Category Archives: Zen

ABCs of Life

Are we sure this is the life we love?
Being someone else’s path to their dreams?
Careful not to rock the boat or risk failure.
Does it take drastic change?
Every person exists part of the whole and in a vacuum,
Feeling connected or isolated desperate and afraid,
Going anywhere to make it okay
Here we are.
Internal peace or external salves to our pain.
Just because what we want makes us want more.
Killing the moment in the distractions.
Love this place or hate this place
Mystery of the daily grind.
Never alone but never in control or connected.
Ordinary life stretches before us.
Pleasure and pain blended in a patchwork.
Questioning the purpose and our dreams.
Ready to be something greater.
Settling for the safe comforts of the known.
Taste the difference of a risk for a dream.
Until our wants no longer control our lives
Victims we live lives like rats in a wheel.
When we go outside ourselves and our designations
eXtended to see the world outside and inside
Years change as our perceptions warp our path
Zero distance to peace the desire is an addiction.

Connection

It seems every time I write lately what I write about comes up in what I read the next day and what I read about comes up in the talks at meditation. Not the topic and action that I start on, the deeper parts.
Today I wrote about a moment that changed everything. The story meandered through the past and the memories of my husband and moments of impact.

It ended with a thought about his calm acceptance of what everyone sees as my sudden decisions. I was trying at one point to explain how they aren’t really sudden even if they are. After leaving the Lanai to catch the bus home I went back to reading.

The chapter I read was The Third Thing. It talks about this very topic. That when you are torn between two things you need a third thing. Two things is not a choice. But a third will come and balance things out, offering the way forward. It appears sudden but it is the culmination of the process that the two things created.

my first meditation session with this group they talked about dealing with intense emotions and sadness. I cried on the way there and going to sleep for several nights before.
The next time we talked about what is and the whole talk meshed into what I read the days before. I had been reading Writing Down the Bones. The idea of using writing meditation as a path to not following the thoughts and emotions when sitting meshed interestingly into the talk about sitting.
The last thing I read before one session was that a well that dashes about cannot draw water. We cannot do happiness, it flows through us in our stillness. I was a few minutes late and sat in stillness with the group. She talked about ending suffering and sharing love. We talked about enlightenment being a moment to moment thing not a permanent state. The balance of mind, and the four keys. She talked about the calm acceptance of what comes that you feel in enlightenment.
Saturday we sat on the ridge through the day. I was at a crossroads in my mind and emotional state. I had one of those two choices that need a third way. I didn’t realize that is what I needed. But in stillness I found a moment of peace and acceptance of what is. it didn’t change the situation but it let me see what is and reach a new possibility.

I went to the meditation Sunday lonely and sad but more at peace. Leaving , when she hurried over, obviously she had somewhere to be she was putting off, to give me a flower it struck a light in me. I’m not alone even if I have no close connection here. We are all one and connected. It is enough.

I don’t know what now but I do know I will be here for it.

Meditation Series – part 5: development of a practice.

Meditation practice is a staged development, that flows and fluctuates with our inner self.
You first focus on awareness, focus, the positioning of the body, and calming the mind. You are developing the receptivity to seeing inside and the peace to sit in calm awareness and quiet.

Next, you will reach the stage of introversion where you can view your self, your emotions, your fears, your doubts, memories, and internal connections. These can be re framed in a different perspective of the same, to change your response. The act of acknowledging these things changes them. Simply having the receptivity to see them as they are and not as you want or fear to see them, changes how they affect you. You practice letting them go in meditation and you will see the root of them.

Next, is the subconscious states that are the true beginning of meditation. This is where you begin to truly touch the subconscious mind, the energy, and the knowledge. This is where you move toward the goals of self-realization, transcendence, enlightenment, and bliss.
You start your practice in non-threatening, quiet, controlled settings to develop the foundation that allows you to delve into other forms of meditation and to take those you do to new levels and methods. You will be distracted, you will think of other things, you will have that annoying itch, you will want something to listen to. The practice of silence (even if it is only one of the forms you use) will help you learn to let them go. Experience them, acknowledge them, but do not dwell on them, fight them, or have emotions about them. That is why you start with a focus, whether it is a physical thing like the flame, a word, a thought like compassion, or an action like breathing.

