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A simple teaching that might change your life.

“Zen is a method of rediscovering the experience of being alive.” -Alan Watts

Meditation is the practice of Zen, and Zen is the rediscovery, the relearning, of how to experience being alive, which is different from simply existing. Zen means waking up, removing the distortions, and realigning with the harmony of life—the will of life. Zen has a sense of humor in all things. It is practical, not dogmatic, rigid, or fixed.

Take this Zen parable, for example:

“A Zen Buddhist priest attended a dinner party one evening. The guests were seated on the floor around a low rectangular table. On the table in front of each guest was a small hibachi grill filled with hot coals. The diners cooked their own servings of meat and vegetables, which they took from various bowls on the table.

Several geishas were serving the guests. The priest noticed that one of the geishas conducted herself as if she might have had some Zen training. He decided to test her, so he called her over.

The geisha knelt across the table from the priest and bowed. The priest bowed in return and said: "I would like to give you a gift." Using his chopsticks, he reached into the hibachi, picked up a hot coal, and offered it to the geisha.

She hesitated for a moment, then finally pulled the sleeves of her kimono down over her hands. She grabbed the coal, ran into the kitchen, and dropped it into a pan of water. Her hands were not hurt, but the beautiful kimono gown was ruined.

The geisha went back to the table and knelt across from the priest. She bowed to the priest. He bowed in return. Then she said: "I would like to give you a gift too."

"I would be honored," the priest replied.

She picked up a pair of chopsticks, removed a hot coal from the priest's grill, and offered it to him. The priest reached into his robe and took out a cigarette.

As he leaned forward to light his smoke, he said, "Thank you. That is exactly what I wanted."

The moral of this story is that just because someone offers you a gift doesn’t mean you have to take it. That’s the beauty of Zen. It’s practical. It isn’t high on its own poetry. It doesn’t demonize or romanticize. It’s simple. To the point, it is always focused on removing the distortion from our lives.

We meditate to achieve a Zen state of consciousness, which allows us to more fully embrace our lives. Meditation isn’t about simply reducing morning anxiety or helping us fall asleep. While those things are great, they’re side effects at best. It’s essential for us to have a clear understanding of what we are after if we hope to achieve it.

The Buddha, who wasn’t some deity but rather a real man, didn’t just meditate to have moments of clarity. He meditated to remove the distortions, neurosis, and afflictions in his life so that he could more fully embrace the life waiting for him.

Therefore, meditation, or Zen, isn’t about breathing exercises, yoga, or sitting staring at a flame. Those are just techniques that may or may not be helpful. However, when one understands the point of the practice, they begin to realize that Zen can be practiced anywhere, anytime, anyhow.

Imagine if meditation worked brilliantly for you and completely changed your life. However, only when practicing it. Only when sitting and breathing, trying your best to remain present. That wouldn’t be very lasting regarding a transformation of consciousness, would it? That would suggest that, at best, meditation is a fleeting momentarily break from the incessant mental calamity and its related mind fog.

In reality, Zen is about pulling out of the fog, out of our sad, anxious identification with our incessant mind. Zen is like opening the thick curtains in your dark room or turning on your vehicle’s headlights on a dark road. When this happens, whether you slow your breathing, focus on your senses, or stare at a flame doesn’t really matter. Again, those things are just exercises aimed at helping you first get a glimpse. It’s how we first turn on the headlights on that dark road. You can embrace the journey once you get a sense of where you are. And the point I’m trying to convey is that the journey is meant to be embraced. Simply put, when we refuse to embrace the journey, we suffer!

Think back to your youth, perhaps when you were a young person in your early 20s. There was so much life in you, so much optimism, wonder, and passion. What happened? Where did it go? How did it escape us? And what was it like to live that way? Did it not seem that the more you embraced life, the more life embraced you back? At this point you might be thinking, “But Coach, what about benzos!”

This is bigger than benzos. Benzos didn’t take this away from us, but it did drive us further away. The anxiety and fear created by withdrawal only made us double down. But a strange thing can happen when so much pressure is applied, the mechanism can break. And in that breaking, the light can get back in.

What most of you cannot yet see is how close you truly are to a breakthrough at this very moment. Everyone wants to be closer to God or truth or reality, at least that’s what we will tell ourelves and others. But we are never closer to these things as we are in our darkest hour. It’s always darkest before dawn.

Back to Zen.

To be unconscious, to live on autopilot, to live in our mind, is the default mode. It’s the rut we all find ourselves in, sometime soon after childhood, when our egos develop, and we begin to drift away from that child instinct of embracing life and, instead, get caught up in our ideas. Ideas of who we are. Ideas of how we got here. Ideas of where we are going or why we are here.

And if you couldn’t find these answers for yourselves, the good and troubling news is that many others will answer them for you.

I am writing this article today to help simplify things for you. Zen has been a real life changer for me. It removed so much of my suffering, freed me from the shackles of my mind, and allowed me to return to myself, that more profound being. And let me tell you, there’s nothing better!

