Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Zen 2.0



Just to make it absolutely clear-- the essence of Zen practice has nothing to do with gongs and lotus flowers. It has nothing to do with being calm and relaxed. It has nothing to do with mystical planes of existence, reincarnation, or enlightenment. It is not a spiritual tradition.

What is it, then?

Zen is a method that promotes balanced personal growth.




There are 3 main techniques to this method:
  1. Sit still for a period of time every day. It's very hard to sit still and alert, but that's what makes this practice so powerful. I won't even try to explain all the benefits of this effort; many are unexpected. See for yourself.   
  2. Focus sincerely on each action. Put down your phone, close your laptop, turn off the TV, take off the headphones, and give your full attention to one thing at a time.
  3. Give. Give someone a hand, let someone go before you, cook a meal for a friend, pay attention to someone, help a bug cross the sidewalk, let someone else have the last word, donate a sweater. There are countless ways to give. I can't even begin to explain what you will gain by learning how to give.
By all means, strip Zen down to its essence, remove all traditions, make it new. Call it Zen 2.0

10 comments:

  1. Thank for clarifying this! So often Zen is tied to "New Age" mumbo jumbo. - Jackie

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    1. Thank you, Jackie. A big question underlying this Zen 2.0 idea is whether people can come at Zen with a completely different approach from the mumbo jumbo... something straightforward, like the way we think about eating vegetables and getting exercise.

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    2. Yes! That's so funny because I just submitted a short narrative to someone in my youth group who is in grad school and in it I briefly mentioned that oftentimes Zen practice is wrongly associated with new agey stuff. Big philosophical ideas and a religion, whereas it really is just a "simple" practice. There have been studies on the health benefits of meditation, that it really does change your brain and how it deals with stress: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/238093.php
      http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/how-meditation-may-change-the-brain/

      I really like this whole Zen 2.0 thing...Hmm.. - Jackie

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    3. That's a good study because it actually shows differences before and after meditation. It doesn't say what tangible effects result from those changes in the brain, but that's going to be personal. People can always do the meditation part of the experiment on themselves!

      I've noticed that people who are really into the new age ideas don't often stick with Zen practice. The people who I know who are seriously practicing at SFZC seem to be less interested in big philosophical ideas and more in the cultural experience, the people, the history, the traditions, and of course personal growth. The idea of Zen 2.0 is to throw the mysticism and historical culture of Zen under the bus in order to make the central benefits of Zen practice accessible and appealing to more people.

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  2. Agreed! :) But why not just call it mindfulness, or meditation? Why Zen then?

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    1. Because Zen is a better name! :)

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  3. An idea that has been stewing around in my brain is to combine Zen practice with unhealthy spending habits, to help people create a new relationship with money and their spending habits. Similar to how meditation is used for people with drug and alcohol disorders. Just a thought..

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    1. I can see that being very useful if it helps people understand the underlying motives for their habits.

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  4. I read the following article and thought of the point you make about the value of meditation. It's about concrete changes in brain function related to concentration and not (just) about spirituality:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/opinion/sunday/the-power-of-concentration.html?src=me&ref=general&_r=0

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    1. Good article... I like that it focuses on observable changes in ability, since that's really what matters. Some of these studies are heavily focused on neurological changes, maybe to distance themselves from the tainted reputation of spirituality, but it comes at the expense of utility; knowing how meditation affects brain structure is not as useful as knowing how it affects performance. Maybe Buddha felt the same way: he sometimes dismissed questions about the spiritual or physical basis of his practice as irrelevant, but he did encourage people to evaluate his teachings in terms of their own experience.

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