We have through this series used a lot of terms and names you may not know offhand but you will find as you research that many forms of meditation have multiple names. Partially this is because the same form may come from multiple cultures and thus the names and even translations may vary. Also, we continue to develop new names as branches continue and branch again into new varieties of the same basic form.
Open monitoring for instance is a term I only heard recently because there are so many other names for the same thing. This is the silent observation forms where you are simply present and fully aware and immersed in the moment and what is. Most mindfulness meditations will fall into this type. Another example of this is Shikantaza from Japan. it is, like many in this group, a Zen based meditation.
Focused attention is another one but it is both fairly obvious and little different than the term I have used throughout, focused. Just like it sounds, these forms focus on something. The focus can be words, sounds, breath, an object, a point, or a body. You will also see this referred to as concentrative meditation. Mantra meditations such as transcendental meditation can be very helpful for focusing and clearing the mind. The specific mantras vary by form and culture and the tones tend to have very long histories and purpose. Those in the TM practice came out of the Vedic traditions.

There are some, like Vipessana (or in Tibetan rather than Sanskrit
lhagthong) that use aspects of both forms. Samatha is a form that also does but it is often today a paired form with Vipessana and you develop both together. The very long history of these forms leaves a lot of room for research and discussion about how they combine or don’t. “According to Thanissaro Bhikkhu, “samatha, jhana, and vipassana were all part of a single path.”” The early roots are Theravada but it ended in the 10th century and was revived in the 18th. The idea of open observation is to see all without interpretation, expectation, editing, self, or bias. You are seeing physical phenomenah such as breathing without engaging with it. It is not you, it simply is.
Vipassanā jhanas are stages describing the development of samatha. The four vipassanā jhanas are: one – explore the body/mind connection, nonduality; discover three characteristics. See these points in the presence of vitakka and vicara. two – in which the practice feels effortless, Vitaka and vicara disappear. three – piti/joy disappears leaving only happiness (sukha) and concentration. four – purity of mindfulness due to equanimity, leads to direct knowledge. Comfort disappears in seeing the dissolution of all phenomena. All phenomenon is seen as unstable, transient, and disenchanting. The desire of freedom.
Other methods that combine forms often combine an empty or open meditation with another form. Some examples are shambhala, loving-kindness, open awareness, analytic, mindfulness, dzogchen, and stabilizing. Chakra meditations probably fall in this group also.

Several forms use prayer bead such as those found in Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism.
Taoist meditations were heavilly influenced by Buddhism and like many of the others we discussed have a very long history. Ding is the concentrative form. It is also called intent concentration or perfect observation. Guan or observe is to obtain unity with the Dao. Cun is is a visualization tequnique to be present and increase longevity. Inward training of the qi through breathing tequnices are another form. The sit and forget form from the 3rd century is an empty form. Internal martial arts or neijia include qigong, neidan, taijiquan. The related meditation forms are quigong, zuochan, nd taijiqan.

Many faiths have forms that combine prayer and meditation such as the Catholic rosary. Judais, Bahai, and Islam each have a combination form that falls in this group.
Chakra meditation could take a post of their own and are something you should look into if you choose to practice meditation regularly. they are often incorporated into meditation practices and used with other types of meditation.

Meditation series part 4: Active meditation

Active Meditation is recommended for those with some experience with passive meditation. However, it can feel easier to those that have trouble with the extended passive meditations sessions. It will be effective on its own but a time of passive meditation should be combined with it for best results.
Quoting one source “Once the ego mind has quieted down after passive meditation, and you then shift into an active form of meditation, this is where you can truly harness the power of meditation for creating inner transformation and charging up with new energy.”

The first example many people will think of is the use of meditative yoga or walking. Other actions and work activities can be meditative: think of raking a zen garden. Any task you can drop into a meditative state while doing is appropriate.
All meditation trains your attention but active meditation can be a great help to those that have trouble with long periods of sitting or quiet. Although it is recommended as a later stage if it is needed to help train your mind, it is the right time.

Active meditations are used to develop a connection between mind and body, drawing your attention to breathing and making use of the adaptive network of the brain. As in passive meditation, active meditation will have distractions. Simply acknowledge them in general terms and let them pass. Do not try to make them go away or identify them, just let them go and focus on your breathing. This practice is one of the stages of developing full awareness and connection to all parts of the body and feeling every part of it.

The 4 types of meditative yoga are pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. Research and try different yoga forms and activities when you are learning.

In active meditation, you are using some of the same principles as in a mindfulness meditation. Here it is with intent to engage all your senses in the focus. This is often aided in early stages by having an actual physical focus such as a sound, a flame, a bowl of water, something you can physically interact with and engage the senses to help train yourself. This is one of many reasons active meditation is not step one, but a physical focus can be used in active meditation.

