The Process & The Path Podcast Episode 1

A couple days ago I started a Podcast and I just posted Episode 1! I’m excited to share this with you all and I really hope you like it!

https://anchor.fm/duanetoops/embed/episodes/1—Lets-Talk-About-Discipline-e2vpjp/a-a92pth

Here’s the show notes:

Welcome to Episode #1 of this Podcast. Thanks so much for joining me! In this episode I try to talk about discipline, especially what may be the parallel relationship between discipline, practice, liberation, and awakening. In the course of the conversation I reference Jocko Willink, Hanshan, Dogen, Xuyun, and the Shawshank Redemption…if that’s not an interesting combination I just don’t know what is. Enjoy!
Here’s link to the video: https://youtu.be/uHAkNjdgF74
Below you’ll find links to all the books and content I referenced in the video, as well as all the gear I use to make videos and podcasts. These are amazon affiliate links, using these links to purchase any of these items is an easy way to support the channel. Thanks so much!
Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink – https://amzn.to/2Rip2Nr
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin – https://amzn.to/2RlwmrJ
Pure Land of the Patriarchs Zen Master Han-Shan of Pure Land Buddhism – https://amzn.to/2BGDOnA
A Buddhist Leader in Ming China: The Life and Thought of Han-shan Te’Ching – https://amzn.to/2SoC7lV
A Pictorial Biography of the Venerable Master Hsu Yun – https://amzn.to/2Spoz9t
The Essential Dogen – https://amzn.to/2RlZ5Nc
The Shawshank Redemption – https://amzn.to/2VbX2ds
Gear I use:
Nikon D5300 – https://amzn.to/2s6zF89
Nikon 18-135mm Lens – https://amzn.to/2BMShhx
K&F Variable Neutral Density Filter – https://amzn.to/2Sm93Lz
Amazon Basics 50inch Tripod – https://amzn.to/2StDwrr
Boya BY-M1 Lav Mic – https://amzn.to/2rWHbC7
Blue Snowball USB Mic – https://amzn.to/2BLvyCL
ESDDI Softbox lighting kit – https://amzn.to/2Sj1uFz
ASUS ROG G751J Laptop – https://amzn.to/2Solarw
Thanks again for being here. Please consider subscribing if you haven’t already, and feel free to leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.
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The Critics Remind Me Why I Do This

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There’s a line close to the beginning of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Fellowship of the Ring that reads; “It’s a dangerous business…going out your door”. I think that probably goes double for stepping outside of your virtual doorway. The internet is a treacherous terrain. For all its benefits and advantages, it is a fickle mistress. There can be a darker, more malevolent, side to the World Wide Web, a seedy underbelly if you will. Anyone who has ever posted anything knows that every tweet, every update, every comment, picture, video, etc., places one in a precarious position of vulnerability. It opens us up to danger, that is, it opens us up to a litany of responses and replies, not all which are positive or uplifting.

Yet, in a way I think all feedback is helpful, even the negative comments. I think we can learn something from everyone and everybody, even from the critics, the trolls, the detractors, and the haters. Sometimes we just have to look a little more deeply.

I posted a video on my YouTube channel called “A Disciplined Liberation“. One of the comments I received on social media suggested that I what I was proposing in that video was way off-base, totally wrong, and that I should start taking a much closer look at myself. That’s the condensed version anyway.

Look, I’d be completely full of shit if I said that I’m never bothered by negatively critical comments and remarks. Most of the time they serve as excellent reminders of just how unenlightened I can be. But, a strange as it may seem, I wasn’t really bothered in this particular case.

Actually, I it reminded me why I started doing this to begin with – as a way of documenting and sharing this process of self-reflection, self-examination, self exploration, that is, as a way to genuinely take a closer look at myself.

I’m someone relatively new to Buddhism, Zen, and formal meditation practice. My aim here is to ‘learn out loud’ and to report the entirety of this undertaking. These videos are glorified journal entries, recording what I’m learning, thinking, pondering, and experiencing as I’m learning it, thinking it, pondering it, and experiencing it. With that being said I am certainly not an expert on these subjects or any other subject for that matter. As Socrates said, the only thing I know, is that I know nothing.

