Tag Archives: shunryu suzuki

It’s Just Staring At A Wall: Zen Understanding from a Total Novice (part 1)

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

I’m going to spend some time today expounding on my Zen Buddhist beliefs. My interest in Buddhism is very much in the beginning stages, I have read only a handful of books on the subject. I realize for anyone who has been following zen for a long time that I might come off as ignorant, but please bear with me here, I am a work in progress. I do go to the zendo, but have fallen off in recent months.

How I got into Zen Buddhism:

It was all by chance, really.

I was reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now and he speaks a great deal about living in the present moment. I had been talking to a friend who told me that is a basic tenet of Buddhist philosophy. She suggested that I also look into meditation.

A couple of months later, I felt like my life was in shambles. My job sucked, I wasn’t making any money, and I was angry all of the time because I had no women in my life. I felt like a waste.

My anger wasn’t going away so I figured I would try out meditation, which I had heard relieves stress. After doing some research about meditation groups in the city, I found out there was one not too far from my house. This meditation group met at a zendo and practiced in the soto zen tradition.

“What the hell is that?” I said to myself.

Being the obsessive researcher that I am, I read all I could about Soto Zen and it’s differences from Rinzai and even the differences between different forms of Buddhism. I listened to Zen Mind Beginners Mind at work and my interest was peaked.

I decided it was time to contact these people at the zendo.

I called them up, and the guy gave me a lesson on how to sit. Then we sat for 30 minutes of zazen, walked around for another 10 minutes (kinhin), then sat for another 30. Afterwards, we read from a chapter of the Transmission of Light, which I didn’t gain too much from.


I did gain a certain calm from meditation that day. I believe that sitting in a dimly lit area staring at a wall for 30 minutes tends to do that. Or maybe it drives you crazy.

That’s the thing though, any kind of negative feelings I have while sitting-When is this going to end? Is my foot is falling asleep? I need to itch my nose! That is NOT living in the present moment.

In the present moment, the past does not exist, the future does not exist, only the PRESENT exists. Now, my body has no other other choice but to live in the present. When I move, when I breathe, any action I take, is done in the present moment. But our mind is often somewhere else. It is in the past, dwelling on something I forgot to do, or it’s the future, wondering when I’m going to have stable income coming in.

These thoughts are often negative and a waste of time. In the present moment, these problems simply do not exist.

This is why practice is so important, because I am  sitting for however long with the sole purpose of trying to live in the present moment. It is a very simple concept to understand, but very difficult to do.

TRULY living in the present moment is an experience I believe I have had a few times, but only fleeting, in a few seconds it was gone. In that time, a great calm came over me, all of my worldly problems went away, whoo it felt great!

That, my friends, is a state of zen.

But it’s important not to practice without expectation, because then it will become harder to achieve zen. Just understand that sitting is enough. Just sitting, no matter how difficult or how frustrating, is a learning experience in and of itself, and should be viewed positively. To think otherwise would bring me further away from my intended goal.

Next time, I’ll expand a bit more on my beliefs, which as I said are a work in progress. I hope that I haven’t offended anyone by this post. As for books I have read or am reading:  Essential Zen by Sekkei Harrada is what I am reading now, and I think its’ a great book. I also really enjoyed the Shunryu Suzuki biography, Crooked Cucumber.


Description of the Practice

“When you sit, you will sit…” – Shunryu Suzuki

When I arrived home from work today, I sat for the first time in a week.

It was hard.

Whenever I sit at home, I get this nagging feeling that I have set my alarm incorrectly and that I’ve been sitting for too long. This stems from an actual time when I sat for 50 minutes because I mis-set my alarm.

As such, every so often I will stop meditating TWO minutes before my scheduled 30 minute goal. There are times when I get disappointed with myself for stopping early, “why couldn’t you just stick it out for TWO more minutes???” I would scream at myself, but this does no good. Today, when I stopped early, I told myself that I was thankful to have lasted 28 minutes, and that next time the full 30 would be well within my grasp.

When I sit at home, I sit on my bed and stare at a wall. I don’t have the space for a zafu and zabuton, so I make do. When I go to zazen at the zendo, it makes for an uncomfortable hour because I am not used to sitting in seiza position. Oftentimes, my foot will fall asleep.

I learned long ago not to expect anything out of my practice. If my mind wanders, I simply let it wander. I know that if I start thinking thoughts like, “no I should not be thinking about that, I shouldn’t be thinking about anything!” It will lead me down a path of frustration. My practice is a much more enjoyable experience this way. It is filled with brief periods of what I would consider to be no-mind, I lose consciousness of everything-to the point of when I come to, I am startled and have to remind myself where I am. It is like waking up from a sleep but in actuality, I was wide wide awake.

When I was practicing on a daily basis, I started encountering very brief periods where I felt light headed, and was overcome by a tingling sensation. The word “calm” is the best way to describe my emotion in these situations. It’s like I understood or maybe even no longer cared about all of the problems and issues in my life. Even if just for a second…

A guy at my zendo said that as I practice more, I will begin to add new things onto my practice. I don’t know what he meant then, but after that experience, I think I have at least a cursory understanding.

There are also times when I practice that I find myself fighting off sleep. I implore myself to struggle through these times. I try to concentrate on my breathing. Slow, deep, breaths…

More often than not however, I skip meditating altogether. The usual reason is that it is taking up to much time during my day. I simply have too much to do. It’s at these times I forget how beneficial sitting can be for me. First, you mental benefits that doing an acivity consistently brings, but when you meditate, you also, at its most basic level, have a 30 minute reprieve from the world. Your problems, they are out there, in the world. When you sit, all you have are your thoughts. Nothing more.