Walking meditations: think of the Christian practices like James Way in Spain. Many people walk to clear their head or relieve stress. Time to walk at lunch can change the work day. At many jobs or schools I have used lunch as a time for some type of meditation to keep stress down. In Zen, walking meditation is called kinhin and is combined with extensive sitting meditation.

I prefer to do walking meditation outside but it can be done in an office or other room. You know meditation mazes, paths, and other things designed to focus you but you usually just walk, pause, breath, and be a part of only walking. Two forms are done. One is a clearing and open form that is less focus than empty. The one we are discussing here is clearing the mind by focusing on walking. Do not go on autopilot, that is why it helps during work. For 10 minutes be actively aware of the steps and breathing and nothing else.

Start by being aware of the major components of walking: the lifting of a foot; then the standing and slow movement of that foot forward; then the foot lands on the floor, feel it; feel the weight shift off that foot and how the foot begins to lift. Different forms focus on breathing, the movement itself, the sounds you cause, or other parts of the walking.
Work meditations include gardening or cleaning. Think of monks and the work they do. Working at a garden I hear many people talk about gardening and although they may or may not intend it that way, they use it as meditation. The practice is very similar to walking.

Art meditations: think of the zen doodles or free-form painting. Other activities include flower arranging (Ikebana), calligraphy (Shodō), and archery (Kyūdō). Really, you have no limitations in art meditation and the details vary. This is definitely one I recommend. Art is a release anyway so it’s a perfect outlet. I do free form sewing sometimes also and you can research this and try activities for years without exhausting the options. Some are open or empty mind to allow the art to express. Others are focused like the walking.
Dancing: think of Dhikr in Sufism, trance meditations, Mevlevi Dervish and Sama. I love dance meditation. Although I have not done it recently, it was my primary form for a long time. When I would dance, I was alone even in a crowd. The only thing that existed was dancing. Fully immersed in dance you find a completely different place of meditation than walking or working. My choice is the free form dance with music that you just do as it feels.

Exercise meditation can be any form of exercise but most the recognizable will be yoga or tai chi. Tai chi is also the first option most think of regarding martial meditation. This is another section that could be a series of books to itself do I recommend research and trying them. Even if you plan to practice alone, taking a class can really help you. You want to learn the forms enough that you are not thinking about them. You want to be able to meditate.
Again with meditative there are many forms that include both open and focused. Empty mind forms often use yoga. Focused forms are often guided or use equipment like weights, blocks, straps, muscle focus, or music. Your form must be right both for safety and to be most effective. Take the time and training to perfect your form and work up gradually from repeating a couple of perfect forms to more. Yoga, for instance is good for you and the learning time is stress relief itself.
As with all meditation, find what works for you and in your path. Research, experience, and think of you in the activities. The important point is a consistent and continuous practice that you do every day. A combination of types can give you a way to do that. In some jobs I did yoga at lunch and sitting forms at night. Other places I walked at lunch or meditated on the beach before work and did a water meditation after. What I need changes, what is available changes, time availability changes. It will grow easier to make time but start by working we within your schedule and altering it as little as possible. You are building a practice and it will develop.