I think this is why two of the most frequently used words and/or phrases that appear in my writing and my videos are “Maybe” and “Perhaps”. These two words represent what is pivotal to me. “Maybe” represents the mysterious magnificence of possibility. “Perhaps” points toward the latent power present within potentiality. Together they are the authentic exploration of a questioning curiosity. David Dark writes that “redemption…begins with the insertion of a question mark beside whatever feels final and absolute and beyond questioning”. He say that this “gives our souls a bit of elbow room, a space in which to breathe again, as if for the first time”. I prefer the open-endedness of a question rather than the fixity of an exclamation.

I’ll be the first to admit that, ultimately, I don’t know, and I’m ok with the ‘not-knowing’. I’m simply in the process…

Discipline Doesn’t Have to be a Dirty Word

In this video, I revisit the topic and subject matter from my previous video “A Disciplined Liberation”. In the aftermath of posting that video I had a lot of really interesting conversations about ‘discipline’ and ‘practice’. It made me realize that I didn’t do a very good job of communicating as clearly as I would have liked but, I also realized that I had more to think about and explore, and thus there’s more to say and talk about. I think discipline gets a bad rap, especially in conjunction with Buddhism and meditation. Sometimes it seems like its treated like a dirty word. But, it doesn’t have to be. That’s what I want to try to talk about here. I’m excited to see where the conversation goes. Enjoy!

Below you’ll find links to all the books and content I referenced in the video, as well as all the gear I use to make the videos. These are amazon affiliate links, using these links to purchase any of these items is an easy way to support the channel. Thanks so much!

Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink – https://amzn.to/2Rip2Nr
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin – https://amzn.to/2RlwmrJ
Pure Land of the Patriarchs Zen Master Han-Shan of Pure Land Buddhism – https://amzn.to/2BGDOnA
A Buddhist Leader in Ming China: The Life and Thought of Han-shan Te’Ching – https://amzn.to/2SoC7lV

Gear I use:
Nikon D5300 – https://amzn.to/2s6zF89
Nikon 18-135mm Lens – https://amzn.to/2BMShhx
K&F Variable Neutral Density Filter – https://amzn.to/2Sm93Lz
Amazon Basics 50inch Tripod – https://amzn.to/2StDwrr
Boya BY-M1 Lav Mic – https://amzn.to/2rWHbC7
Blue Snowball USB Mic – https://amzn.to/2BLvyCL
ESDDI Softbox lighting kit – https://amzn.to/2Sj1uFz
ASUS ROG G751J Laptop – https://amzn.to/2Solarw

Books Read 2018

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Alright, I’m going to let my nerd flag fly right out the gate. I’m an avid reader. I read a lot, I mean A LOT. That fact, in and of itself, may not sound particularly nerdy but, wait there’s more. Every year I set a reading goal, and throughout the year I track and catalog my reading. That means not only do I keep a running tally of the books I’ve read but, I also save and categorize all my highlights and notes. Yeah…its that bad…in fact, this may very well be a cry for help.
My goal for 2018 was to read 45 books. Unfortunately, I fell miserably short. I read 27 but, I encountered some really great books in the attempt and I thought I’d share them. Here’s my 2018 reading list (I provided amazon links where available).
1. Buddhism: Beginner’s Guide – Ian Tuhovsky – Kindle – Nonfiction
2. Buddhism: Beginner’s Guide – Linda Hannis – Kindle – Nonfiction
3. Beyond Happiness – Ezra Bayda – Audio – Nonfiction
4.  The Dhammapada – Kindle – Nonfiction
5. The Practicing Mind – Thomas Sterner – Audio – Nonfiction.
6. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn – Kindle – Nonfiction
7. Against Happiness – Eric G. Wilson – Print – Nonfiction
8. Mindfulness for Beginners – Jon Kabat Zinn – Audio – Nonfiction
9. What the Buddha Taught – Walpole Rahula – Print – Nonfiction
10. Why Buddhism is True – Robert Wright – Kindle – Nonfiction
11. The Way of the Bodhisattva– Shantideva- Kindle – Nonfiction
12. The Zen Experience – Thomas Hoover – Kindle – Nonfiction
13. Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics – Dan Harris – Kindle- Nonfiction
14. The Bodhisattva’s Brain – Owen Flanagan – ebook – Nonfiction
15.  What is Zen? – Norman Fischer – Kindle – Nonfiction
16. The Essential Dogen – Kazuaki Tanahashi – Kindle – Nonfiction
17. Don’t Be a Jerk – Brad Warner – Kindle – Nonfiction
18. Buddhism: A Concise Introduction – Huston Smith and Philip Novak – Kindle – Nonfiction
19.Manage Your Day-to-day– Kindle – Nonfiction
20.The Three Pillars of Zen – Philip Kapleau – Kindle – Nonfiction
21.Buddhism Without Beliefs – Stephen Batchelor – Kindle – Nonfiction
22.Discipline Equals Freedom – Jocko Willink – Print – Nonfiction
23.The War of Art – Steven Pressfield – Print – Nonfiction
24.True Refuge – Tara Brach – Kindle – Nonfiction
25.Extreme Ownership – Jocko Willink and Leif Babin – Print – Nonfiction
26.The Heart Sutra – Red Pine – Kindle – Nonfiction.
27.The Miracle of Mindfulness – Thich Nhat Hanh – Kindle – Nonfiction.
What books really made an impact on you in 2018? And, are there any books you’re looking forward to reading in 2019?

