Zero & Meditation
by Marcus Antebi
Article at a Glance:
You made it this far into another book on meditation/self realization/self improvement. Following is an advanced lesson.
Take all of what you feel that you’ve absorbed and pack it into a tight little ball, metaphorically speaking. Then do a meditation practice in which you bring that ball over the side of a cliff and throw it. Watch it explode against the rocks below.
Everything that you were learning might also turn out to be the distraction that prevents you from going deeper into your understanding. I’ve never read one book in my life on what the philosophies of Zen are. But I came to something on my own, and it is my interpretation of Zen and advanced practice.
But even this may be utter nonsense, so read it with caution and see if it fits. If there’s any value to it, throw it into a blender, mix it up with other stuff, drink it, and then get rid of it.
All of the philosophies that we build up in our head create rigid structures where there are opposites. We create certain dynamics that make us anxious and fearful. Many of these philosophies are incomplete, so we’re constantly searching or we’re confused.
Or perhaps not. Maybe you’d find yourself in rapture. Maybe you’d embrace many philosophical beliefs and all of the spiritual fetishes that are out there. Through embracing them and letting them in, you might find yourself in total bliss. If this is what works for you, then hold onto it. Maybe don’t even talk about it for fear of becoming distracted.
To me, the highest level of my perception is to take the position that my actions in this world should only be focused on actions that keep my body alive. I thought about it and said to myself, “Maybe that’s the wrong philosophy. Maybe I should just sit down somewhere in a cave and let myself dissolve away into the dirt.”
Then I decided that that wouldn’t make any sense. If that was the way I should become, then nature would have designed me with no defenses. Nature would have designed me to reach a certain point in my life where I just merge back into the atmosphere on my own. But it seems as though the right thing for me to do is foster things that promote health and growth.
I will remain attached to this philosophy and say that this will be the thing that sets me free. I will be ultimately my final and limiting attachment. I will not let anything seize me, drown me, maul me,or crush me. If anything comes to eat me I will put up a fight. If the creature doesn’t leave I will bash its skull with a rock and I will feel regretful. But I’ll do my meditation and I will forget. And I will still continue on to the end. If any virus or bacteria enters my body, my body is programmed to fight. This is the most peaceful approach for my survival and I don’t have to think about that too much.
Now that I’ve accepted that I intend to stay here on the planet with every ounce of energy I can muster, I have to figure out how to clear my head. I believe the most skillful way for me to live my life would be to practice mental stillness all the time in every thought and every action. I was designed to be mindful as an observer to everything that’s going on with this planet and it’s creatures.
I should calculate my moves in a way that is fluid, not rigid, so that the things that I do promote my survival. I shouldn’t be self-centered. I should be compassionate. If I have a piece of bread and there are others around me, I should try to split it until the very end. Perhaps the last piece of bread I had would keep my wife and children nourished. If I then had to perish, I should train my mind to give them the piece of bread and know that I have the strength to stay focused and die painfully from starvation.
This sounds very depressing. But I have something to combat that depression. It is the simple notion that I have the skill sets, luck and good fortune right now to not be in that situation. So I don’t have to think about it. I also know that in my skillful movements I will do what it takes to not put myself in that position. I will work towards making sure that I can provide for myself and my tribe.
My system of beliefs would not be elaborate structures. I would look only at the earth as that which I find to be divine. I would study nature for great lessons and metaphors and jokes. I would try to be friends to all creatures. If I stared at a grasshopper flip-flopping around, I would smile and say, “Man, what a life you have.” I would try to understand. But I wouldn’t get too involved.”
The practice really is only my mind until I’m back in unison with my body. At times I need to zero out my mind so that none of the philosophies I hold would unintentionally cause harm to me. They could intoxicate my body, bring me into fantasy, or cause me to become distracted and veer far away from what I believe will give me the most peace. I might need to zero out philosophy.
I’m not trying to understand the divine creator. Just by being in the present moment I feel that I am one with the divine creator and I shouldn’t even think about it. It could become a distraction.
Distractions from mental stillness can occur. They can keep me from plugging in to a conduit that brings me a sense of fulfillment and peace. There will always be meteor showers, volcanoes, hurricanes, rainstorms, people banging at my door, governments coming after me for taxes, and people imposing their will on me at every turn. But I must remain still.
In my mind the only time I can pick up a club to fight is if something is coming to attack me. I don’t subscribe to the idea that I cannot defend my life. I subscribe to the idea that I have to be planning slightly to keep myself in a position where I’m not needing to be defending my life. Maybe I have to remain hidden and stealth at times.
I believe that the animals that are the smartest creatures spend most of the time in hiding. They don’t want to be disturbed by anything. When it is time for them to hunt, they hunt with precision and then they go back to disappearing into their environment. But eventually that creature must be eaten or simply die. It’s not immortal. There are chances it takes every time it chooses a rock to hide under. It may choose the wrong rock and another creature might outsmart it. I must think about it sometimes. But not to the point of becoming obsessive and distracted from mental stillness.
Every time I find myself diving deeper into some type of philosophy I must pay attention to how that changes my ability to concentrate and achieve mental stillness. I need to ask how it affects my happiness. In order for me to find balance, I have to bring all my philosophies back to zero. The only thing that matters is the present moment and what’s around me. I am here to fulfill a simple purpose, which is to survive, thrive, and think.
