The First Lesson of Zen


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.

Most_a445c2_2802216Enter 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.


mealDoes anyone know the maximum number of calories you can eat in one sitting? After biking 52 miles, I earned this.

It sometimes scares me how much food I require. When I worked in California the breakfast cafeteria was basically free. I used to stock my tray up so high that passerby would point and laugh. Our weekly grocery bill is a significant expense. Thank God we had daughters.

Update – I didn’t quite make it. Three quarters of the pasta and done. I’ll try again in an hour. It is my own personal Everest.

Couple of Pictures

italian-sausageThere’s a place down the street from my mother’s which, to me, encapsulates the Real Deal New Hampshire. The yard is littered with rusted cars and discarded machinery. Someday I’m going to paint this scene and call it “Sweet Italian Sausage.”

big-skyI’ve heard Montana referred to as Big Sky Country but New Hampshire rivaled it on this August afternoon.

abandonedNew Hampshire has a lot of land and not many people so you sometimes find abandoned homes like these in various states of disrepair. This one, like the others, had a rusted car nestled in the woods next to it surrounded by weeds.

harborWhen I drove back home I passed by the bay which was so beautiful I pulled over to take this shot.

moon-beachWhen I took the dog for a walk there were a bunch of people on the beach enjoying a (super)moon-lit swim.

Mount Washington

photo(2)My brother came to New Hampshire for his annual visit and this is his idea of relaxing. The man never stops moving. True story – when he visited me in California in 1999 I weighed in at 210 pounds (“All muscle!” I deluded myself into thinking). We then went hiking for a week in Montana and I lost 15 pounds.

Anyway, it was a great hike even though it was done almost entirely in the clouds. The views were rare but that’s fine. I love hiking for the sense of accomplishment when your legs are so sore you can barely walk. The feeling you get when you think “I did something today.”