When walking, walk. When eating, eat. – Zen Proverb.
Post written by Nicolás Zuasti.
A couple of weeks ago I got in my hands this amazing book – Everyday Zen: Love and Work, by Charlotte Joko Beck. I have to say it has been a life changer.
I’ve meditated for a long time now, but after applying what I’ve learned from the book I really understood the idea behind sitting, and why we must practice, not only by sitting but constantly during the day.
What is practice for me at the moment? It’s just being mindful about my own thoughts, cataloging them and learning about my thought patterns. Sounds easy, right? It really isn’t. Most of the time I’m still lost in thoughts and it takes me a while to realize it, as soon as I do I label my current thought and slowly let it go.
Why I started meditating?
I started reading about meditation because I just could not focus, no matter what I was doing my mind was always somewhere else. I noticed this while trying to solve a really hard algorithm at work, you really can’t produce good software solutions while thinking about 10 different things at once.
I was so stressed because I thought I wasn’t going to deliver the solution in time that I failed to see that it was a vicious cycle. Trying to focus on solving the problem made me think about what would happen when the time run out and that just make it worst. It was a nightmare, and a contagious one, it moved from work to my personal life in no time.
I became a rather dark person, angry, depressed, verbally violent (I never say a bad word, but I have started to). Insomnia was starting to appear once again. The worst part was that the harder I tried to fix the situation the more stressed I became, only making everything worse.
One sitting changed everything
Meditation is important, but what’s more important is the shift that occurs inside yourself as you begin doing it. I became aware that I wasn’t in control of my thoughts, and that they just appeared at random no matter what I was doing.
My first day I sat for probably the longest 20 minutes of my life. The first minute was great, but then my mind started thinking so fast and about so many things at once that it was breathtaking. To be honest, the only thing I did with the rest of the time was just trying to understand what my mind was telling me, with little to no success at all.
That sitting changed my life. At first I didn’t notice it, but I became more aware of my thoughts, and my focus got a lot stronger, it was like a veil was lifted from my eyes, suddenly colors where brighter, and for the first time in my life I listened (and understood) the lyrics from the songs I liked.
Two days after that sitting I delivered my solution with 48 hours to spend.
Meditating everyday, and how I do it
Not even thinking it twice I made a rule to myself to meditate everyday, for as long as I could. That varied from 2 minutes to 30. The time amount didn’t matter, the goal was to sit, even on weekends.
Since I was new to this Zen world I did what I do best, study about it. I devoured every book I could, read every post in the web, etc. But the more I read the more disoriented I became, most of the books and articles spoke about the benefits of meditation, but they missed what was important to me… how one does meditate?.
When I’m not sure about how to approach something new I take the old trail and error path. So I read about focusing on my breath, but then I got misguided into controlling my breathing, spending most of my meditation just doing that, you can’t clear your mind while thinking about your breathing. Then I read about reverse counting from 10 to 0 while noticing my breath and pushing other thoughts once they came.
That last approach brought lots of good things for me. It’s a pretty good practice for focus increment and stress release. Probably did that for at least 2 years. This helped me simplify my life, to take things slow and enjoy them, to focus at work and just do the things I was supposed to be doing. It was great… but I took it as a battle of wills. My new self against my mind 24/7, and I was loosing.
Then I read Everyday Zen: Love and Work and my focus shifted once more. What I do know is to observe and catalog my thoughts, never fighting them, just noticing how false they are and how wonderful life is when you take it by what it is, without my own additives. Wonderful does not mean life it easy, and this new way to meditate and live is harder than anything I’ve done before.
I’m just beginning to know myself, and I don’t really like most of what I’m learning. This have been a true lesson, and I’m just beginning to learn what it is to be honest with myself.
Zen in my workouts
I workout for about 4 hours per day. That’s a pretty large amount of time, and it tends to get repetitive. What does your mind do when you are doing the same thing over and over. It begins to wonder around, and before you notice you forget what were you doing, for how long, or even why.
I started loosing track of my exercises. When doing long sets (over 100 repetitions) counting became troublesome, I tried dividing the count in parts of 50, but then I wasn’t sure how many time I’ve done it already. My answer to this was to slowly start to join mindfulness to my workouts. Started by being really conscious about the changes of my breathing (this is particularly good to check your performance), then I took notice about my thinking during sets, as soon as I started thinking randomly I would label the thought and keep counting. This is really hard to do, since your mind keeps working no matter how much practice you’ve got.
I started using the breathing and focusing techniques learned from The Naked Warrior and got a big boost in both power and endurance.
The most important thing I’ve learned about using Zazen with your workouts is that you learn to find when it’s your mind that tells you to stop or when it’s your own body.
To give you a simple example about the benefits of mindfulness during workouts I’ll just add that by using this I’ve increased my plank time from 3 minutes to 6 minutes and a half in a little less than a month.