At The Top . . . Still Climbing

By Nathaniel E. Hocker on March 5, 2020

I have found that one of the better forms of centering, for myself, is meditation. As I sit with a “koan”, as it is referred to in Zen Buddhism or Zen Meditation, I take on a solidarity not usually had in prayer. I remain seated, my feet free from shoes and flat against the Earth, my hands lay palm-down on my legs; a great inhalation of air followed by an exhalation of breath is released. Life is essentially forced to move aside, as I welcome calm – a short period(s) of time, for what seems like forever. The trick is to remain still, no movement, only silence.

I do not claim to be Buddhist, but do subscribe to meditation – the value, meaning, relational qualities of its practice. In my home, a rather large Buddha statue rests on the floor. The detail of this particular Buddha is quite the study. Crafted from a thickened terra cotta, 3 feet in height, holding a stunning lotus flower, draped in a flowing garment, and heavy as sin; Buddha doesn’t relocate about the house very often, if at all. I used to tire of folks assuming my partner and I were practicing Buddhists after having seen we own a Buddha statue. When asked, I simply reply followed by a chuckle: “Does it bother you if we were?” Learning to cope with any religious or spiritual practice(s) and its potential offense to others is a risk I accept. It makes for great supper conversation.

I was introduced to both Zen Buddhism and the koan in mid 2019. A definition of the koan: “a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.” With time, I have come to understand the purpose of the koan. By the way, koan practice is part of Zen practice, but not all Zen schools work with koans, and those that do, work with them in different ways. What’s most interesting, however, is that the effort to “solve” a koan is intended to exhaust the analytic intellect, the egoistic will. It prepares the mind to entertain an appropriate response on the intuitive level. In a nutshell, I would say it is a surgical tool used to cut into the mind of the practitioner. It cuts deep . . . really deep, if you so allow! One of my favorite koans, from Hakuin Ekaku, an influential figure in Japanese Zen Buddhism, says this: “You know the sound of two hands clapping; tell me, what is the sound of one hand?” A pretty distinct, but powerful question in itself, I would say. Defining what this means for you as an individual is key, as there are no right or wrong answers.

Insight is something I have also come to understand – a spiritual experience where a problem that seemed unsolvable becomes clear; a solution becomes present and can be worked on over time. Some might refer to insight as an “Enlightenment experience”. Because Buddha means “one who is awake”, I would prefer to call it “Awakening”. I find that this is more of an accurate assessment of an “experience”. My senses become heightened, the world seems small, and I feel ‘fully’ awake, as it were. An awareness of ALL in the world becomes known in the moment; an encounter with sense of self – magical! The constraints of the rational mind and thinking are assuredly mighty clamps. When an individual escapes the grasp of thinking, even for a moment, what happens to the mind and body is indescribable, at least in my experience. This for me, doesn’t happen every session. I tend to think too much and am a visual person at that – the difference being, when my eyes are open (not a wrong method of practice), I see what’s around me. When my eyes are closed, I feel what’s beyond me.

I feel as though I have gained deeper wisdom after having meditated. I feel better about life; my direction is clearer. I discover a new level of ‘me’ each time I delve into practice. The best piece, my Zen Teacher is a hoot! He is often depicted in my brain as one who resembles highly, the Buddha we know, but haven’t met in the flesh. The group I sit with on Thursday evenings reflect an example of what humanity could be: respectful, mindful, insightful, open and loving. These folks, my brothers and sisters, bring me joy. The hearty fun we share can be equated to the greatest moments in life that require no effort – spiritual.

And on that note, spirituality is not a thing, but a complex web of different emotions fused into a singular, perhaps multiple, experiences. In fact, spirtuality does not come from religion, but is rooted in the soul. “If Zen Meditation weren’t so addictive, I wouldn’t practice it”, so I’ve heard. I would argue that it truly works when you learn to “lose your mind”. We often equate the “loss of mind” to “crazy”, but I beg to differ. When you’re able to lose yourself (lose your mind), you’re essentially creating ripples with every loss, like a raindrop on a lake. Each ripple is a release, and for every release, you can simply say: GOODBYE!

I leave you with a quote from Lao Tzu: “We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.”

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