Meditation Series – part 1: Intro

Some time ago I did a lesson on meditation for a multi part series. Recently I decided to update it for posting here in a parallel series to my ongoing Bug restoration. This will develop and dig deeper into each section but starts with an overview of the class as I wrote it.
Meditation is something used to some extent by most paths, practices, by many religions, and many people outside of religion. I am going to briefly cover what types of meditations are used and describe some of them. I will have a more detailed descriptions of a few, especially those I personally use or have received instruction in. If you know more about any of them, please share, none of us know everything about all of them or even any of them. This is a foundation and general information designed only to fuel imagination, interest, and understanding to prompt further research and experimentation. Meditation is intensely personal for many people and should be understood in that context. Also, it is an incredibly old practice with a lot of varied research attached both for and against. There is a lot of history and cultural relevance to the many forms of meditation. My personal forms are a blend from the cultures that have impacted my life, just as my blood is blended and my path is blended, they are very specific to where I am and what I am doing.
A complete meditation practice will combine active and passive forms. How often you should do it is discussed in every practice but it relies on your ability to know when you need it and your dedication to a consistent practice. You are best able to know the state of your self. frequent and regular is best, but do not berate or punish yourself for your available time and focus. It is something that develops itself with use. Consider short but frequent sessions interspersed with fewer long sessions that allow you to fully immerse in the experience. you will find more time for it when you are doing it regularly. Be consistent but be open to life and self, doing otherwise is counter to the very process.
So what are the types of meditation?
Note, that there is some overlap between the categories I list here and this is not exhaustive but most others will still fall within one of these. These are broad and cross lines so they are only a starting point.
Eye open meditation. 
These include gazing (including candle) and most active meditations. A common one you may recognize is zentangle.
Active meditation.
These include walking, Tai chi, yoga, work, gardening, repetitive action, swimming, art, doodle, writing, chanting, dance, martial. When considering the mental state these also include guided, sound, chant, and other focused and directed forms of meditation. This section is pretty self explanatory and you can see how these will overlap into other categories.
Focused attention. 
These include sound, manta, zazen, Loving Kindness, Chakra, Kundalini, Pranayama, some forms of Qigong, guided, spiritual, Primordial Sound, tea, visualization, mandala, Heart Rhythm, and chant. You may know gong or bowl meditation, or guided meditations, but most people will recognize the chant meditation form. Many awareness exercises and mindfulness exercises fall into this category.
Open Meditation.
observation of thought or function of self, mindfulness, Vipassana, some types of Taoist, Heart Rhythm, and Yoga Nidra. This can be a hard one to pin down in the mind of many people but is actually widely used on a small scale. Most types, if not all, will also fall into another category.
Blank or effortless.
Self-Enquiry (“I am” meditation) of Ramana Maharishi; Dzogchen; Mahamudra; some forms of Taoist, some advanced forms of Raja Yoga, Choiceless Awareness, and Pure Being. Probably the clearest way to describe this is the open becoming one with the true nature and true being. There is a focus on the true nature but you are not focused, you are open. It is not empty mind meditation but it can sound like it at times. Some people include empty mind in this category and make the distinction on the deeper levels of understanding.
Note.
I do not personally recommend the forms of meditation that use mind-altering substances. The practice is to develop your awareness, your self, your connection, your peace, your focus. The use of mind-altering substances in other practices or trances has a long history and purpose but in this case of regular practice to develop and clear yourself it is not in my observation conducive to the purpose you are working toward. There are descriptions of those methods available elsewhere if you are interested, I will not be discussing them here.
So, what is the base difference in some of these forms of meditation and why would you choose them?
Think of the focused forms that have you focusing on a specific thing, be it a word, idea, breath, action, object, whatever, they are a form of concentration and focus development. They calm the mind by focusing all processing on a single thing. All sensation is focused on one thing. All emotions are focused on one thing. It is openness through a calm developed out of repetition and attunement. A sound will resonate in your body and mind. A light will fill your mind as you look at it and feel it. A word will fill your consciousness through your focus. Each of these allows you to develop the empty mind, the focus, and the peace by allowing you to learn how to let sensations and thoughts pass unhindered and without impact. The mantra stills the normal discourse of the mind and resonates in you. You are detaching from the external world through focus on something like a mandala. Art is used in many focused meditations and active meditations.
Mindfulness, empty mind, Vipassana, and observational meditations are different in that they are not focused. they are open and observing everything that occurs. they observe and release all thoughts, sensations, emotions, and responses. They are for many a development from the focused forms. You are being present in yourself and in the awareness of what is happening in yourself. Some medical practices teach these forms for pain management. Zen and empty mind are emptying your mind and sensation. You are not so much being aware of these things as letting them go. You are working to have the state of emptiness and openness not impinged on by thoughts, sensations, emotions, actions, not by anything internal or external. Vipassana does focus on breath but not in the same ways that the more focused forms do. It is a focus in order to empty. A distinction not clear without feeling it. You are, in these forms, detaching both from the external world and from your response and judgments of things. You let thoughts and sensations go without judgment or response, and clear your mind by not focusing or judging. They often start focusing on breathing to reach the state of empty calm.
Active meditations can be focused, blank, open, and may be done either eyes open or closed. Active meditation first bring to mind such things as walking, yoga, tai chi, dance, or other full body activities but they can be painting, drawing, writing, washing, cleaning, and any number of other things. If you have trouble with the stillness of some types of meditation, active meditation may give you a place to start but it is usually recommended as a later stage not a starting point. It is a later step to draw your whole being into the process in a new way. It is very important o stay focused and clear and not be drawn away by your body, surroundings, or the activity. An active meditation can be a good start in many ways but it can be hard to work on the completeness of the experience using these forms.

Zen of Steampunk

Yesterday upon the stair

I saw a man that wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today.