I didn’t realize ‘Discipline’ was so polarizing

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About five days ago I posted a video on my YouTube Channel called “A Disciplined Liberation“. (I’ll embed the video below as well, You’re welcome, lol.)
Obviously, the primary subject matter of the video was the idea of ‘discipline’, especially as it relates to Zen practice, meditation, and the concepts of freedom, realization, awakening, and liberation. I’m going to cut myself short here, otherwise I’ll just end up rambling a re-recitation of the whole video, and come on, none of us have time for that shit.

In all honesty, as selfish and narcissistic as this may sound, when I create content, I create it for myself, first and foremost. It’s about what I’m curious about, what I’ve been thinking about, what I’ve been reading, what I’ve been pondering and stewing on, what I’ve been fixated on and, more than likely, what I’m obsessing about. In other words, when I’m writing, filming, and creating I’m not giving a lot of thought to how you all are going to receive it or how you’re going to react and respond to it. (Hopefully that doesn’t make me sound like a complete asshole). Don’t get me wrong, I hope you guys like what I make, I hope you’ll enjoy it, and find value in it, and I make every effort to give you my best but, ultimately that’s not exactly my primary concern when I’m in the thick of the creating process.

Long story short, when I put out this video about ‘discipline’ I just didn’t know or realize how polarizing the topic would be to those that watched it. In the comments that followed across several different social media platforms, it became clear that most people seemed to fall on one of two sides of the subject; there are those that emphasize and relish the ‘strictness’ of disciplined practice and those that see ‘discipline’ as stifling to practice, as antithetical to the meditative pursuit, and as contrary to the Buddhist process.

If you watched the video, you know where I fall on the spectrum, at least where I fall at the moment. But, that’s not to say that those who disagreed with me didn’t have very valid and well thought out points to counter those that I presented in the video. And that’s what I love most about making videos and releasing content, the push-back, the counter-arguments that I didn’t see coming or didn’t anticipate. Often, its these kinds of engagements where the real learning occurs for me. It helps me to see the topic in a different way, from a different perspective, and in a different light. Sometimes it just highlights where I went wrong, where I was unclear, or where I didn’t communicate as effectively or as efficiently as I could or should have.

In the case of this video, I jumped straight into explaining the importance of discipline without ever taking the time to explain what I meant by ‘discipline’, that is, I never clearly defined how I define discipline. I think that maybe that would have made a difference. So I think I’m going to spend some more time thinking about the subject and maybe follow up with another video. What do you think?

