Saturday, January 30, 2010

That Zentertainment

I just experienced an earthquake while doing zazen (meditation). If only a geisha had been somehow involved, that would have been a Japanese full house.

After my initial enthusiasm, I pretty much fell off the Zen wagon. It looked like Zen would go the way of Twitter, learning to skateboard, massage classes, and countless other pursuits that I thought were the bee's knees for a couple of weeks before embarrassingly abandoning them forever. It turns out that sitting still and looking at a wall is quite boring.

However, at my office shinnenkai (New Year party), I got chatting (through a considerable language barrier) to my local Zen priest, who appears to be some kind of honourary or advisory member of the Board of Education. He is also the husband of one of my middle-aged drinking buddies - this isn't a big town. I told him about trying zazen and being very interested in it, and I think impressed him by asking which sect of Zen he belonged to - I'd done my homework! He invited me to come to the temple and do a spot of zazen with him sometime, and he sent a few English-language booklets to my desk at City Hall.

I'd like to take him up on his offer, so I decided to get practicing. I had a flick through the books, and they had some interesting stuff, but I found them kind of hard going. When every tenth word is some italicised Japanese term, it becomes difficult to follow what's going on - a point I shall try to remember when writing this blog. They also spent a lot of time talking about what some dudes in India said and did thousands of years ago. Perhaps it is a failing of mine, but I am deeply uninterested in history. Scientific publications have a relevance half-life of maybe around a decade, so reading 2500-year-old accounts of the nature of reality doesn't sit easily with me. Lastly, the booklets just seemed a bit too, well, religious. They put a lot of emphasis on what one should and shouldn't do, and if I wanted that I could have stuck with the Abrahamic faiths. So, Hardcore Zen remains my text of choice.

As for the meditation itself, it's interesting in a boring sort of way, kind of like 2001: A space odyssey. I am a restless, fidgety person; I'm forever biting my nails or picking at various parts of my face or doing something similarly unattractive. When I was writing my thesis, I would always be fiddling with something while I was thinking: my favourite items included adjustable spanners, bulldog clips, and little assemblies of Lego. I think this physical restlessness is a reflection of a similarly chaotic mind. So it's an interesting exercise for me to attempt to achieve some kind of inner peace. I'm still not sure whether I'm doing it right - the books say that rather than trying to think of nothing, one should just passively let thoughts come and go, neither fighting them nor pursuing them. That makes a bit more sense to me, but it's still easier said than done. And I keep getting distracted by the weird mental screensaver that kicks in if your eyes don't move for a while. At one point today I wasn't sure whether my eyes were open or not. I've not read anything about this aspect of meditation, so I'm starting to worry that there's something wrong with my eyes and/or brain.


  1. I'm pretty sure everyone gets the effect where if you don't blink or move your eyes for a while your visual field goes dark. I can't remember what it is called now though.

  2. Maybe it's this:

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Self censorship, Danny?

    And Adrianna, thanks, I think that is what's going on.

  5. Yes, self censorship. I made an inappropriate comment, egged on by Anna, then deleted it.