Thursday, October 13, 2016

THE ZEN ZONE – Twelve Ways to Know You’ve Glimpsed the Essence

Those of you who follow me here know I like to take occasional pokes at the arcane, seemingly impenetrable façade of Zen spiritual practice. I just believe that one can reap the benefits of mindfulness—in a form not all that different from that practiced by serious aficionados—without committing to a lifetime of study, denial, nor a solitary stint on some icy crag in the Himalayas. This post is a reflection on that kind of...well...let’s just call it Zen Lite.

If you’re anything like me, you spend the vast majority of your waking hours either consciously or unconsciously pursuing someone’s—perhaps your own— agenda. It’s as if there’s this insidious, self-refilling to-do list; no sooner do you check off one task than another pops up to replace it.

Welcome to 21st century life in the western world.

Since retiring a few years back, I've been more or less free of the largely client-dictated schedule that used to drive me most weekdays. Even so, I’ve found it very hard to rise above other daily compulsions and expectations.

But then, in the past year, I’ve had to undergo a couple of surgeries—the first, to open up my sinuses and, I hope, avoid the frequent bouts with bronchitis I'd been suffering for several years; the second, major surgery to reinforce a crumbling spine.
         I’ve come to realize what a blessing 
         those operations have been.

And in the month and a half since the latter procedure, I've come to realize what a blessing those operations have been. First of all, it appears they may have cured both my recurring respiratory problems and my chronic pain.

Secondly, the spine surgery has forced me to make room in my daily busy-ness—much of which is really of little consequence—for my rehabilitation. And, for me, at least for the first couple of months, that has meant walking, lots of walking. I've already worked up to over two miles a day…and I plan to do even more.

And finally, the amazing success of my surgeries has given me a new—or perhaps I should say heightened—sense of appreciation for the many small miracles of life. Nowadays I celebrate each and every pain-free step, every single unimpeded breath.

For years I've aspired to be more conscious—of myself, of others, of this amazing planet…of life. Like most folks, I find this hard to do while preoccupied with workaday goals and deadlines. But my forced re-allocation of time, and the recent glow of awe and gratitude I’ve been feeling, has allowed me to renew that quest for consciousness.

One result has been more frequent encounters with a state of mind I’m lightly calling the Zen Zone—an extraordinary feeling of connection with my own body, with life and, dare I say, with the cosmos. And it’s changing me to my core.

So far, as a relative novice in exploring this stuff, I’ve found two ways to rather easily reach such a place of heightened awareness. One is by meditating (which, in the form of a kind of self-hypnosis, helped me immensely in preparing for and recovering from my back surgery). I continue to do it—though I could practice anywhere, I’ve been doing it mainly indoors. Through meditation I follow my breathing, turn deep within myself, and find there a profound sense of understanding, a place which feels like it encompasses all space, all time.

          It’s a place that is all places, that exists 
          not within myself, but beyond.

ART: Colleen Wallace Nungari

During this journey inward I have these extraordinary flashes of clarity. It feels like I truly get that everything—all this beauty, everyone I’ve ever known, all the love in the world, all life’s possibilities are connected, and they're all in there. I've heard it called a state of centered-ness. 

Then there’s another kind of Zen Zone, the one I occasionally find while outdoors walking. And, while the level of consciousness feels like that of my "inner" meditations, its location seems precisely the opposite. Again, it’s a place that is all places, a time that is all time, but now the expansiveness exists not within myself, but beyond. My essence, life’s essence, the Essence, seems to flow into me from somewhere, everywhere, outside of me—from that speck of soil under my sandal to the incomprehensible reach of the heavens.

Part of this happens simply because I want it; I’ve made room for it in my consciousness. But it's also because I'm deliberately practicing it. By doing so I’m able to find that outer-expansiveness more and more frequently every day. It may have started during those daily rehab walks, but now I encounter it at other times too. (Certain kinds of music seem to help put me in a receptive frame of mind.)

PHOTO: Pixabay

Here are the top twelve ways I know when I've found my Zen Zone:

1. I’m aware of human life going on well beyond the reach of my basic senses. It’s a poignant, deeply empathetic realization that, at this very moment, a baby is being born, someone is dying, a crew buried deep in a mine shaft somewhere prays for rescue, folks are experiencing triumph and heartbreak—around the world, in my city…perhaps in some of the houses I’m passing.

2. Strangers pass and I experience a sense of kinship. I wonder about her, what he does, what going home looks like to her, whether he’s happy. As we move on, it feels like we've blessed each other.

3. I believe I am one with other living things too. I regard a tree, a knot of wildflowers, a sweeping green lawn, as fellow sentient beings, each all-knowing in its own way, each my co-inhabitant in the Essence.