I think I finally figured out how to blog

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I’ve had this blog for nine years now…nine…fucking…years…wow! And, in all that time I think I’ve had absolutely no clue what to do with it.
This blog has largely been a dumping ground, a digital vomit bucket. At first it was little more than a place to throw random thoughts. Then it became site of random experimentation. None of which, done consistently, effectively, or efficiently. I dabbled in poetry, photography, sketching, etc (all of which you can still find here if you look back far enough). For a while my postings were almost entirely comprised of excerpts from academic papers I’ve written throughout my undergraduate and graduate programs. Most recently its been a place to the transcripts for my YouTube videos. However, even those have found a new home.
All of which has left me with the question of what the fuck to do with this blog?
Today, I think it finally hit me. I started my YouTube channel as a means of creating something more informal and conversational than what I do in my academic writing. It was a way to authentically explore my curiosity. It’s especially been beneficial as a means of documenting my journey into Buddhism, Zen, and meditation practice. But, as I continue to write and create videos, the content has become more polished and produced. Don’t get me wrong I don’t think that’s a bad. I want to get better. I want to continue to learn and grow. I want to offer quality content. But, I also want to maintain a high level of honesty, authenticity, and vulnerability. I want to be able to offer something raw and still rough around the edges, instead of only offering an idealized version of myself. It’s so easy to edit out all the fuck-ups that go into creating content. It’s so easy to only show the finished product. But, I want to show more than that. I want you to see more than that.
That’s where this blog comes in. Although, I’m not completely sure what that entails…
I think there’s a few things I want to start doing here. I want to share what goes on behind the scenes when I’m writing, when I’m filming, when I’m creating. I want to share the process of creating with you.
I want to share what I’m reading about, what I’m thinking about, what I’m watching, and what I’m listening to. Yes, to some extent I do that on my YouTube channel. I can’t tell you how many video start with me saying that “I just read such and such book, such and such blog, such and such article,” or that “I just listened to such and such podcast”. But, what you’re seeing in those videos is the end result of weeks of reading, pondering, thinking, researching, and writing. I want to share that process with you too.
My New Year’s Resolution to you, my New Year’s promise to you is to make every attempt possible to weekly share some kind of documentary glimpse into this process.
I don’t know how this is going to work out. I don’t know if it even will but, we’ll figure it out together. I hope you’ll come along for that ride.

Open Your Eyes…

If you’ve been watching any of my videos you know that I’ve been meditating for quite some time, and over the past several months I’ve been studying Zen, and trying to go deeper into Zen practice. But, here lately, I’ve been having a really hard time, I’ve been specifically struggling with my meditation practice. So let’s talk about it right, come on, lets go.
 
Now, Zen meditation, or zazen, shares a lot of commonalities with other forms of meditation, like mindfulness meditation or vipassana, but, there’s also some notable differences. One of those small differences is kind of the source of my current meditation struggles.
 
I know how petty and insignificant this going to sound but, one of the things that I’m having a really hard time with in my zazen practice is that in zazen your instructed to keep you eyes open during meditation. See Brad Warner explains that “unlike most other forms of meditation, [in zazen] we keep our eyes open. This is a way of acknowledging the outside world as part of our practice and as a part of us.” Warner goes on to say that “By opening our eyes, we are letting in that light that…we should shine inward. So although we are shining our light inward, we also accept that there is no hard line that divides ourselves from the outside world, or the rest of the universe.”
 
I love the idea behind keeping your eyes open during zazen, during meditation. I love the idea of acknowledging the entirety of the world and the entirety of everything within the present moment as part of my practice, and that’s exactly why I want to do it but, the simple fact of the matter is that its been really difficult to do.
 
So since I’ve adopted this eye’s open method of zazen, I feel like I’m getting more lost in thought and more distracted than usual. I especially find myself getting caught-up in ‘planning’ more than anything else, plans for the day, planning everything on my to-do list, plans for the future, planning, planning, planning. It kind of feels like its not working.
 
Alright, I know this seems silly, and it probably seems like I’m making a mountain out of a meditative mole mill, and well, maybe you’re right. I mean you’re probably saying to yourself “if its not working, just let it go, why keeping trying to make it work?” I’ve been thinking the same thing in all honesty, that is until I heard something that made me realize that maybe its so difficult, and maybe it feels like its not working precisely because it is working.
 
Let me try to explain. I was watching a video of a talk by a Zen teacher named David Peters. Towards the end of that talk Peters said something that made it all make sense to me. Peters was beginning to give instructions for Zen meditation and said that “eyes remain open, we’re not trying to go any place different, we’re trying to stay in our body in this room”. When he said “eyes remain open” because “we’re not trying to go any place different”, that’s when it hit and the light bulb came on. I had been feeling like I had hit a wall  in my practice but once I heard – I began to see that this wall wasn’t something new, it didn’t just pop up, it didn’t just appear out of no where, its a wall that had actually been there the whole time. I just couldn’t see it, at least until I opened my eyes.
 
