When I first set out to try Zen meditation I had a hard time finding a good place to do it. All the rooms in our house fell short. None were as calm and peaceful as the garden above. I wished I had some kind of dedicated meditation room like the Dalai Lama has. Eventually I settled on our home’s second bedroom.
As I sat down problem number two became apparent. Sitting for a long time was uncomfortable, I needed a cushion. Also a timer to let me know when I was done. But I needed a timer that wouldn’t make a tick-tock sound because that would be distracting. Once I got the cushion and the timer, I was set to give it another go.
Problem number three – after a couple minutes of sitting in silence I realized how noisy it was in the afternoon in our second bedroom. That was a tough one to solve, we lived in a busy town and this was the quietest room in the house. Maybe I could do it in the early morning or at night? Then there wouldn’t be so much street noise. How much easier this would be if I were in the mountains in Tibet, I thought. But I soldiered on.
Problem number four – this is boring. So very boring. And I have a lot to do today. Many more things than some celibate monk staring at candles and chanting. I bet his schedule is jam-packed with prayers and banging bells. Me, I’ve got people to meet and it’s a beautiful day outside. I’m hungry. Maybe I’ll give this another shot after I’ve had a snack. No, no, I’ll keep going to get this over with. Stupid Zen.
Enter the cats. I wasn’t even halfway in on the planned ten minute session when our two cats were crawling all over me, purring and wanting attention. “Get off of me!” my brain screamed, “Can’t you see I’m trying to meditate!!” I bet the Buddha didn’t have to deal with his wife’s cats like I did.
I tried again despite the cats and noise. The phone. You have got to be kidding me. The phone rings now. I should go down there with a hammer and smash it to pieces. Forget it, this sucks.
Eventually I gave up. “How the hell is anyone supposed to find peace with all these goddamned distractions?” I thought, “Where can I go to be free of all them?” Sure, meditation is no problem when you are a monk holed up in a temple in the mountains in the middle of nowhere but what about the rest of us?
That’s when I realized my error. Zen isn’t about finding the perfect external setting for peace to wash over you like a wave. Zen is achieving a state of peace regardless of where you are. It’s not about the external at all, it’s all internal. Thinking one needs a perfect setup before practicing Zen is just a form of procrastination.
You don’t need a cushion. You don’t need a set amount of time. Zen is when your cats are crawling all over you and it doesn’t even phase you. You can do it any room. Just stop what you are doing and breathe. Count your breaths to ten and then repeat the cycle. Stop thinking and breathe. This, for me, was the first lesson of Zen.