Oh, how I wish he’d go away.xxeez

To some, ‘steampunk’ is a catchall term, a concept in search of a visual identity. To me, it’s essentially the intersection of technology and romance.” Jake von Slatt put this in a way that fit some of my descriptions quite concisely. It is important to me in my evaluation of Steampunk to show what I find and what is there, not to codify and define it; I seek to analyze and evaluate not limit the reality. As Alan Watts Said “The whole point of Zen is to suspend the rules we have superimposed on things and to see the world as it is.” “There be those who say that things and places have souls, and there be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself, but I will tell of The Street.” – H. P. Lovecraft. I agree with this sentiment and this is more my goal than a definition – to describe and show what I find and see. “The true purpose (of Zen) is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki

Individualism is not the first thing you think of when you think of Zen, but much of the teaching revolves around knowing yourself, seeing yourself as you really are, hearing your inner voice, and living in now. Previous essays have discussed the prevalence of an individual spirit and focus in both Steampunk and the age it arises from. For this particular discussion the whys of that direction are not needed, but we will look at them later. Louis XIV said “There is little that can withstand a man who can conquer himself.” This is an important distinction when you are looking at Zen related to Steampunk; Zen is not about giving into to self but knowing self and being in control of self. Act on needs not wants, as one quote says: Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind.

In both cases you see an active choice to seek the answer inside rather than from the voice of any governing group such as religion, government, society, or science. G.I. Gurdjieff said “Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.” Religion, science, government, and society made drastic changes, leaps, and changed focus based on this and similar concepts, it did not always stick, but the creative leaps possible during that time are impressive themselves. As one Zen quote says “If you do not get it from yourself, where will you go for it?

Machines, automata, and development are critical to Steampunk and were what made the Victorian age what it was. “As machines become more and more efficient and perfect, so it will become clear that imperfection is the greatness of man.” – Ernst Fischer. Willingness to take a leap, create something, build something, experiment without knowing what will happen – these are all things that made the development then what it was and that many people feel has been largely lost today. “If you want something you can have it, but only if you want everything that goes with it, including all the hard work and the despair, and only if you’re willing to risk failure.” – Philip Pullman, Clockwork.

Look at Zen and the adage telling you not to simply follow the paths of others: “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.” – Basho This quest for knowledge is something dear to the heart of some of us. As Zen says “When an ordinary man gains knowledge, he is a sage; when a sage gains understanding, he is an ordinary man.”  Are we in Steampunk seeking an aesthetic or a wishful nostalgia, or are we seeking a possibility, a chance that with risk and a new path, we could see something different. Perhaps it isn’t escapism as much as opening the mind to possibilities, paths, and knowledge.

The place of the mind, reason, and imagination is the place of strength, development, and expansion. You cannot achieve what you cannot conceive anymore than you can succeed without risk. “Therefore the Three Realms are only mind” Ma-tsu Tao-i. In research and scientific advancement, one critical point to true advancement and real science is to not approach a test, experiment, theory, or idea clouded by opinion or expectations. Look again to Zen: “Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish your opinions.” Science then and now often sought to make life better and to serve humanity but “The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery. But the changes are what stabilize society, stagnation kills any society. “Life is change, change is stability.” Change is not final, even when to destruction, another change will follow.

Vast emptiness, nothing holy! Bodhidharma

Previously, we briefly touched the topic of Steampunk embracing the development at all cost attitude of colonialism and imperialism but eschewing the technology that became the dominant development. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.” The ethics were not relevant. “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
—Rumi. This is somewhat where Steampunk and much fiction lie, as does much science. But this reaching outside society and the restrictions of others to open the mind and imagination is what allows development, creativity, and innovation. “A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.” – Robert Frost

 Texas Road near Monaville

Zen of Steampunk

Lots of images today, be warned if you have a slow connection.

If they are not lists, match positions on the images to pair quotes.

Today is a research compilation and photo manipulation project. This will progress into further analysis and an essay later I am sure.
Today is a research compilation and photo manipulation project. This will progress into further analysis and an essay later I am sure.
Zen quotes on left match Steampunk quotes on right for topic, theme, implication, something that struck me as a connection worthy of linking.
Zen quotes on left match Steampunk quotes on right for topic, theme, implication, something that struck me as a connection worthy of linking.
The creativity, action, and process of Steampunk with related Zen thoughts
The creativity, action, and process of Steampunk with related Zen thoughts

Change and Expansive Minds

Humanity and Steampunk

Reality and our Views

Purpose, Will, and Vision

Wisdom and Ethics

The Mind and Self

Direct Comparisons

Steampunk Photo-manipulation of a Zen quote image that fit the thoughts, concept, and feel for today.
Steampunk Photo-manipulation of a Zen quote image that fit the thoughts, concept, and feel for today.

I considered a one to one image for each pair but that would have made a huge collection. I will single them out if I use them later in essays and such. Let me know if they are clear, they seamed to change slightly when I saved to jpg.