Jon Kabat Zinn writes that “You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness” found in meditation. Up to this point in my meditation practice I had unknowingly succumb to this temptation of tranquil peace and stillness. With my eyes closed I had found a way to block out and avoid the messiness of my daily life, I had unconsciously found a way to escape from the reality of the present moment, the reality of where I am at this moment. I think with my eyes closed I had managed to keep the world at bay but, when I opened my eyes, the floods gates opened, everything came rushing in, and my mind started getting so caught-up in the plans for another time and and another place because it wanted desperately to be some place different, it wanted to be anywhere other then right here, right now.
 
Jon Kabat Zinn goes on to say that “Mindful sitting meditation is not an attempt to escape from problems or difficulties into some cut-off ‘meditative’ state of absorption or denial.” Similarly, Thich Nhat Hanh says that “Meditation is not a drug to make us oblivious to our real problems”. It’s not intended to be an escape, or a sedative. “On the contrary,” Jon Kabat Zinn explains that meditation “is a willingness to go nose to nose with pain, confusion, and loss, if that is what is dominating the present moment” It’s an attempt to be fully awake to the reality of whatever is going on around and inside us here and now. Being present, being fully present, means being fully present to ‘what is’ -sometimes ‘what is’ sucks and that means being fully present even and especially when it sucks.
 
You’re never going to get anywhere by trying to get away from it.
 
I think most of us would have to admit that we spend most of our time trying to get somewhere else, wanting to be some place else, unintentionally and sometimes intentionally closing our eyes to where we are. Thich Nhat Hanh says that when we do this “we postpone being alive to the future” and as a result, he says that not only are we “not capable of being alive in the present moment,” we may “never be truly alive in our entire life”. But, as Thich Nhat Hanh stresses “the only moment to be alive is the present moment.”
 
I’d love to tell you since I had this realization that my practice and my attitude has dramatically improved, and that I’m out of the woods of this rough patch. But, that just wouldn’t be true. I’m still getting pretty distracted. I’m still getting pretty lost in thought, and I’m still getting caught-up in ‘planning’. When these distractions of thought and planning occur most meditation practices instruct you to come back to the breath, to come back to breathing. We practice this conscious breathing because, as Thich Nhat Hanh explains, it helps to make us “aware of each thought and each act,” and “we are reborn, fully alive, in the present moment.”  And so, that’s what I try to do. I try to come back to the breath again and again. But, sometimes I’m pretty hard on myself when I have to keep coming back to the breath. A lot of the time, I come back with shame, I come back with guilt, I come back with so much judgement. But, someone told me recently, that the moment you come back to the breath is actually the most sacred moment. I don’t know about you but, I really needed to hear that.
 
It reminded me that coming back needn’t be laced with shame, guilt, judgement, and negativity. Coming back to the present is a beautiful simplicity. I’m trying to come back with more kindness and care. Thich Nhat Hanh says that “Our true home is in the present moment”. So, I’m trying to think of coming back to the breath as a kind of home coming, as a welcoming back.
 
There’s nothing wrong with getting distracted. There’s nothing wrong with getting lost. Because the moment you realize you’ve lost you way is the sacred moment that you get to come back home You just have to open your eyes to see it.

I Don’t Know…

So I fucked up, and I don’t know what to do…So lets talk about it right now, come on let’s go.

So last week I posted a video called “Think Like a Beginner“. In that I tried to talk a little bit about this Zen Buddhist idea called Beginner’s Mind. Well, shortly after I posted that video I realized I screwed up.

Somehow, someway, a pretty important section of last week’s video ended up on the cutting room floor. Well technically that’s not accurate, It wasn’t really ‘edited out’ because I didn’t even put in to begin with. Here’s footage I missed:

In Japanese Zen there’s something called Shoshin or ‘Beginner’s Mind’‘. In essence, Beginner’s Mind is an attitude, it’s a way to approach things. It’s an attitude of open eagerness. It’s an approach of wonder and curiosity. It’s an attitude free of preconceived notions. It’s when we approach a subject or a task just like a beginner would – when everything is new, vibrant, and exciting.

