I have taught concentration and the instructions to focus your mind for many, many years. I have taught this to myself and others. These instructions of course were coming from my point of view. In self-reflection and in hindsight, I see that I have taught concentration and changing habits with a lot of will-power or force. Now, I am investigating is it possible to live my life without so much force?
I have begun to use an app called “Eat Right Now” by Dr. Judson Brewer, who is a mindfulness teacher and neuroscientist who works with addiction. He wrote the book “The Craving Mind.”I am so happy that he is opening my eyes to a whole different quality of changing our habits. Without force, can you notice what’s going on? That interest brings curiosity which brings concentration.
When I have taught concentration before, I have said that there are two ways to approach a distraction. I have particularly taught this as an answer to a question about sitting with pain or uncomfortable sensations. The two ways, I have said, are
- the Vipassana way which I describe as going into the sensation, being curious about the sensation. Watching mindfully the changes and noticing all the flow of the different sensation. Noticing how impermanent it all is – when does the sensation stop? Their style is to go towards what is actually happening in investigation.
- The second way I have taught is “placing the mind”, and the way I have used this for the most part, is ignoring the sensation, returning to total concentration on the breath and relaxing on the exhale. Because of this strength of concentration on breath, I said, I could get through anything. As confirmed by my childbirth coaches who said “concentrate on breathing.”
Now, I am very curious about the word “ignore.” Have I been ignoring a lot of things in life by my ceaseless effort to achieve? This change in direction from force to curiosity is affecting my entire way I’m practicing and noticing the world. I’m sensing this change in the minutest actions to my over-all feeling of who I am and my behavior. That change is exciting. It is a much softer way of experiencing the world.
This is a part of my whole reassessment of my Zen Life and partially why I’m not teaching right now. A Big shift is occurring in how I practice and I don’t want to teach until I’m clearer about where I am ending up. Zen is not to blame. It is how I, through my own psychology, interpreted the Zen Teachings. I’m hoping that this time of reassessment will help me see more clearly what Zen really is. Perhaps there is no “Zen” that can be identified and made solid. Perhaps this is what Dogen meant by “No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”