Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pointing at the Moon (I Have Rediscovered "Zen")

Okay, so I'm still kind of wrapped up in this little Zen quote book that I picked up at the used book store last week.  I'm not actually reading it straight through - that's not really what you do with a quote book, right? - but I'm picking up bits and pieces that are really resonating with me right now.

I was tossing ideas around in my head for a few days before I got around to reading this little definition on the first page of the book:

"Zen is a Japanese translation of a Chinese translation (ch'an) of the Sanskrit word (dhyana) for meditation."

Oooooooooooh.  Okay.

This makes great sense to me, because all this meditation business comes back to the same damn thing!  I've gotten used to talking about meditation in the context of yoga and Sanskrit (though I could never quite keep track of all those foreign words that Bikram would tell us in the middle of the night).  At the same time, I had a vague idea of what "Zen" meant that was floating around in the back of my head, but I hadn't give it any thought in a long time.

But language is just language, and all these words are pointing back to the same thing.  "All talk, as the Chinese masters of old say, is at best a finger pointing to the moon.  The finger is not the moon and cannot pull the moon down."  So that's all that we're really doing when we talk about "Zen", "meditation", "dhyana," or even "yoga"; we're just pointing fingers at the moon.

Of course, here I still am, writing more words.  But pointing is still fun and helpful.  "Look over there!  Look!  It's behind that tree!  Can you see it?"

I've caught a common thread, in my yoga and in all this "Zen" stuff, that talks about meditation through action.  Everyone's heard of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," right?  "Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine. (Shunryu Suzuki)"  That's your basic Zen, right there.  You simply meditate by immersing yourself on whatever task is at hand, so that your ego disappears, your self disappears, and you are pure concentration.  Bikram says exactly the same thing.  People ask him when he meditates, and he says "I meditate while I'm waxing my cars.  I meditate when I'm teaching yoga, when I'm shopping, watching old Hindi movies, driving, dancing, singing, talking, eating and spending time with my kids. (Orange book, pg 78.)"  Same, same.

A lot of people have this mistaken idea about meditation, that it involves being very still and thinking about absolutely nothing.  Well, I guess that's one kind of meditation, but it's certainly not the only kind! In the kind that I understand, you're not thinking about nothing.  You're thinking about something, with such focus that everything else falls away.  You don't necessarily need training to do this.  You do it naturally when you're totally concentrated on a task or physical activity.  You might get this feeling when you're running, playing sports, working on a math problem, writing, or dancing.

In other words, "The practice of Zen is forgetting the self in the act of uniting with something. (Koun Yamada)"

A lot of people get this feeling at yoga class, which is really what we're going for in there.  We give you so much to concentrate on, so many instructions to follow, that you cannot think about anything else.  It takes such tremendous focus to stand on a locked knee for 60 seconds that everything else falls away, you forget your job, your problems, your life, everything!  And that is your meditation.  When five, ten, or even 90 minutes go by where you don't think of anything else - you just listen to the words and move your body - that is meditation, that is yoga, and that is Zen.  We can't just tell you, "Okay, start meditating!" - that doesn't really work on you guys - but we can keep so busy with all those instructions that you end up meditating without even realizing it.

And my Zen?  These days, I practice, I teach, I practice, I teach.  I work with my body, I walk the neighbor's dogs, I go to the store, I eat good food, I write, and I teach.  I like browsing the antique stores before going back to teach a class.  I like the feeling of the cool Fall air and the sight of the colored leaves.  I like spending time with other wonderful yoga teachers and students, and I like spending time with the brand new students and welcoming them in.  It feels great.  I am having so much fun.  It's supposed to be fun!!  I'm pretty certain about that.  And right now, it really, truly is.

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