Suzuki Roshi wrote a book about Beginner’s Mind, called Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. He says that “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” It’s not the beginner that’s limited, it’s the expert, and that’s really interesting.
Now, not including this segment is a pretty big fuck up, I totally missed it, I totally dropped the ball. I actually excluded the segment of me explaining the primary subject matter of last week’s video. So what do I do now? I don’t know…

On one hand I got pretty lucky, the video still maintained a good flow, it still conveyed a story, and it still made sense, and it still managed to make the point I was trying to get at. But, it still bothers me and I just don’t know what to do about it, I don’t know what the proper response is. Do I pull the video down, put in the section of video I missed, and re-upload it? Or, do I just sweep the whole incident under the rug, pretend like nothing happened, pretend everything was intentional, with no one the wiser? I don’t know…

From the beginning I said this channel is all about learning out loud and documenting the process. In some ways you could say that this idea behind Beginner’s Mind is integral to this channel. If I’m going to be committed to those primary goals, if I’m going to be committed to being a beginner, then that means all the mistakes, mishaps, failures, and shortcomings have to be included, they have to be documented and displayed as part of the process of learning out loud. In that regard, neither of the two responses: ‘denying’ the mistake or ‘fixing’ the mistake, seems to be truly in keeping with the goals of my channel. They both hide the mistake. They both make me look like I know the answer, they make it look like I know how to figure it out, they both make it look like I know what I’m doing. These are the limiting options of the ‘expert’s mind’. Neither honestly recognizes the fact that I just don’t know…

I think we feel this constant pressure towards knowing, this imperative to know. We’re obsessively attached to idea of knowing. It seems that the world is screaming that we’re supposed to know. A lot of the time we’ve even deluded ourselves into thinking that we do know. But, most of the time, if we’re really honest with ourselves we don’t know.

T.K. Coleman  writes that ‘Knowing” can often be “a symptom that you’re too comfortable with the familiar, that you’ve organized your life around routines and relationships that don’t challenge you anymore. And if that’s the case, perhaps you’re better off seeking a situation where you don’t know what to do.” Coleman says that “Being a person of vision isn’t about having a clear set of guidelines and guarantees for every important scenario. It’s about being committed to your principles even if you’re unsure about where that leads or even if you’re unclear about how to make the proper adjustments. Sometimes you get the luxury of finding an answer, but not always. Sometimes you have to step up and create your own road map. The most rewarding decisions often come with a responsibility to improvise.”

There’s an idea in Korean Zen that’s very similar to the Japanese Zen idea of Beginner’s mind. It’s called Don’t Know Mind – how appropriate. Don’t Know mind is the radical Zen practice of openly admitting and embracing the fact that we don’t know. This adamant admission of not-knowing is not a shameful confession of a failure or a shortcoming. Instead, its a violent act of honesty and humility that liberates from the suffocating constraints of the experts mind, and the limitations of having to know, of having to have the answer.

Zen master Bon Soeng  says that “this Not-Knowing actually gives us life. It gives vibrancy and energy to the world we live in”. He says that “We fill our minds with all this stuff, and it gets stale and dead.” But, “Not knowing is what opens us up and comes alive”.

The experts mind or the knowing mind says its either black or white, its this or its that, but the Don’t know mind opens us up to an infinite number of creative possibilities. The expert’s mind says you should know, it says that you should only do this, and that you should never do that. The Don’t Know mind says that all the ‘shoulds’ of expert knowing is a cage, and Not knowing is a rebellious opportunity just waiting to be explored.

Zen master Bon Soeng says that if we really live into this practice, “it changes everything”

Think like a beginner…

In this video we talk about an Essay in the book “Manage Your Day-To-Day” by Steven Pressfield, an interview with Ian Leslie, and the Zen Buddhist idea of Beginner’s mind. Rough transcript below. Enjoy!

Hey I’m glad you’re here. One of the books I just finished reading is a book called Manage Your Day-To-Day. As I was thinking about that book and as I was weeding through some old articles I had clipped into my Evernote account I came across an article called “Why the Future Belongs to the Curious”. So as I was thinking about some of the passages in Manage Your Day-to-Day and as I was thinking “Why the Future Belongs to the Curious” I started thinking about this Zen Buddhist idea called ‘Beginner’s Mind’…again. If you follow this channel at all I’ve done a couple videos on beginners mind already, so let’s talk about it…again.

