zen for today & mind-brain relationship
This is our own (subjective?) interpretation, and is not to be taken as the only or the best possible interpretation. Dear readers, draw insights from your own deep well of life’s experiences.
2 topics in 2 essays
zen for today
Interpretation free experience. Consciously and purposely suspend the thought processes (or as the late Carlos Castaneda put it, “the internal dialogue”), so that one can really be in the moment, and thus feel the immediacy and intensity of the current experience as it happens (in real time). Interpretation free experiencing. Do not let the mind get in the way. (We were considering writing this essay exclusively using the present participle, but it might have then been confusing to some reading and thinking about it. )
Impossible to do? No, but it is difficult. Taken to the ultimate end, one becomes the current experience and the duality of the subject (experiencer, or one who experiences) and object (that which is experienced or known) collapses. One is no longer a passive witness to what is happening, but rather becomes truly part of the experience. (Perhaps we need to say this latent, human capacity or potential is to be developed without the use of powerful and harmful psycho-active drugs.) With Zen, less is more.
This image is from wallpapergalery-lilik.blogspot.com.
Take listening to music for example. Try this simple experiment when you have the time, and are, or can be, free from distractions (such as when the children are away for an hour or more, unplug or turn off the ringer of the phone, and put the dog outside). Put on the CD player a favorite CD and sit down in a relaxed position and listen. (Instrumental pieces may work better for you and it is likely better to avoid really harsh sounding heavy metal or “punk” pieces.) Consciously make the effort to keep your mind clear or “empty” as you listen. It is not easy, but keep trying. You may have to try this experiment several times. (When thoughts enter your mind, as they will, let them go, do not latch on to them. Do not pursue the thought process with them. This is your time, and you are not a slave to your thoughts.) In time, with persistence and practice, you will be able to keep your mind clear for longer periods of time as you let the music in.
One thing you will likely notice is that after you are done listening to some music this way, you will be mentally relaxed and refreshed (you may feel like taking a nap). You have, for a time, set the daily worries aside. You have rested that linear, sequential, logical part of your brain. As well, you can, when out hiking in a state park or in a wilderness area, sit down by a stream or under the shade of a tree and simply listen. The water flowing over rocks, the wind or gentle breeze in the leaves, the chirping of birds and/or the hum of insects. Smelling the natural fragrance of the nearby wild flowers. Without thinking, seeing the clouds float by in the sky or a bird fly overhead. A butterfly slowly flying through your field of vision. No worries. No past nor future. Only the present moment. This is not just about letting go (for a time) of those nagging worries and cares inherent in living in this world. It is about being more fully alive. (And, not letting the hectic pace of our lives and the increasing demands upon our time and energy rule our lives.)
Sexual orgasm is another illustrative example. For living in the moment, being in the moment, and experiencing the moment fully with its immediacy and intensity, sexual orgasming cannot be ignored nor trivialized. If you are not in the moment during sexual orgasm, if your mind (you) is somewhere else, well, we cannot help you. Next time, try experiencing (really being there during) your orgasm(s) free of thinking and unnecessary interpretation. Do not force anything. Simply let go and go with the flow – without any unnatural culturally conditioned inhibitions. (This advice applies to both ladies and to guys.)
Recommended reading (authors): alan watts, and d.t. suzuki. Watts tried to interpret Zen for westerners. (This is difficult to do as the zen experience cannot really be captured in or conveyed by words.) His well known works include The Way of Zen and The Spirit of Zen. Suzuki’s writings are more challenging and more thorough (Zen Buddhism in paperback form). The casual reader may want to peruse Watts’ books, and/or continue to read this blog for occasional essays on related topics. (Check your local library or used bookstores for these and similar titles.)
This koan is from Zen for Beginners, by Judith Blackstone & Zorah Josipovic (1986), page 122. Where is the female zen master?
The whole idea behind the practice with koans, seems to us, to be a way of tricking the logical, reasoning faculty to let go or give up, and thus to temporarily shut down. When that happens, the real and the immediate abruptly flood or burst in, and one experiences “satori“.
For Dogen (1200-1253, founder of Soto school of zen), it was zazen, or sitting meditation, that was the key. The point here is that there is no one “right” (correct) way to achieve sudden enlightenment and a sudden jolt in change of perception. For some, the tea ceremony, gardening or flower arrangement helps one on the path to being truly and fully in the moment. (These activities have been greatly influenced by Zen in Japan.) As well, Zen has influenced the martial arts in Japan and appealed to the samurai warrior class in earlier centuries. Calligraphy, being performed naturally, quickly and spontaneously without worrying about the end product, is a Zen exercise. Clear the mind and just do. Potters working with clay with a clear mind can experience this. Again, readers draw from your own life’s experiences and make use of what works best for you. (When I sit down to draft these essays, there are only a few relevant words or broad ideas in my mind. There really is no foreknowledge of what I will type, but the thoughts and related words just flow without being forced.)
Live (living) in the moment, not necessarily for the moment.
One last thought or idea: you, dear reader, might already be enlightened, and just not recognize it as such.
This second essay is highly speculative and is not “investment grade”. It is put forth as food, an appetizer, for thought.
As to the mind brain relationship, one hears accounts of individuals who have suffered physiological damage and trauma to the brain and subsequently accomplish incredible mental feats. One individual, after suffering brain damage, found that he could easily memorize the contents of phone books. (This is truly amazing. I cannot even remember my social security number. The ss # is 9 digits long, isn’t it?)
This relationship between the mind and the brain is not well understood, notwithstanding what the neurologists and neuro surgeons will say. As we indicated in previous essays, we believe that mind overlaps with physical brain, but also transcends physical brain. The questions in this area are intriguing, but definitive answers still elude us. Excessive reliance on biological, deterministic and evolutionary models and theories do not provide satisfying answers, and often raise more questions than they answer.
Could it be that the brain serves as a kind of reducing valve within our consciousness? Could it be that the physical brain serves as a filter to let pass only that stimuli which is necessary for us (to process) for continued biological survival? There does appear to be much more “out there” than we mere mortals are currently aware of. How do we account for such capacities, in some individuals, as extra sensory perception (ESP), and telepathy? What about the experiences (reported down through the centuries) of religious mystics (East and West) in altered states of consciousness? Solely due to blood chemistry changes from fasting or chanting or hyper ventilating? At present, science cannot give us very many answers.
The interested reader may want to take on the (very) challenging writings of Sri Aurobindo (d. 1950) on his integral yoga and the elevation of consciousness and feeling the Divine presence. (Yoga, from the Sanskrit, literally means “to yoke”, in this sense to bind one’s soul to the Divine.) Savitri and The Life Divine are 2 very long works by Aurobindo. Better to get shorter posthumous collections of selected writings such as The Essential Aurobindo: Writings of Sri Aurobindo, and the very challenging The Psychic Being - Soul: Its Nature, Mission and Evolution (1989 India, 1990 USA). As well, during his lifetime he wrote a somewhat thought-provoking shorter work, The Future Evolution of Man. (Our recommendations here do not necessarily imply endorsement of his conclusions.)
Here is a link to one brief article touching on brain damaged individuals that demonstrated out of the ordinary abilities.
Thanks for reading and thinking about these topics.