. Getting caught in the net of cascading thoughts, the search begins. What makes things even stranger is that rather than going inward, we seeking things on the outside to quiet the minds, restlessness, irritability, sense of disconnection, and discontent.
For myself I would say to my mom that I felt like I was "Born at the wrong time." Given that my mother was a professional therapist, that taught at University, she would say to me... "Do you feel that you were born at the wrong time, or are you thinking that you are? Thinking and feeling aren't the same thing. Rumination can trick your into assuming that what your having a feeling on some level. Really it's obsession manifesting your depression. Your going to have to find a way to get a hold of your thoughts, so they don't control you and your experience."
I was ten years old when that conversation happened. Because of a series of events... two of my close friends dying... both in freak accidents, things seemed to only get worse from there. My mom took me to see a psychiatrist, and eventually I was diagnosed with clinical depression. For me that was the starting line for what I described back then as, "The blur." It was a kind of mental and emotional overload, that not only effected the relationship with myself and my family, but friends, my academics which was a big thing for me. The artificial tools that I used to manage my feelings through relationship of books, music, and play stopped working... or didn't work well enough to quiet my noisy mind. A kind of desperation emerged, because I wasn't able to get a hold of the thoughts. It's incredibly hard to describe, but most who have experienced the disease of addiction understand exactly what I'm talking about.
A friend... his name was Jerry Lacavaro... he's gone now... the disease of addiction took him... once described the addict mind as, "Instead of being tuned to one radio station, it's like our mind is somehow tuned and locked into all the available radio stations at the same time, and we can't turn it off by ourselves." He said that was the reason he liked heroin, claiming it made his mind go "Numb." What was super creepy was he said he "Fell in love with the feeling that was like slipping off into death," when he was doing dope. That's the self-destructive nature of addiction... having a noisy mind... depression... anxiety... or whatever... it's like being chased and you can't get away from it, cause it's in the mind, and since it's there people try to shut the jumbled thinking down. The shut downs commonly used... the outward fixes are often school, work, relationships to fill the space in the mind. Those are the "Socially acceptable things." The socially
"Unacceptable," things tend to be drug addiction, food addiction, sex addiction, gambling addiction, power addiction, money addiction, prestige addiction, intermittent explosive anger where I've known people to be so overwhelmed they literally blacked out, co-dependency which is people addiction and the pervasive need to fix, manage and control.
The interesting thing about these so-called "Fixes," is that they never actually make things better authentically or sustainably. It's more like the story of the Dutch Boy. The expressions of addiction mind, are more like putting off what seems somewhat inevitable... being run over or having the Empire State Building on the noisy mind drop on you. That's where the overdoes and suicides come from in my experience. I've lost so many friends to addiction-mind, I'm not fully sure of the number anymore. People think COVID-19 is bad as a pandemic, look into the deaths related to addiction, depression, etc... It could be a wake up call.
If we talk about a problem, it's helpful to talk about what I like to call sustainable solutions, as opposed to temporary ones. Having an addiction-mind... a mind that's experiencing restlessness, irritability, disconnection (AKA isolation),. I mention diabetes especially, because it's that one rare disease that has the ability to affect every area of the body on the inside, with fairly catastrophic results, and screw up how we live our life with others. And so just like diabetics, the name of the game isn't getting rid of the disease, but rather focusing and growing our skill set in managing what we're powerless over... self and other rejecting thoughts.
This is where Twelve Step Recovery, and Zen show up, and intersect. Just like a diabetic is encouraged to manage their blood-sugar level through abstaining from things that are harmful, and then change eating habits, like going from one or three big meals a day, they're encouraged to do 5 to 6 small meals to regulate their experience. If they do what's necessary, they can live a life that involves far less suffering, than if they rebel against their chronic illness.
The mind is the same way. I often say to people what I was taught in the team-sport of Twelve Step Fellowships, when we go to meetings on a consistent and regular basis, and seriously participate in the process of healing, we have a better chance of managing rather than mismanaging the relationship with the mind. I also like to inform people that the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, in my personal and direct experience 24 progressive meditation practices that heal our heart and mind from the inside, instead of trying to do it from the outside, though I also like to describe recovery and Zen training as a "Team sport." Neither are designed to be practiced alone.
The general practice and process is turn towards the mind, instead of try to run from it, or drop something on it to numb out, AKA addictive behaviors which could also be described as unhealthy relationships with people, places, and things. The next thing we do is feel and deal with what's happening for us, by focusing on one Step at a time, and one Zen practice at a time, from the Eightfold Path. Notice I didn't say or. Instead of doing one or the other, we can actually do both and fuse them together, consciously and intentionally. After that we can assimilate and build equilibrium with the mind, and then integrate the energy physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. This has the effect of reconnect with the wholeness of our personhood, healing our fragmented personality... what some people describe as a spiritual awakening... fully whole, and wholly free... or as I sometimes say, have conscious contact with our Universal Identity of Loving Presence., which is more commonly known as Buddha nature... To realize there is nothing absent, despite what the natural negativity of mind might say to us.
In future posts, I'll consciously and intentionally set out how I personally apply the solution in the context of Twelve Step, Zen and Buddhist recovery approaches to healing the mind. After 31 years of Zen training both monastically and non, what I've noticed is that there are zero people exempt from addiction-mind... unmanageability AKA suffering is on a spectrum, and whatever that looks like, or how it's expressed can be healed, if we live with intention, self-kindness and a desire to no longer abandon ourselves to a fickle mind. The invitation is to juxtapose my experience with your own. Sit and reflect on what makes sense and what doesn't. Please leave your own experiences, questions, and reflections in the comment box. Without you, the practice of this life is not fully complete.
一Dignity and Grace