In one of the last essays towards the end of the book Manage You Day-To-Day, called “How Pro Can You Go?” Steven Pressfield says the following:
* “A professional is someone who can keep working at a high level of effort and ethics, no matter what is going on—for good or ill—around him or inside him.”* “A professional shows up every day.”
* “A professional plays hurt.”
* “A professional takes neither success nor failure personally.”
* Here’s the best part – “A pro gets younger and more innocent as he or she ascends through the levels. It’s a paradox. We get salty and cynical, but we creep closer, too, to the wonder. You have to or you can’t keep going.”

I love this idea of continually creeping closer and closer to wonder, despite the possibilities of being jaded and despite the possibilities of cynicism, and a persisting youthful innocence that actually continues to increase as we progress instead of decreasing as we move forward. This is what made me think about “Beginner’s Mind” …again…

In his book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind , Suzuki Roshi writes that “In the beginner’s mind there is no thought ‘I have attained something'” Beginner’s mind isn’t primarily concerned with achievement or attainment, it’s free of attachments, expectations, judgments, and prejudices. Suzuki Roshi goes on to say that “Because your attainment is always ahead you will always be sacrificing yourself now for some ideal in the future”. In other words, beginner’s mind is so concerned with the wonder and the curiosity of this present moment that it refuses to relinquish anything that exists within this present moment for something that may or may not be there in future.

In my opinion, I think there’s something actually kind of punk rock about beginner’s mind, there’s something kind of guerrilla about this approach. The Russian novelist, Vladimir Nabokov said that “Curiosity is the purest form of insubordination.” I love that! I think there is something very insubordinate about the wonder and curiosity found in Beginner’s Mind; it refuses to see anything as average, mediocre, or mundane. It refuses to let anything become routine. It refuses to let anything slip into the status quo. It finds an element of newness and freshness in everything it encounters. And that’s because everything in every moment is new, fresh, and different if you really think about it.

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Everything is different. Everything is always different. The river is constantly changing. The man that steps into the river is constantly changing. Beginner’s mind recognizes the newness of every moment. I think this is why Suzuki Roshi says that the “real secret of the arts: always be a beginner.”

So, like I said earlier, I was going through some old articles that I had saved in Evernote and I came across an article called “Why the Future Belongs to the Curious“. It’s an interview with a writer named Ian Leslie. In the article Leslie explains that there are two different kinds of curiosity; Diversive Curiosity and Epistemic Curiosity. Leslie says that everyone is born with Diversive curiosity. It is curiosity at its most basic. Its a child like craving for bright shiny newness. But, he say that “The trouble with diversive curiosity is, unless it matures into something deeper, it just continues as a futile search for the next shiny thing.”

And, then there’s Epistemic Curiosity. “‘Epistemic curiosity’ is what happens when curiosity grows up.” Leslie say that “The more we learn, the easier it is to be curious, and the more powerful our sense of epistemic curiosity can become, because new knowledge hooks onto the networks of existing knowledge in our brains.” He goes on to say that “It’s all-too easy to fall back on old routines and habits and not to bother learning. Epistemic curiosity encourages you to work at it and learn new things.”

I think the way Leslie talks about Epistemic Curiosity is exactly what I mean when I talk about the Zen idea of Beginner’s Mind. Like I said this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about Beginner’s Mind. I’ve mentioned it in two previous videos; one is titled “Curiosity, Authenticity, & Beginner’s Mind” and the other is kind of a follow-up to that video called “Congruence“.

Maybe I keep thinking about beginner’s mind because I’m still a beginner on a lot of levels. Even though I’ve studied Buddhism academically, I’m still a beginner when it comes to Zen and Buddhism on a personal level. Even though I’ve been meditating for the past couple years, I’m still a beginner. i still have a lot to learn about it. When it comes to YouTube, and making videos – shooting, editing all that, I’m definitely still a beginner. I have no idea what I’m doing. But, If I’m being honest, over the past few weeks I’ve been going through something of a dry spell. I can feel myself getting a little dull, a little cynical, a little jaded. If nothing else maybe this video is a reminder for me to remember Beginner’s Mind, to remember to capture that attitude of thinking like a beginner, to remember to utilize that approach of Beginner’s Mind, and see the freshness and newness in everything, to keep my wonder and curiosity alive.