4. I feel my own body in a new way. I experience my weight, visualizing each horizontal slice of me, from head on down, bearing the cumulative load of all the slices above. I notice the circular rhythm of my breathing, absorbing each inhalation like water in a thirsty sponge. I’m aware of my blood flowing, from heartbeat to arterial pulsing to all those barely seeping little capillaries just under my skin. It makes my hands and feet pleasantly warm.

      I am myself at all ages, like I was as a boy, 
      like I'll be as an old man. All of it is now.

5. The sun, though a mind-numbing 93,000,000 miles away, warms me as if it were a cozy little bonfire at my feet, its warmth shining on me, in me, through me.

6. Bird song, squirrel chatter, even the rasp and whir of insects, feels like it has meaning, evoking a spontaneous urge to answer. When a critter is close enough, we stop and size each other up. I pray it  knows I mean no harm. And I know deeply that, while we may not have the same blood, and that perhaps ten or twenty percent of our DNA is different, we share the identical force.

7. Any fear, anger or negative thought I may have carried a few minutes ago is consumed in a calm sea of patience and certainty.

I am myself at all ages—like I was as a boy, like I'll be as an old man. All of it is now.

9. I am unaware of looking for wonder, joy, love; it all seems to find me...and then is me.

    I appreciate each blessing so poignantly that 
    I am aware, simultaneously, of its absence.

10. It’s not as if I’m without a mundane thought—little aches and pains, daydreams, my ever-present to-do list—but somehow they seem to just float lightly on the surface, above the liquid depths of my reverie.

11. I appreciate the blessings in my life—love, good health, peace, freedom…even that venerable cottonwood I just passed—so profoundly that I am aware, simultaneously, of their absence. Knowing they are not yet gone causes tears to well up in my eyes.

12. Finally—and this may well be the most telling of signs—as if any one of these sacred facets of consciousness weren’t spellbinding enough in itself, they all cast their radiance on me simultaneously. If I weren't so calm, I'm afraid it might be overwhelming.
                                            ~ // ~     ~ // ~     ~ // ~

Once again, I am a mere pretender at any respectable kind of Zen meditation. Yet I’m reminded that all of one’s abilities begin with pretense. With any new skill or awareness, what keeps you doing it are those first blushes of accomplishment—Hey, I could really do this!

Perhaps some day I’ll be able to find myself in the Zen Zone—where I am the Essence and it is me—at will. But for now, at least I know a few things to do and places to be where it is most likely to find me. And I know to open my heart and soul to it when it does.

My friends, I wish you such blessings.


Anonymous said...

This is one of the most beautiful and humble posts I've read in some time. I started to "highlight" places that were so poignant that they brought instant tears to my eyes, but then there were so many I stopped mental "highlighting" and just let the great flow of beauty go into me.

I am profoundly moved by this post, dear Jeffrey. I am completely absorbed into it, into the way you experience the world in your "Zen Zone". You've no idea how much I relate to it. I felt like you were I felt like I knew your heart and soul.

I walk 2 miles now most days, and it is a simple "hip-healing" kind of walk. Although I stride to loosen hip and strengthen joint and alignment, I don't think I've ever been as conscious of every bird song, every sweet flower, every funky insect chirp, or of the soft-sun's warmth or the gentle rain, or the reassuring texture of Living Earth under my bare feet. I take feel the soft brush of breeze and smell the unforgettable scent of autumn's slowly "turning-leaves" and decaying flowers and grass. I savor each step, each breath. I am so glad I'm alive, Jeffrey.

Your written expressions grow deeper and richer and more poignant with each one. I feel a compassionate sense of kindredness or human connection each time I read you. I go away with a strong sense of being in my "right" place.

I really appreciate how you allow your humanity to filter into your writing. It makes me feel good about myself even when times are challenging. For that I am more grateful than you know.

I loved this line: " this very moment, a baby is being born, someone is dying, a crew buried deep in a mine shaft somewhere prays for rescue, folks are experiencing triumph and heartbreak—around the world, in my city…perhaps in some of the houses I’m passing."

....and in a woman in New Mexico, who embraces it all as Life. Thank you, dear Jeffrey for such pure beauty. Robin Easton

Jeffrey Willius said...

Robin -- If it feels to you as if I'd written this for you, that's because I did. You and your sublime oneness with Nature have been a huge inspiration for me, and each time I write of my own experiences I feel like, at least in part, I'm channeling you.
I know you're going through another major healing process in your life, and that's another reason my experiences -- profoundly colored by my own healing journey -- may resonate with such deep truth for you.
I continue thinking of you, hoping each new day, anointing you in wonder and gratitude, brings you closer to wholeness.

Anonymous said...

This resonated with me as well. Thank you.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Anonymous 10/13: Thanks for dropping by O.M.W!

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