My first step down the new path is to write an ‘About’ section, which I’ve posted and copy here – one that explains where this is headed.
Having felt ‘enlightened’ in a traditional, but a non-religious Zen sense at 21, I’ve used Zen successfully all my life to handle opportunities, stress, personal miseries and work problems. I’m still learning – that’s true Zen.
My approach to solving challenges settled into a pattern evolved from my understanding of Zen – not very different from most self-help guides, but uniquely empowered by Zen ideas – as follows:
1. Calmly assess reality through reflection and mindfulness to clarify what you really might be facing
2. Look for contradictions (paradoxes), good versus bad puzzles throughout the situation for creative options
3. Think through the most likely ‘middle way’ options for action and assess probabilities of outcomes you want, that you can feel positive about
4. Take action, understanding that new actions take practice to master and make into effective skills or habits
5. Keep balancing as skills develop and momentum builds, staying the course unless a better option appears or your current effort is clearly failing, then repeat the steps.
Some of this appears pretty basic and it is in one sense. One Zen story points out that before enlightenment a mountain is a mountain, but while struggling toward enlightenment it is a mystical, puzzling symbol, yet when you reach enlightenment, a mountain is a mountain. (Sub-text: “but then you understand how valuable and powerful that simplicity is.”) Zen insight helps cement the skills with the knowledge that this really works amazingly well in everyday life.
You might say Zen provides the grease in the wheels to ease the difficulties we otherwise encounter making use of self-help advice. It becomes easier to face the truth, at times cold hard facts, by reducing stress, but also to see positive reality that can help speed one through to success by being more in touch with our full surroundings and the people in them. Zen emphasizes the value of building habit and routines as well as understanding impermanence, insight and creativity. Above all it clarifies balance, what it is, how to get it and keep it.
Just these few skills or well-developed habits, supported by Zen calm and insight, allowed me to work effectively at the most senior levels of business and government over more than 25 years, hold my own in solving the most complex business and people problems in our complex modern workplaces and not only stay sane, but actually thrive and enjoy these challenges (well, enjoy solving them at any rate, and enjoy a personal life outside of them).
In some ways I’ve been privileged – a white, mostly able-bodied male with a stable family that pointed me toward a good education. In others, not so much – raised with crippling shyness in a shy, economically challenged family with no connections I learned an odd assortment of ideas early from the 4000 or so books accumulated from rummage sales and off-price subscriptions that we all burrowed through at home. Learning to tolerate and actually socialize enough to work with people came much later. Undiagnosed asthma made me believe I was a weakling, last to be chosen for anything at school or on the playground, and that led to a life as a proud loner for many years. Slowly I stumbled into Zen philosophy through reading to solve a very problematic relationship with the first girl I found the courage to date, eventually a spouse. Even more slowly I applied the skills I saw in Zen to achieve beyond anything I could have imagined.
Anyone can build these skills on their own. Just the list may be enough. If so, I’m glad. Most times when I outline these people ask for more… background and examples, preferably similar to challenges they happen to be facing. That helps putting the skills to use right away in something you really feel you want to solve, which is the fastest way to develop them. That’s most of what I write about – a bit of background and some varied examples that might apply to something you’re faced with.
I’m sure to offend some who wish to keep Zen and its Buddhist ideas more purely for contemplation or religion. I’m an example of where simple practical use was plenty without those, but I understand, as you will if you pursue enlightenment, there are deeper meanings and ideas that we may never fully grasp. Their existence gives those who want to practice deeply a lot more to pursue. I sincerely wish them all the joy and contentment it can bring. For me, I can’t see how I could be more enlightened, more content or more successful and that is something I hope I can make easy for others without the years of practice that deeper pursuit might require. If I’m wrong perhaps this is at least a gateway to greater interest and deeper meanings.
A Zen practitioner is never fully enlightened Zen’s offer is not to provide final answers, but to enable better questions that aid you to think and feel meanings for yourself. Zen is a religion for some or you can use its principles as a non-religious philosophy for what we call ‘ordinary’ life and work – a self-help option – your choice. My comments are about the latter.