Maybe you needed to hear that too…

I want to encourage you to creep closer, and close, and ever closer to your curiosity, welcome home you’re wonder, and think like a beginner…

Questioning Religion?

In this video, as a pretty skeptical dude studying Zen, I try to talk about ‘religion’, what it is and what it means. Transcript Below! Enjoy!

What is religion? Why do religions exist? What characteristically typifies religion? Every analytical study or examination of religion begins with such questions. Yet, in many ways, such questions implicitly, always-already, contain the answer within them. Perhaps, one could say that the question is, itself, the answer, or that the answer is, itself, the question. That sounded kinda deep and cryptic didn’t it? Pretty Zen right? Just me…Anyway, lets talk about it right now, come one let’s go!
As I’ve mentioned in a few of my other videos, even though I’m a Zen student, and even though I have Bachelors in religion, I still have a fairly tenuous relationship with religion, and even the word ‘religion’ still makes me a little uncomfortable. Jacques Derrida once said “I rightly pass for an atheist”. I love that quote because I think it describes me pretty well.

This isn’t my way of launching into the “I’m spiritual, not religious'” cliche, to be honest I think I’m probably even more uncomfortable with the word ‘spirituality’.

Hey, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problems with that “spiritual, not religious” stance. If that’s you, if that works for you – awesome – own it. I’m just saying its not me.

Regardless, the brute facticity of the matter is that Zen and Buddhism are considered religions, and meditation is considered a spiritual practice. I’m involved in all three and if you are too, well we’re going to have to deal with ‘religion’, we need to look at and talk about honestly, and, maybe even find a way to get comfortable with it.

I’m in the process of finishing my Master’s degree, and I just started a new class this semester on the History of Religion. Any good study of Religion, before it can get its hands dirty in the detailed particularities of each specific religion, has to begin with the type of questions raised in the intro of this video – ‘what religion is’? “what are its characteristics?’ etc. In other words, the study of religion begins with questions…

The study of religion begins with questions because religion and the religious life begins with questions, because to be human is to be full of questions. This is why most of my videos begin with a question, not because I have the answer, or because I’ve found the answer but, because I have questions, and usually in the process of researching and examining a question what I actually find are more questions.

In his book What is Zen? Norman Fischer explains that “Religion engages the large questions: Who are we? Why are we born? Why do we die? What is death? What is the good life?” (59). According to Fischer religion is the emergent result of existential questioning. As such, Fischer goes on to say that “Religion provides practices…that help us cement our hearts to such questions, giving our lives a sense of ultimate grounding” (59). Religion is what William James calls humanity’s “total reaction” to life’s big questions (James, 35). In other words, religion is the name given to the set of varying strategies systematically utilized in humanity’s phenomenological absorption with the large questions of existence.

Yet, Fischer makes another pivotal point to consider, he says that “Religion cannot actually give us answers to such questions; rather, it gives us ways to grapple with them together, in communities that include not only living friends, but practitioners from the past, whose words and deeds still inspire us” (59). Said another way, religion’s modus operandi is in providing one with techniques for living in engagement with the questions, strategies and practices for mindfully sitting with these questions. Here, the emphasis seems to be placed on the ‘question’ rather than on the ‘answer’, or, more specifically, the process of actively wrestling with the questions is of greater import than the answers.

In his book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, David Dark says:

I believe deliverance begins with questions. It begins with people who love questions, people who live with questions and by questions, people who feel a deep joy when good questions are asked…When we’re exposed to the liveliness of holding everything up to the light of good questions…we discover that redemption is creeping into the way we think, believe, and see the world…a redemption that perhaps begins with the insertion of a question mark beside whatever feels final and absolute and beyond questioning, gives our souls a bit of elbow room, a space in which to breathe again, as if for the first time (14).

What does it mean to study religion? What is it that one studies when one studies religion? In many ways, it seems that the study of religion is the anthropological and sociological study of the specific ways in which various cultures at various points in history have grappled with the big questions. And what does it mean to be religious? Maybe part of what it means to be religious is being devoted to the practice of mindfully asking and grappling with ever bigger questions…