Insights from Alan Watt’s book, What Is Zen?

I was pulled into Alan Watt’s What Is Zen? book this week. Like really pulled into it. Into the present moment, as Zen does.

This book reminded me to take life one step at a time rather than multitask as I sometimes try to do. The multitasking usually only leads to unfocused thinking and un-productivity. Can you relate?

Anyway, the term Zen translates to “meditation”. And although I don’t always practice meditation, I find that when I do, my life improves.

Maybe it is for you, and maybe it’s not. If you’re interested in learning about Zen, I highly recommend Watt’s What Is Zen? Here are only a handful of insights from the book.

❖❖❖

“Zen cannot really be taught, but it can be transmitted through sessions of contemplation or meditation, called zazen, and through dialogues between student and teacher, called sanzen. In the dialogues between the student and Zen master the student comes squarely up against the obstacles to his or her understanding and, without making the answer obvious, the master points a finger toward the way.”

“Many hold Zen to be at one with the root of all religions, for it is a way of liberation that centers around the things that are basic to all mysticism: awakening to the unity or oneness of life, and the inward — as opposed to outward — existence of God. In this context the word God can be misleading because, as will be seen, the idea of a deity in the Western religious sense is foreign to Zen.”

“When Buddhism first came to China it was most natural for the Chinese to speak about it in terms of Taoist philosophy, because they both share a view of life as a flowing process in which the mind and consciousness of man is inextricably involved.”

“It is not as if there is a fixed screen of consciousness over which our experience flows and leaves a record. It is that the field of consciousness itself is part of the flowing process, and therefore the mind of man is not a separate entity observing the process from outside, but is integrally involved with it.”

“The practice of Zen is to experience the overall pattern directly, and to know one’s self as the essence of the pattern.”

“Zen is really extraordinarily simple as long as one doesn’t try to be cute about it or beat around the bush! Zen is simply the sensation and the clear understanding that, to put it in Zen terms, there are “ten thousand formations;  one suchness.” Or you might say, “The ten thousand things that are everything are of one suchness.” That is to say that there is behind the multiplicity of events and creatures in this universe simply one energy — and it appears as you, and everything is it.”

“The practice of Zen is to understand that one energy so as to ‘feel it in your bones.’ Yet Zen has nothing to say about what that energy is, and of course this gives the impression in the minds of Westerners that it is a kind of “blind energy.” We assume this because the only other alternative that we can imagine in terms of our traditions is that it must be something like God — some sort of cosmic ego, an almost personal intelligent being. But in the Buddhist view, that would be as far off the mark as thinking of it as blind energy. The reason they use the word “suchness” is to leave the whole question open, and absolutely free from definition. It is “such.” It is what it is.”

“That is why Zen has been called the “religion of no religion.” You don’t need, as it were, to cling to yourself. Faith in yourself is not “holding on” to your-self, but letting go.”

“Then what follows from that is the question, “How does a person who feels that way live in this world? What do you do about other people who don’t see that that’s so? What do you do about conducting yourself in this world?” This is the difficult part of Zen training. There is at first the breakthrough — which involves certain difficulties — but thereafter follows the whole process of learning compassion and tact and skill. As Jesus put it, it is “to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves” — and that is really what takes most of the time.”

“In each culture, it is quite definitely the same experience (the “spiritual experience”), and it is characterized by the transcendence of individuality and by a sensation of being one with the total energy of the universe.”

“I remember a dinner once with Hasegawa, when somebody asked him, ‘How long does it take to obtain our understanding of Zen?’ He said, ‘It may take you three minutes; it may take you thirty years.’ And, he said, ‘I mean that.’”

“There are two sides to this question, and it strikes me in this way: It’s not a matter of time at all. The people who think it ought to take a long time are of one school of thought, and the people who want it quickly are of another, and they are both wrong. The transformation of consciousness is not a question of how much time you put into it, as if it were all added up on some sort of quantitative scale, and you got rewarded according to the amount of effort you put into it. Nor is there a way of avoiding the effort just because you happen to be lazy, or because you say, “I want it now!” The point is, rather, something like this: If you try to get it either by an instant method because you are lazy or by a long-term method because you are rigorous, you’ll discover that you can’t get it either way. The only thing that your effort — or absence of effort — can teach you is that your effort doesn’t work.”

“And so, one of the essentials of Zen training is, to quote a certain parrot from Huxley’s Island, “Here and now, boys!” Be here. And in order to be here, you can’t be looking for a result!”

