Posts Tagged ‘zen meditation’


When I began practicing Sitting Zen, my best aid was an occasional temple bell. Its beautifully ringing sharpness and clarity created that same resonance within my mind, pulling away any stray thoughts with it as its tone gently faded.

The temple bell is also the best aid for my practice of Active Zen. That is, trying to bring that same quality of receptivity and non-judgment to all parts of my life, not just the quiet times. In particular, my practice of Driving Zen.

I don’t have a terribly long commute in the morning, but it is 30-45 minutes of generally heavy, somewhat dangerous traffic. While I try to focus my mind within the Zen state upon awakening, it’s during this drive that I most dedicate myself to this practice. I have a whole day of many, many issues to tackle, so it’s important to center my awareness.

My practice of Driving Zen involves trying to be aware of all of the cars around me: ahead, behind, and to the sides. I also focus on being aware of the sky, the trees, and other landmarks that I pass. If anything has changed about the environment, I try to be aware of it, and welcome it into the otherwise familiar space. I also stay mindful of how I am feeling, without allowing those feelings power to control my thoughts. Through all this, I focus on retaining a joyful receptivity, taking it all in without judgment or hangups.

This can be pretty difficult some days, and not just because Rush Hour on the Florida Turnpike is a Master Teacher. I’ll have interesting dreams I remember snippets of, memories from the day before, or even problems to resolve at work that try to pop into that space I’ve cleared and demand attention. Often, they’ll get some of that attention for a little while, until I remember to return to my practice.

At those times, I let my mind ring with the sound of the temple bell. I let the clarity wash through me, and allow the sounds to gently fade from my mind.

Refreshed, I turn my awareness back to the road I travel, joyfully receptive to all it may bring.


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I remember hearing that the purpose of the bell in meditation is for the ringing sound to catch the attention. The ears then follow the sound as it fades, leaving only awareness without an object to be aware of.

So when I hear a singing bowl or temple bell or other such sound, I find myself coming to focused attention, taking in the ringing. I allow that attention to follow the sound as it fades away, keeping my awareness open.

Here is a real haiku (not my mimicky ones) that made me think of this:

As the temple bell fades,
The ringing lingers in the blossom scent.


kane kiete hana no ka wa tsuku yuube kana

– Matsuo Bashō

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I’ve got this quote on my desk from Michel de Montaigne, one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance through the mid/late 1500’s. His writing style merged very serious ideas in with casual stories about himself and his thoughts, which many at the time considered strange and self-indulgent. Personally, I think he’s got some really great ways of showing a zenlike life, shared in a very personal and accessible way.

Here’s the quote:

When I dance, I dance; when I sleep, I sleep; yes, and when I walk alone in a beautiful orchard, if my thoughts drift to far-off matters for some part of the time for some other part I lead them back again to the walk, the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitude, to myself.

– Michel de Montaigne

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Today I’m finding myself at a lower ebb of energy, and struggling more for focus than I normally need to. It doesn’t help that there’s a half-dozen things clamoring for my attention at once, but I can only work on one thing at a time.

So I’m falling back one of the old Zen meditation techniques — place all my focus into one thing, and let all the rest just fall away to wait their turn for my focus. By focusing on just the one thing to the exclusion of all else, I can see it more clearly and without distraction, and have the energy and perspective needed to really work with it. Otherwise, the chaotic noise will just keep me from moving forward on anything.

Granted, a followup step in Zen meditation would be to fully absorb my perceptions into this thing and then to dissolve it entirely so my focus was nowhere in particular, but that wouldn’t get the work done. Perhaps I can do that when it’s time to rest tonight, and see about letting all the stress and expectations take a nap so I can, too!

Then, when we’re all rested, we can work together to get things where they need to be.

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