I recall as a teen seeing those infomercials on Transcendental meditation. They were usually quoting studies on how they calmed the mind and lower stressed and I was fascinated by it. I knew little or nothing on eastern religions, yet it seemed that they were peaceful, and even as a youngster, I tended to analyze situations from a myriad of angles before making a decision. The line between thinking and worrying is very fine, so I was fascinated by it. My mother got a bit panicked, thinking it was some cult (some might argue that it might be). Yet this started my exploration into equanimity, meditation in particular, and pined for the ability to remain cool under pressure, and even handed in stressful situations. The journey has been sporadic and elusive, as I am both attracted to equanimity and skeptical simultaneously. Spock-like stoicism seemed attractive at one point to one curious of the world around him and gravitating towards science.
Dispassion, objectivity, perhaps this was the way to stop craving, wanting, pining. Buddhism is described as the middle way, evenhanded, as any leanings could could make one suffer. While the Four Noble truths resonated with some part of me, the eightfold path didn’t as it sounded pretty moralistic despite I may agree with many of the principles. Then there is the apparent paradox of wishing suffering to end. I’ve read enough commentary, and several books on Buddhism attempting to reconcile them, making exceptions adding more and more words to what should become simpler, without being simplistic. Detachment or attachment, indifference or commitment. Both seemed right and wrong.
Paradoxes fascinate me, I eventually ventured into Taoism through a wonderful book called The Tao of Physics. Connecting both my interests, I found Taoism somewhat more flexible, allowed for mystery, allowing for harmony and flow rather than stoic discipline. There seems to be a sense of humour in the Tao Te Ching, telling the reader the Tao cannot be defined, and yet the book attempts to describe it. Sometimes the passages read like fortune cookies or a conversation with your drunk uncle.Buddhism still held many important ideas, many shared with Taoism, yet seemed a little rigid, and more structured. However, I could not dismiss it.
Meditation practices are pivotal to both traditions so I began to investigate how to do so. I lost interest in Transcendental Meditation, and began to dabble in ways to experience thought-less, ego-less mindspace which seemed to promise some respite from my constant overthinking and fretting. I even used “Theta wave” cassettes which did hold some promise, experienced some lucid dreams, but didn’t like the idea to use technology to get there. I believe these states of mind are accessible to all and not reliant on some gadgetry or decades sitting in a cave. Eventually, I decided on Dr. Herbert Benson’s “Relaxation Response”, a simple secular form of meditation. Then came Zen.
The Zen tradition intrigued me since it was a mix of Buddhist practice and Taoist philosophy. I’ve read several books on the subject over the last two decades, but have yet to sit zazen, a form of meditation with eyes open. What boggles my mind is that the most powerful transcendent experiences came to me while doing the most mundane tasks. The first one came while washing the dishes. The second, while cropping my hair with an electric clipper. I lost my complete sense of self, everything was effortless. Then I just discovered there was no dishes to wash, no hair to cut. I didn’t do anything. A verb with no noun. Cutting, washing. I am now persuaded that the key to awareness is attention. To WHAT one pays attention to matters little, whether it’s sweeping, a mantra, a prayer, counting the breath, or a yoga pose. Conversely, it appears that these states are so elusive because we are continously distracted. I still struggle reconciling the irony that becoming so focused on one thing can make one dissipate from everything else, yet seem connected to everything else. Maybe there is no else, just everything.