Maybe I’m also here to fix something that’s broken. Maybe I’m here to help a beetle who’s falling on his back to roll over. Maybe I’m here to plant some trees so that the birds have branches to sit on, or maybe that’s too much interference. That’s the kind of thing I should be thinking about then if the circumstances around me change suddenly. I must be fluid.
I understand that everything that I see in this world is a product of cause and effect. Every question that we ask pertaining to why or how should always be approached in that way. At the same time the smartest person realizes that even that becomes a distraction. How much time we spend thinking about cause and effect is only valuable if it’s useful for solving an existential problem, such as where to get water or how to heal from past trauma. Make no mistake, my friends, you cannot hide in a monastery and expect that your problems will evaporate. You'll bring them with you no matter where you hide.
If things happen to me that affect my psychology, then the most Zen and intellectual process would be for me to work those things out using the most expedient methods. That entails recognizing that we all are products of cause and effect. It might not be feasible that you just become a Zen monk and find complete enlightenment with the snap of a finger. If you go too quickly at that, you might neglect repairing some of the potholes in the road of your life. Fixing the potholes will pave the path of the future as well. So it is important to create proper balance.
Maybe it’s OK for the Zen master to have a mobile phone. Maybe it’s OK for the Zen master to have a driver's license and use a car for transportation. Maybe it’s OK for the Zen master to have a favorite sweatshirt. Maybe it’s OK for the Zen master to have a favorite food. Maybe it’s important that in life we have some tiny little preferences that make us feel good.
Maybe being a Zen master is really just being a comedian and finding the humor in and making light of creation. There’s so much drama here on this planet. Being born is an ordeal and making it through to the very end entails strife and struggle. Certain things really are very scary. So maybe the balance is to joke about it. Make yourself laugh. Nothing is off limits. Life and death, religious beliefs, political doctrines—they’re all fair game for humor. Yet if you live in a society like the Roman empire, if you speak up against the emperor you’ll probably end up with your head on a spike.
But maybe you’re lucky to be born in a time when you’re allowed to be a dissident of some kind. Maybe the best approach is to be a standup comic and secretly live the life of a Zen monk. I find the smartest comedy to be the type that pokes fun at belief systems, the nature of reality, and all of the ridiculous things that human beings do to pursue happiness.
Seriousness feels rigid. When we create rigidity in our mind we are likely to be fearful. We are likely to have anxiety as other things try to shake our belief systems. So we have to be more fluid, like water.
A smart exercise is to write down ways in which you think you’re rigid. Work at it for as long as it takes to become aware of the mental structures that lead you to feeling anxious and uncomfortable. Simultaneously, really study your belief system. We are designed to have a belief system. So we put whatever we can in our belief system that rings true and feels right.
It has to feel as though our belief system will bring us safety and comfort. And a lot of people don’t really deeply question the belief systems they’re born into. If we are born into a system of government like democracy, we’ve got to question it. We should do so the same way that we would question things if we were born into a system such as communism, or into a system with a tyrant king or dictator. We live in the age of consumerism, which has become similar to a religion in the way that we deeply believe it and conduct our affairs in accordance with it. We structure our lives around making money to buy more things. Such consumption brings us comfort, but not always.
I want to make it perfectly clear that I’m not suggesting that if you practice any religion with deep faith and devotion that you are on the wrong path. If you believe in a particular God and all the teachings, embrace it and open up your mind to the intellectual practices that will bring you closer to an understanding of your God. Remember there are obstacles with the flesh that prevent us from truly knowing some of the highest qualities of the divine, particularly compassion and love. It’s important that if you have a deep faith in any religion that you recognize that one of the core values of all great religions is peace. It’s essential to not harm other creatures and not interfere with the proper balance of nature.
We cannot change others. We cannot force people to follow God. God creates. Human beings have free will, so they may seek God through observing creation or they may not. If you observe what’s going on in the body and in the material world, it’s apparent that God and the divine are in the here and now to a significant degree. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t something after this life that’s more paradoxical and closer to the divine. That’s not my argument. I don’t have an understanding of those things and I have no desire to get into the debate.
What I am talking about is zeroing out things that are not logical. I highly recommend meditation. I do not recommend that you give up your religion or your faith. I recommend that you use your faith and your religion, if you have one, as the vehicle to enlightenment. Some who have poorly-rooted religious beliefs have difficulty opening their minds. This is the case when they have embraced false information pertaining to their faiths. Such false information came from confused, violent, and power-hungry men and women who misrepresented God by disseminating incorrect beliefs or doctrines at various stages in history.
It’s important for religious individuals to examine their faiths and determine their points of actionable truths to live by. The primary way that they should do so is by consulting the original writings of the prophets and founders.
I believe that any man or woman who promotes, teaches, and lives by the concept of nonviolence is a saint. In my opinion, such a person is an enlightened prophet who should be a model for all human beings.
If I were in charge of the world I would make one mandate—that every person fight tooth and nail to become awake and conscious. I would make the first rule and I would have a problem enforcing the rule of non-violence and non-harm. It would be so difficult to keep things in check because so many people go wrong. I realize that I cannot be a ruler or a leader because if people go wrong I cannot get them in check. Some people might listen to reason but others won’t. Those who won’t only listen to gunfire, shouting, and screaming.
I won’t shoot, shout, or scream in my attempts to influence people.