“To sit in zazen in order to perfect a technique for attaining enlightenment, however, is fundamentally a mistaken approach. Sit just to sit. And why not sit? You have to sit sometime, and so you may as well really sit, and be altogether here. Otherwise the mind wanders away from the matter at hand, and away from the present.”

“People have difficulties with these simple forms of meditation. Thoughts and feelings come up: ‘Is it only this? Is this all there is? Nothing seems to be happening. What’s going on? I feel a little frustrated, and I don’t particularly feel enlightened. There’s just nothing ‘special’ about this at all. Do I have to do this longer in order for something to happen?’
But nothing special is supposed to happen. 
It’s just this. This is it, right here.”

27 Empowering Quotes from Don Jose Ruiz’s Wisdom of the Shamans

1) Are there any areas of your life where you want to inflict your own beliefs on others? Do you try and control others? For instance, do you think the path of the shaman is the way for everyone? It isn’t. Other people are on their own paths and moving through life in their own time and at their own pace. 

2) One of the hallmarks of a shaman is that rather than adopting the beliefs of others, the shaman looks inside herself for the answers that are already there.

3) The shaman follows her own path, not one that was laid out by others. 

4) The story of our initiation also demonstrates how some shamans can commune with nature in a way that cannot be explained.

5) Despite the great interest in these miraculous occurrences, my father has never let these phenomena distract from the primary message of shamanism and his teachings: find your own personal freedom, heal yourself from the addiction to suffering, be of service to others. 

6) A power object, or what could also be called a totem, is a sacred object or symbol that a shaman forms a relationship with, which enables her to call upon the power of whatever the object represents. 

7) Animals live in complete awareness of the present moment without mitote or the parasite, and therefore they have direct access to silent wisdom. 

8) As I have been driving home throughout this book, the path of the shaman is about following your own truth, and yours will be different from mine. 

9) Am I honoring my own personal truth, or am I trying to live up to someone else’s ideals? 

10) For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, self-domestication occurs when you take the beliefs of others and punish or otherwise coerce yourself into following them, even when they go against your own personal truth. With self-domestication, you no longer need the domesticator to be in your life, as you have taken over that role. 

11) Finally, when he looked deep within himself and admitted his own personal truth, a massive weight lifted from his shoulders. All the internal struggle of trying to be something that he wasn’t disappeared. 

12) I don’t know if my grandmother knew any of these similar stories, but I do know that she was clear about one thing, and that is that God, the Great Spirit, the nagual, or whatever word you use to describe the Divine, resides in all of us.

13) While we can’t do anything to change the dream of others, our own dream is entirely within our power.

14) For instance, how do you treat people who don’t share your political or spiritual beliefs or other viewpoints you consider important? Do you try and subjugate them to your own perspective? Do you try to domesticate them to your way of thinking? By attempting to domesticate others, we feed our own addiction to suffering. 

15) One practice to reverse this within yourself is to consciously focus on the divinity in the human sitting in front of you, respecting their choices and point of view, and acting toward them from a place of love. 

16) If you want to have a sacred interaction with another, the first step is to really listen to them.

17) Listen without judging; listen without thinking about what you will say next. Just listen. By doing so, you will find out what this person’s message is for you and experience the sacredness of that connection in the process. 

18) …After many years, on the anniversary of his death, the woman began to make her customary pilgrimage, but this time, when she reached the top there was a great shaman sitting next to the waterfall. The shaman said to her, “It is wonderful to honor the dead, but who is it that you are honoring?” 
The young woman was confused. 
The shaman continued, “If you want to honor the dead, you honor the wrong person. Look in the mirror. It is you who are dead. You aren’t allowing yourself to go on with your life. Anyone who lives chained to the past lives in fear and grief. Regret isn’t living; it is dying.” 

19) During the Day of the Dead, we imagine a loved one coming from beyond the grave. They see how you are suffering, and they tell you, “Hey, you are alive! You are not dead, you are alive! C’mon, wake up and celebrate life! Stop being dead.” 

20) So often we search for our own personal freedom with such diligence and seriousness that we forget that the shamanic path is also about having fun.We can get so devoted to our inner and outer work that we forget that a strong belly laugh is one of the best cures for the mind’s addiction to suffering. 

21) Enjoying life and doing things for no other reason than to have fun is a part of maintaining balance.

22) In shamanism, celebrating life means having an open and grateful heart for all that life brings us. This open heart is what allows you to see beyond what the mind typically labels as “good” or “evil,” enough or not enough, even happy and sad. When you reside in the nagual that exists in all things, you find that you are able to keep your heart open even in the face of terrorist attacks, natural disasters, or any other nightmare in the Dream of the Planet.

