Zen and Simple Presence

Zen and Simple Presence

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series Zen 101

Zen and Sim­ple Pres­ence  —  wak­ing up is not all that hard to do, but it does require pay­ing atten­tion, which many find… hard to do! What is sim­ple isn’t so simple.

Look­ing for more on this topic? 

Check out my book, Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall.

Wayne’s “East­ern” book takes you by the hand and helps you to find peace of mind. Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall is a Zen-based guide to liv­ing life ful­ly and deeply.

Perhaps one of the hardest things to “get” about present and focused living is the mechanics of how it all works. This topic is so important that I wrote a book about it.

Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall uses Zen sto­ries as starters for each of the chap­ters. Here’s an example:

A guy named Har­ry is on a quest for enlight­en­ment. He tries every­thing. He goes to school. Nada. He becomes a life coach. More nada. He wor­ships in the local shrine-of-choice. Mucho nada.
Des­per­ate, he decides to climb a moun­tain in Nepal, to vis­it His Holi­ness, Rama Dama Ding Dong. It is an ardu­ous trip. (Aren’t they always?) Final­ly, near death, he col­laps­es on the ground near a steep path. He looks up, and sees an old man walk­ing down the path, car­ry­ing a big bun­dle of fire­wood on his back.
Har­ry says, “I’m look­ing for Rama.” “I am he,” replies the guru. “Oh, thank god!” Har­ry says. “I’ve been search­ing for so long. Please, tell me, what is ‘wak­ing up’?”
The guru takes off the bun­dle of wood, sighs deeply, and smiles. In that instant, Har­ry woke up.
Then Harry’s mind got involved. He asked, “Please, par­don anoth­er ques­tion, but what do you do after ‘wak­ing up’?”
Rama picks up the bun­dle, places it on his back, and con­tin­ues down the hill.

The problem with Zen, simple presence and “the path” is that it is entirely too simple. It boils down to this:

One step, and one step, and one step, until you die. 

The ease, the sim­plic­i­ty… it’s actu­al­ly a mat­ter of non-com­pli­cat­ing things. Because deal­ing with things in a non com­plex way leads to… peace, clar­i­ty, and no lit­tle amusement. 

It’s my friend in this pho­to, dan­gling her shoe. The process is sim­ple, if you let it be sim­ple.

Sim­ple pres­ence allows us to expe­ri­ence life moment-by-moment. 

This is emphat­i­cal­ly not what most peo­ple do. Most peo­ple, by get­ting caught in a “thought loop,” quick­ly drop out of “the now.” 

Let me illus­trate… and this is some­thing I cov­er in my book, This End­less Moment):

The things that occur in our lives are sim­ple events, phe­nom­e­non, or stim­uli. (You pick a name.) They are essen­tial­ly mean­ing­less (mean­ing that they lack intrin­sic meaning.) 

Now, you may want to rush in and say, “Hey! Stuff has mean­ing!” And you would be right. It just doesn’t mean any­thing in its essen­tial nature. In oth­er words, every­thing, includ­ing us, derives mean­ing from a human being.

Each and every thing means what the person (each person) makes it to mean.

This is the process of inter­pre­ta­tion, or judge­ment. We all make them, all of the time. 

There is absolute­ly noth­ing wrong with our judge­ment process. In a sense, we’d be dead with­out it. It is, after all, what tells us not to pick up the glow­ing fire­place poker. 

A Zen teacher, Adyashan­ti, used this illus­tra­tion (which I’m paraphrasing):

A poi­so­nous snake crawls up a man’s arm. The non-present per­son thinks, “Oh. My God! A snake. I won­der if it will bite me. What should I do?” The snake bites him and he dies. The awake, aware, and ‘present’ per­son sim­ply flicks off the snake.”

Where the prob­lems come is when a judge­ment occurs… and instead of sim­ple action, we, (like the snake bit­ten man,) stop, lose pres­ence and go into our heads to uni­ver­sal­ize and awfulize. 

It’s “It will always be like this. This is a ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion, and ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tions always hap­pen to me. Why can’t I ever meet the right man? Why do bad things keep hap­pen­ing? I must be a bad per­son. No, I’m sur­round­ed by bad peo­ple. Why do I attract bad people?”

Snake bit. Dead.

All of that inter­nal chat­ter hap­pens, and then we might anger our­selves or scare our­selves over the sto­ry we invent­ed. This leads us to either attack or run away. In order to do this, I have to go into my head, away from the present moment, and start chew­ing on the data. 

In the mean time, the world has moved on, and the data might no longer be relevant. 

I receive a stim­u­lus, I inter­pret it, I may also notice simul­ta­ne­ous emo­tions. In that moment, I have two choices,

  • I can say, “Hmm. Here’s what appears to be up for me. I will act (speak, not act, report, share) in this way, thus stay­ing present.”
  • I can imme­di­ate­ly go non-present, and start play­ing back awfulized sto­ries, which add to my per­son­al dra­ma. This only accom­plish­es con­fu­sion, mis-direc­tion and inac­tion (or wrong action.)

See? I said it was simple.

Now, a lot of “spe­cial” peo­ple out there are going to argue with me, based upon their think­ing that I do not under­stand their “spe­cial” cir­cum­stances, back­ground, DNA, sit­u­a­tion, part­ner… what­ev­er. But you see, all of that is irrelevant. 

All there is, are the cir­cum­stances in front of you, and your choice. It’s not about any­thing, it doesn’t mean any­thing, and no one else can do any­thing to change your inter­nal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, or change what you are about to do, or not do.

Rama Dama Ding Dong did not bemoan pick­ing up the wood. He didn’t com­plain about his sore back. He didn’t blame his par­ents for not being rich so some­one else could car­ry the wood for him. He didn’t blame his wife for not using the com­mu­ni­ca­tion model.

He picked up the wood and walked.

Being present is this. I will always judge and eval­u­ate. This is the way it is. The pur­pose of judg­ment is to go: “Snake!”

And then brush the snake off.

Being Present is this. My actions are con­sis­tent with my walk. I act clear­ly and clean­ly, with­out blame or dra­ma. There is noth­ing I have to do or learn before I can act with sim­ple pres­ence. Sim­ple pres­ence is a here and now focus, choice and perception.

I know many peo­ple who begin this path, and then scare them­selves with the inten­si­ty of the expe­ri­ence and take a year or a life­time off. There­fore, remem­ber: all you have is now, and this walk requires one thing – walking.

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