Zen and the art of pain and suffering


I guess I should first confess that I know pretty much nothing about Zen. I have attended exactly one class in Zen meditation, and didn’t entirely get it. Meditation has always been extraordinarily difficult for me. My mind does not like to be still. AT ALL. I cannot stand in line somewhere without pulling out my cell phone to cruise the internet, or a book. I have a desire for continual input.

Here is the best I can do. You tell me to empty my mind, and my mind will think about emptying. Then it will think about all the things it is emptying out of it. If you tell me to think about my breathing, I will probably feel a need to cough. If you tell me to be still, something somewhere is going to itch. But still, I am giving it a try. I went to the class, and I have meditated two out of the three days since then.

Not that it has been easy.¬†For one thing, I have been kind of an emotional trainwreck for the last couple of days. I can’t verbalize exactly why this is so, but I think at least in part it is my empathy buttons being pushed. So today I decided it might be a good idea to use meditation to explore this pain to find out what it is all about. Clue number one that this was not a good idea was that I was doing it in a reclined position on the couch. Not exactly Zen. I started crying, then I started praying. Then the dogs started barking. I quit.

I had a brief chat with a friend who is also taking the meditation class, then got out my cushion, put it on the floor, and tried again. This time I did as she suggested. When these thoughts came up, I noticed them and released them. I counted how many breaths I could take between thoughts. 1 … 1 … 1 … 1. But I kept doing it, thinking and releasing and breathing, and what do you know? I FELT BETTER!

My question at the end, though, was is this good? What is the difference between this and the denial of my feelings that I have indulged in for so many, many years, until they have reached an avalance? Perhaps there is a difference between denial and release, but I’m not altogether sure, because they feel kind of the same. This is the essential feeling: “My suffering is not going to do a single thing to change anything for the better. In fact it will just make things worse. Crying will only give me a stuffy nose. So stop.” Or in the context of meditation: breathe, release. Either way it stops, but have I killed off a little bit of myself? And if I have, was it a bit of myself worth preserving? Must ask my teacher this week and I will get back to you.

I understand this is one of the precepts in Zen, though, the acceptance that life is suffering, and the release of it. Perhaps I’m wrong or misunderstanding it. Again, I will get back to you.

So … Zen, God, Zen, God. Me in a state of spiritual dysphoria. Who is God? How I long in this pain and fear to feel that someone greater than I am is on my side, holding my hand, guiding me, protecting me, loving me, making sure that everything will be okay. Meanwhile, getting a grip on my own thoughts and feelings isn’t going to hurt, right?