23) The alternative is to let these situations draw you back into the addiction of suffering, and that’s how the cycle of negativity continues. 

24) Celebrating life doesn’t mean you won’t experience the normal human emotions of sadness and grief. One of the beautiful things about being human is that we can have multiple emotions, positive and negative, at the same time. It means you feel those emotions without fighting them, without turning them into the emotional poisons of anger, a desire for revenge, or hatred. Embracing tragedies with an open heart is one of the most difficult practices to undertake. It takes great courage even to attempt to live in this way. 

25) So often we hold on to those old ideas of vice and virtue, enough or not enough. This is one of the things that cause us to live as though we were dead. In order to celebrate our perfection, we must give up the idea that we are a project waiting to be fixed or a goal that needs to be obtained. You are not damaged goods. You are perfect just as you are. 

26) There is nothing wrong with you, and this includes when you are in suffering or creating suffering. Suffering does not mean that you are in any way deficient or not enough or incapable.

27) Here is what is important to remember, a message directly from my heart to yours, truth to truth: You are perfect, my friend, exactly as you are. Celebrate it! 

Tony Robbins Free Resources

Tony Robbins knows how to bring out the best in people.

He’s been a huge source of motivation throughout my life and continues to inspire.

Two of my favorite books come from Tony — Awaken The Giant Within and Unlimited Power. He also inspired me to share his message on six human needs and why we all do what we do, here.

Tony offers a range of free resources to awaken the giant within you, inspiring action toward a more self-empowered life, as they have done for me. Find them on his site here.

“We can change our lives.
We can do, have, and be exactly what we wish.”
– Tony Robbins

A Herd of Cows Parable

A man had a herd of 250 cows and took great care looking after their welfare.

One day, however, a tiger ate one of them—and when the man noticed this, he thought, “I’ve lost one of my cows, and my herd is incomplete. What’s the point of having all these other cows?” And with that, the man drove all the cows off a cliff and to their death.

He is like a person who, after breaking just one precept of righteousness, thinks, “I’ve broken one, so I might as well abandon them all.”

Exclusive Interview with Mindful Ambition’s Patrick Buggy

Who is Patrick Buggy?

A coach, writer, and aspiring entrepreneur – creator of Mindful Ambition.

I learned more about Patrick via a Q&A interview. He has some great answers. Check it out below!

⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯

Q1) I read your story in your About section, but was there a particular moment when your life shifted? Or was it the result of numerous experiences?

“I change in two ways: gradually and suddenly. 

An INSIGHT can hit you in a moment. But transformational, last change tends to be an accumulation of gradual, incremental, step-by-step actions.

That’s how it’s been with my journey. There have been lots of insights that hit in an instant. But they don’t actually make a difference until they’re aggregated and compounded over time with consistent practice.

At Optimize, we talk about helping you go from Theory to Practice to Mastery. 

An insight is the theory. It’s putting things into practice that has led me to feeling healthier, more energized, more confident, more connected, more on my path, etc.”

Q2) Out of all the mindful exercises you have written about, do you have a favorite and why?

“The one that’s going to help me conquer my next most-important challenge. 😉

The tool I use most often is my Daily Wins Checklist. The tool that’s helped me take the biggest leaps is Fear-Setting. For all goal-setting, it’s WOOP!

These days, I’m probably having the most fun with The Fear Game, helping me close the gap between hits of intuition of things I want to do, and actually doing them.”

Q3) Who comes to mind when you think of role models in your field? How have they influenced your life?

“I’m profoundly grateful that two of my biggest mentors, Brian Johnson and Michael Balchan, are now my teammates at Optimize.

I could go on for days about these two. Both are astonishingly radiant exemplars, truly embodying and practicing wisdom to live life at their best and change the world.

Optimize has played a massive role in my personal and professional growth in the last 5 years. All of that is thanks to Bri.

Michael is the one who first turned me on to Optimize. He was the first coach I ever hired, and has played a direct role in supporting my growth in countless other ways.”

Q4) What does success mean to you?

“Closing the gap between who you’re being and who you’re capable of being. Moment to moment.”

Q5) What do you like to do for fun?

“I love moving my body and being outdoors! Hiking, climbing, camping, sports, going to the beach, playing games with friends, etc.

I find deep, meaningful conversations to be super fun. 

And…I’m also obsessed with Optimizing! I geek out hard on the subject matter of my work, and generally find work to be fun.”

Q6) What would you consider your greatest accomplishment? What else would you like to accomplish?

