The Zen of .., the Tao of .., and mindfulness
Before the universe was born
there was something in the chaos of the heavens.
It stands alone and empty,
solitary and unchanging.
It is ever present and secure.
It may be regarded as the Mother of the universe.
Because I do not know its name,
I call it the Tao.
If forced to give it a name,
I would call it ‘Great’.
Because it is Great means it is everywhere.
Being everywhere means it is eternal.
Being eternal means everything returns to it.
Tao is great.
Heaven is great.
Earth is great.
Humanity is great.
Within the universe, these are the four great things.
Humanity follows the earth.
Earth follows Heaven.
Heaven follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.
This is from Tao Te Ching, the McDonald translation.
We read about the Zen of …, the Tao of …, and it sometimes seems that the terms are used interchangeably. And also the terms Zen and Mindfulness often seems to express the same thing. That’s right, and that’s wrong. With the figure above, I have tried to sort things out a bit.
As a firm foundation we find the Tao, the way, or the principles behind everything that exists. Tao is the eternal laws, the sustaining force of the universe, of the earth, and of all life. We can not avoid it, because it is everywhere. We can try to fight it (humans do all the time, just look at what we do with the Earth), but we shall always loose in the end. What can seem like a victory, is a deception. It’s called Tao, some would say physics, others would call it God. Whatever it’s called, our existence is based on it, our daily life is controlled by it, and in that sense we are all “taoists”. And to my opinion the good life originates from harmony with the Tao.
The “Tao of ..” is unavoidable, but in daily use the term means how to live in accordance with “the Way”. That everything is interconnected, is not any longer just “eastern philosophy”, but reflected in the quantum physics. I shall not go in to the links between Tao and physics in this post.
But since “Humanity follows the earth”, we somehow should try to catch or own reality, and not live in deceptions governed by our experiences from the past, or our worries about the future. All there is, is this moment. Everything else is mental constructs with no actual or inherent reality. And to grasp our own reality, we have to be aware. If that awareness is open-minded, with no judgments, we call it mindfulness. Remember my definition of mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an unconditional awareness of whatever emerges
To reach that kind of awareness that we name “mindfulness”, we have to train our mind. Our brain is hard-wired to accept deceptions as reality, blocking the real experiences. The mind has to be trained, just as our bodies need physical training. And that training needs focusing, on the breath, on our body, on our thoughts etc. That is Zen meditation. Zen meditation require focus, not a forced focus, but an effort to stay in a focused mode, not letting the thoughts wander freely. Zen means a deliberate focusing. The “Zen of ..” means focusing on, and trying to grasp the reality behind whatever we focus on.
But there is a continuum between zen and mindfulness, and we can not experience the one without the other. There is awareness is zen, and there is focusing in mindfulness. The circles overlap to a large degree, and in practical life we usually shift between them, with the formal meditation being more of zen, and a life filled with awareness being more of mindfulness.
I don’t know if that makes any sense to anyone but myself. This reasoning helps clearing my own thoughts, and to me that is the most important.