There’s nothing better than the real thing. There’s nothing better than feeling who you are instead of trying to create some mental projection, a substitute.

But here’s the thing. It’s so simple. It doesn’t need to be complicated. You knew exactly who you were and what you were at six years old, playing on the playground. Flowing. Free. Uninhibited. You weren’t jaded or broken by the world. No one told you who you were or why you were. There were no limitations to your potential. It was simple. You simply were, and everything you did, if you did it purely, honestly, was an expression of who you truly are.


This is different than the mental project, the replacement for the real thing, which we call our ego.

The problem is, sometime after childhood, we fall asleep, slip away, and then create a false projection as a kind of replacement for the real thing. Then, we spend the rest of our lives caught up in the rat race while in our free time trying to find our way back home. Somehow, that usually only happens in our free time. As if it were some side quest and not the main mission.

However, back to what? How do you use your mind to get back to who you felt and knew you were when the mind largely distracted you and misled you away in the first place? This would be like trying to put out a fire using more fire!

It’s the same with rumination. You’re trying to solve a thought-based problem with more thoughts. No wonder it never works. In all the history of rumination, there has never been a “ah-hah!” moment. No one has ever worried their way out of anxiety and out of suffering—quite the opposite.

Reconnecting and learning to live again isn’t difficult once you understand. But if you do not understand, you cannot even get started because you lack a sense of direction. You may not even be aware that you lost something.

At best, we can create a nice ego for ourselves, a nice dualistic, disconnected, and disjointed projection of the real thing. Then, we might say, “Ah, yes, this will do. Now I have a new identity! It’s nice and shiny, and everyone else seems to really like it.”

But you know what, even the best ego is still just a projection. It’s still a shadow, not the light.

Zen meditation is about returning home. It’s simple. You can count your breaths, stare at a flame, ground yourselves with your senses in the here and now, or… you can reach out towards life. I mean, really, reach out toward it. Try and grab it. Whatever you’re doing, be there with everything you have. Don’t close your eyes. Don’t turn away. Don’t allow fear to send you running away. Don’t fall into the illusion of creating some measly little replacement, as if you were carving out some plot of land in the middle of a dark forest and calling it home.

If you’re watching your child playing at the park, take a moment to really witness it, for that moment is worth more than gold. If you cannot see that now, you will when your child has grown up. Then you will want to trade all the gold you have to go back in time. When you watch a sunset, really watch it. Feel it. Embrace it. Allow it to bewilder you or make you cry. Witness every sunset as if it could be your last.

That’s the thing that all those who were facing death have communicated to us, that when you know you’re going to die soon, everything becomes much clearer.

Terence McKenna once said that as he was dying of cancer, all he wanted more than anything was more time. Suddenly, watching an ant crawling across the floor brought him to tears. Everything that once seemed trivial suddenly became special. The ego is terrified of death, so it runs, whereas our being is one with everything and eternal. It doesn’t fear death, for death gives life a huge part of its meaning. You might watch your child on the playground, and suddenly, you become sad and anxious because you think, “This will soon be over. My child won’t stay little forever.” And just like that, you’re taken from the moment, and you’re back inside your mind, living in fear and anxiety, running away, yet again, from this moment.

Something inside us is both dreaming of this moment and, at the same time, terrified by this moment. However, in reality, you’re actually not terrified of the moment… you’re terrified by your inability to accept it all and feel it all so deeply. You think, “If I can’t have it on my terms, then I don’t want it!” But that isn’t true.

Just as music isn’t about the notes, it is about the notes accented by the silence, those spaces of no music. Otherwise, the best music would be a song with the most notes. But that’s not how it works. There is no duality, and that’s hard to realize and accept. Ego is easier. It’s quicker. It’s the default. It’s black and white.

So, remember this. When you’re practicing mindfulness or meditation, be simple. There’s no pressure. Whatever your technique, remember, it’s just a technique. Just as signs on the side of the road are not the destination, they just point the way. Breathing exercises point the way. Staring at a flame points the way. Focusing on our senses points the way. Grounding ourselves in the present opens the door. Dropping all judgment carries us through the door. Being open and vulnerable keeps us on the other side.

Ask yourselves, with mindfulness, what is pointing towards? Again, meditation points to life. To being. It’s a call to return to ourselves and this thing we’ve been anxiously trying to escape.

Here’s something you can do today to help bring you home. Find some moment today where you can be there fully. It might be watching your child playing. It might be staring out the window at a tree swaying in the wind. It might be watching a sunset or sitting on your bed listening to sounds in your room. Whatever you do, be there. Let it all be enough.

Pretend for just one moment that it’s all going to be okay. That it will all work out.

Once you get over that fear of it not being okay and not working out, then you can embrace life.

Because the truth is, it’s going to be okay. Relearn to live as if it’s all going to be okay. Relearn to see life as a breathing, living entity that is calling you to come home. As if life were whispering in your ear, “Please, come play with me.”





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