“My greatest accomplishments: every time I’ve made the decision to leave the safety of my comfort zone and the “approved path” to trust my intuition of what I really wanted.

What I want to accomplish: the same thing, repeated, to continue stepping into the next-best version of myself and giving my greatest gifts in service to others.

My biggest growth edge these days is all areas of building deeply meaningful, authentic, wholehearted relationships.”

Q7) What has been the most difficult part of your journey? Do you have a routine or specific exercises to help you overcome struggles?

“Most difficult = Loneliness and doubt when I hadn’t yet built any momentum in my business. I had no idea if forging my own path would work. I sometimes felt like I was crazy for trying. At one point, I had zero clients, went through a breakup, and my grandma died, all in the span of a couple weeks.  

Every struggle requires a slightly different solution, but there are common frameworks and support structures that I apply in all of them:

1 – The Fundamentals. This is language we use at Optimize about how you’re managing your energy. How you’re sleeping, eating, moving, breathing, and meditating makes a HUGE difference in your ability to navigate challenges.

2 – What is it that I want? Beginning with the end in mind of the future vision. Orienting with that north-star. Then…

3 – How would I show up to this challenge if I were at my best? Getting clear on that. And then…

3 – Taking action. Taking small steps. That’s how we make progress.”

Q8) Have you found any similar struggles in people you’ve coached? How have you worked together on overcoming these?

“Hah! Yes. 

It’s not often that we have a challenge that’s UNcommon. All of our struggles are shared, in a way.

Simply having that frame, that we aren’t alone in, or broken for, facing the challenge the facing is a HUGE place to start.

If we are unwilling to accept and love our current situation, and find some semblance of okayness and internal safety within it, we’ll never be able to make effective progress forward.”

Q9) What are 3 recommendations a struggling person can do to improve their life?

“1 – Dial in your Fundamentals. Sleep more. Eat nourishing foods. Move your body daily. Meditate every day. Breathe through your nose. 

2 – Get support. Talk about your challenges with a trusted party. 

3 – Treat it all like an experiment. Try things out. See if they work. Keep what helps, drop what doesn’t.”

Q10) What does your ideal life look like?

“I’m living it. 🙂

The thing is, life is all about change. So this is mostly a process-orientation, not an end state. 

Energetically, I’m in the best shape of my life and feel like I’m making meaningful progress towards my health/movement/energy-oriented goals.

Work-wise, I’m living on purpose. Giving a wide range of my skills in service to the world. Growing as a result of constant challenges. And working with a team, and in an environment of powerful support. 

Love-wise, I feel connected with a community of people who care about me and want me to be my best, that my most important relationships are deepening in authentic and meaningful ways, and that I’m strengthening my ability to forge new connections.

Put another way, my ideal life is feeling like I’m on my path, and that I’m showing up every day ready to take another step forward.”

Q11) If a magical genie gave you 3 wishes, what would you ask for?

“1 – To make it the norm for everyone in the world to meditate every day.

2 – For everyone in the world to understand how to regulate their nervous systems and process challenging emotions.

3 – More wishes? ;)”

Mystic Metaphysics

After a week(and probably much more) of diving into subjects I could write about or research more, I got into mysticism(sometime in 2019).

How? 

Well after ‘going down a rabbit hole’ of what I’m interested in, it led me to metaphysics, so for 3-4 hours I researched metaphysics and it is a huge interest of mine – there also isn’t a definite definition of metaphysics, I found that it was created by Aristotle’s works – Aristotle didn’t create it, but after he died, an editor of his works named one of his works “beyond physics”(translated) which is now known as metaphysics.

Metaphysics is really about questioning reality, coming up with theories about it, and testing those theories.

So as much as I have been doing this for years-at least the questioning and coming up with theories of reality, I hadn’t known I was doing metaphysics.

&My interest is more than just metaphysics, so I continued to dive into it and found some similarities to mysticism – a similarity I found with these two topics is that they both dive deeply into truth’s about reality – the difference though is that mysticism is more of a whole body experience of oneness with all, and metaphysics is the logical seeking for what is life? What is the answer? Etc etc..and I think that Mysticism may be the answer to metaphysics. —a problem here though is that supposedly mystic experiences can’t be put into words, which I understand, but what if it could?

Intro to Stoicism

Oxford Dictionary defines Stoicism as “an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge; the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

At its core, Stoicism is about trusting life as it is, not how we think it should be. 

It’s about focusing on what’s in our control — our lives, and acting virtuously, not being pushed and pulled by our emotions.

