All of us come to Zen for our own reasons. Though on the outside our reasons may seem different, we all have some form of suffering we looking to release. When I could no longer blame others for the anger and depression I was carrying, I found Zen. Some may come to the practice in order to develop a skill to deal with stress, which is getting in the way at work. Others may want to control their mind due to the unpleasant thoughts they are experiencing. There are many reasons.
Whatever the reasons, the gut reaction of the ego is to escape from suffering. To the ego, Zen or the practice of mindfulness seems like an excellent method for this escape. Looking at the story of the Buddha we see this promise. The Buddha left his family, his royalty, the protection of the palace life and the luxuries it provided. Sometimes the desire for escape can manifest in a desire to control. We can look at the Zen story of the Ten Ox Herding Pictures. The little boy looks for the ox only in hopes to tame it, to control it, and this appears to be what he does. But what is really going on in these stories? To answer this we must see what the Ox or the Buddha really is.
Normally when we think of an escape from suffering, we think of a serene way of experiencing life. From the outside it may seem this is what Zen or Buddhism is promising. Look at the statue of the Buddha. He is very calm and serene. But Zen isn't always a serene practice. Sometimes zazen can be pretty challenging and frustrating. I think it would be cool to have a double sided Buddha Statue. On one side a be nice and calm Buddha and the other side would show maybe some sweating or maybe the Buddha pulling out his hair. This would more accurately represent real practice. I say this because to many times I talk to people explaining how discontent they are with the non-blissful states of zazen. One person said to me, "Once in awhile I have a Zen moment, but they are few and far between." This just isn't a true understanding of Zen. This perspective is no different than the one he had before he came to the practice. Actually the training of Zen is to work with that perspective directly. We must let go of what we are wanting to happen, what we are wanting to see and just see what's happening. So I ask you, when do Zen moments happen? To answer this we must discover what Zen is really about. We must arrive to the heart of the Buddha.
I am not saying here that there is no freedom from suffering. I am saying that all to often the negative states are confused as suffering. So naturally we try to escape these negative aspects of life. The truth is we also suffer from the positive states of mind. Suffering is very powerful yet subtle. In fact, here comes the let down, in order to understand how suffering actually happens we must get very close to the negative as well as the positive states of mind.
A friend told once, "I haven't been coming to practice lately because I have been really depressed." "Be more depressed," I said. " Be so depressed that you don't even know you are! Be one with depression!" These days we talk a lot about stress and depression. This focus is actually a simultaneous resistance and attachment. When we are stressed out about something there is another part of us that naturally doesn't want to be stressed. This type of focus on stress becomes an obsession. The obsession sustains the stress. In order to be relieved of these heavy emotions we must merge with what ever it is we are stressed out about. This way we stay with the flow of what is happening and we stay engaged with the present.
Shit happens! How profound.