Because Zen makes sense

Archive for the month “February, 2014”

On Meditation and Planning


Staying focused. The mantra of meditation, and usually it comes down to the breath. But it could be any object, like a flame, a sound, a real mantra. Mindfulness meditation could involve awareness of what’s going on around me, in the moment. Through focusing I shall develop awareness, and by focusing I shall reach no-thinking.

That is the theory. And it sounds clear and easy. When I do some lectures on mindfulness and meditation, I emphasize that meditation, or mindfulness trainings, can’t go wrong. If the thoughts drift away, just focus back. At the same time I know how difficult this can be, not losing the focus, or losing the awareness. And I know how easy it is to fall into old patterns of thoughts, worries, – and planning. Driven by emotions, like fear of not get everything done, – in time and perfection, or worries over what should have been finished, or anxiety over the workload ahead. And then I feel the irritation over not being able to keep focus, a judgmental though.

Especially planning seems to have the ability to keep me occupied for long periods of time during my meditation. I never actually have any expectations of calmness, of special insight, or of enlightenment of any sort when I meditate. Meditation with an aim is by definition not Zen, and the best we can do is to accept what shall happen when we sit. Sometimes I feel that the meditation has been very beneficial in all means, but on other occasions I can wonder whether this sitting was worth the time spent. Fortunately I usually feel my meditations refreshing, although in different ways. That’s a reason to continue my efforts in focused contemplations.

But I have no intention of letting my meditation become an ordinary part of my planning of the day, or a planning of a certain task to be done. So when I often drift into planning, and I recognize this, I get irritated, or sometimes a little upset. I have written about this in another post, so I shall not repeat myself. But one reader of that post, a meditation companion through a mobile phone app, agreed with me on how easy the planning thoughts sneaked into the meditation, especially when we were meditating in the morning. But Sebastian, that is his name,  also pointed to the fact that he during meditation often made very fruitful plans, getting ideas he had not seen before.

And after his remark I have started to pay more attention to my planning thoughts during meditation. And I recognize that he is right. Indeed, during meditation I often make better plans than when I sit down with the aim of planning. Meditation seems to activate my subconscious mind in a way that rational planning does not. I am able to take into account factors I had not thought of, or I see solutions that until that moment had been obscure to me. And I take that as a proof of the impact meditation actually has on me, the way my mind functions, and how it is stimulated during and by meditation. So when I so far have judged my meditation as more of a failure because of all planning, I now admit that I that even a meditation filled with all that planning does have a beneficial effect upon me, on my mind, and on my brain. What I have always taught to others, that meditation can’t go wrong, is indeed right, regardless of all disturbing thoughts.

After the remarks of Sebastian, I have become less irritated because of my planning during meditation. Being less judgmental is the first lesson I have learned from this.

But not being judgmental does not mean that I find these drifting thoughts OK.  I still think that meditation shall be meditation, and work shall be work. Confusion about this difference makes all contemplation into work, and I shall lose the the experience of calming down my struggling mind when I meditate. But the other lesson learned from this, is that a mindful approach towards planning is very fruitful, offering results that I possibly could not reach with a pure rational approach.

This way of planning is not meditation at all, but I can use techniques learned from meditation to refine my process of ordinary planning. I can use a more contemplative and mindful approach to grasp those important factors which only exist in my subconscious mind. And by combining these experiences with my rational thinking, I am able to reach a more comprehensive evaluation of the situation, and I can end up with plans containing more solutions and possibilities .

And now I experience that with the use of deliberate mindfulness and contemplation my plannings have indeed become more effective, and the results more satisfactory. Zen is not only about those situations where I chase the moments of no-thought, but Zen can be a fundamental and beneficial part of our daily lives and activities.


Mindful Exploration When Sad


Train first, then bus, and then again train, heading for a town south in Norway. I was concentrating on the conference I should attend. The start of the day had been as usual, meaning waking up early, having a shower, a meditation, and the usual preparations for the day. I was totally unprepared for the sudden sorrow that hit me.

The bus crossed a bridge over a gap in the fjord below. On this bridge my sister died in a car accident some ten years ago. Her death revealed that she had more troubles than anyone knew of, and that she must have felt terribly lonely with her burden. She left three young children who loved their mother.

I have crossed this bridge many times after the accident, and while I always give her a sad thought, I usually let it be with that. Death is part of life, her children have been taken good care of by their father, and the life creates a distance to whatever happens, even to the death of a loved one.

This crossing was different. I felt a sudden deep sorrow, as if she should have died only days ago. The strong emotions came as out of nothing.  I suddenly remembered her smiles, her always encouraging words, her laughing eyes, her jokes, her vitality, her hug when I met her. Regardless her own problems, she always was engaged in others well-beeing. And I missed her so much. The grief was not really overwhelming, but it was strong, and first when I again had to change to a new train it did fade away.

Everyone shall experience losses, sorrows and grief. If we turn to Buddha, that is one of the four noble truths. And in such a context there is nothing special with my story, or with my loss. There had to be more to this than my memories alone. Outside the windows the winter landscape flickered by. I watched, but did not see, sitting buried in my own thoughts. Something had fired up my emotional mind, my Amygdala, making the memories of my sister so vivid as if she was on the bus with me. And when I managed to shake the strongest emotions off my mind, I identified the unknown factor.

Two days earlier my sister’s father-in-law had passed away after years with failing health. I received the message, and I felt sympathy for my ex brother-in-law, and of course for my niece and nephews. And I until the moment on the bus, I believed I dealt with the situation there and then, wondering only if I could arrange to go to the funeral or not. And as far as I know, his death was not in my conscious mind when I crossed the bridge. Instead the loss of my sister became stronger, seemingly for no special reason.

I believe I became conscious of connections up until then buried into my subconscious mind, expressed not in rational thoughts, but in an emotional reaction. Feelings are messengers not to neglect, even in those situations where they lack immediate explanations.

This time I think I found a rationale behind the feelings that hit me. At least I found an explanation that settled my wondering mind. And the explanation, whether right or wrong, popped up in my conscious mind with the help of what I believe was a mindful exploration of something that I in the beginning did not understand.

If I had not been used to take a mindful approach, stimulating a Zen-attitude, accepting the sorrow and sadness, but also exploring what this could be all about, would I in that case continued to be be a captive of my feelings? Would I have been preoccupied with the thoughts of my loss still? Was it a Zen-attitude that enabled me so fast to move out of my immense sadness, and move back into a more balanced mind? I do not know. But I am rather sure that mindfulness, facing reality, is better than trying to escape from feelings and situations we do not like. The alternative, I think, can end up in a life on the run.

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