Practicing Stoicism helps us see life objectively, giving us an understanding that we are not the center of the Universe — That the Universe is indifferent to our thoughts and feelings, and that that’s perfectly okay. This knowledge helps us live less selfishly and more cooperatively.

Stoicism has been practiced for thousands of years by numerous people. Other than Zeno, a few famous early practitioners of Stoicism were Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus, about 2,000 years ago. The modern day leader in Stoicism is Ryan Holiday, who gave me the opportunity to intern with him; a modern day apprenticeship. There were many events that led to this, it didn’t just happen, which you can read how it all came to be here on Thought Catalog.

During this time Holiday deepened my knowledge of Stoicism, inspiring me to apply these practices into my life — which doesn’t make someone perfect, it just makes us more Stoic, which you can decide if that’s good or bad.

I contemplated Stoic ideas before knowing they were Stoic ideas, thinking they were just far-out thoughts. Then, when reading Holiday’s book recommendations, I came across Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and devoured it. It was one of those books that I got pulled into and didn’t want to leave. I highly recommend reading the whole book, but here’s a link to some of Meditation’s main ideas for now.

Below are 4 fundamental Stoic principles you can begin practicing today:

1) Asking, “Is this within my control?”

—If yes, ask, “How can I act virtuously in this moment?”
—If not, ask, “How can I act virtuously in this moment?”

Most of life isn’t in our control, but our response is.

2) Sympatheia

—This is the idea that all things are connected and mutually interdependent. 

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations, wrote: 

“The universe made rational creatures for the sake of each other, with an eye toward mutual benefit based on true value and never for harm.”

Here is a YouTube video speech given by Carl Sagan to view life from a perspective outside of yourself, thus, growing in the practice of Sympatheia.

3) Amor Fati

—The idea and practice of loving your fate. 
—Things often don’t happen as we’d like them to happen, but we can learn to appreciate all that happens to us by practicing Amor Fati.

Here is a link to an ancient proverb, telling us a story that shows us how when we think something “bad” has happened, it can be good in disguise, and when we think something “good” has happened, it can be bad in disguise. It’s one of my favorite stories and has broadened my way of thinking.

Nietzsche is quoted saying, “my formula for greatness in a human being is Amor Fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it, but love it.”

Epictetus, born a slave, said: “Demand not that things happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do, and you will go on well.”

4) Memento Mori

—Remember you will die.
—This idea scares some people, but it inspires Stoics.  

“If everything is ephemeral, what does matter? Right now matters. Being a good person and doing the right thing right now, that’s what matters and that’s what was important to the Stoics. Be humble and honest and aware.”
Ryan Holiday

We all know we are going to die one day, but it is a subject rarely talked about. We’d rather ignore the fact of death instead of embrace it, so it ends up scaring the hell out of us. Let’s start discussing the topic of death. Let’s let it inspire us to live life wholly, focusing on what’s important, keeping in mind we won’t live forever, and that’s okay.

Here are some inspiring Memento Mori related quotes:

“Every third thought shall be my grave.”
William Shakespeare

“People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too. And those after them in turn. Until their memory, passes from one to another like a candle flame, gutters and goes out.”
Marcus Aurelius

“So this is how a thoughtful person should await death: not with indifference, not with impatience, not with disdain, but simply viewing it as one of the things that happens to us. Now you anticipate the child’s emergence from its mother’s womb; that’s how you should await the hour when your soul will emerge from its compartment.”
Marcus Aurelius

“Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?”
Marcus Aurelius

“To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” 
Michel de Montaigne

“Of all the footprints, that of the elephant is supreme. Similarly, of all mindfulness meditation, that on death is supreme.”
Buddha

These are just a few Stoic principles you can begin practicing today. I recommend checking out dailystoic.com for more articles on Stoicism, reminders to:

Act virtuously.
Trust the unknown.
Love your fate.
Remember death.

“If” Inspirational Poem by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you   
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;  
 

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

5 20th Century Books That Can Transform Your Mind

1–T.N.T. IT ROCKS THE EARTH by Claude Bristol

“Compare yourself to the gears of your automobile. In reverse place all fears, worries, troubles, aches, and pains. And when things goes wrong simply put on the brakes. Idle your engine until you can clearly see the road ahead.”

2–As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

“All that a man achieves, and all that he fails to achieve, is the direct result of his own thoughts.”

3–Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

“Set your mind on a definite goal and observe how quickly the world stands aside to let you pass.” 

4–The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale

“The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others. Try this for a week and you will be surprised.” 

5–The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz

“Look at things not as they are, but as they can be. Visualization adds value to everything. A big thinker always visualizes what can be done in the future. He isn’t stuck with the present.”