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Develop Your Zen Mind
Dr. Beverly Potter
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Our biocomputers have two systems. One works with words, simple mathematics, and linear logic, using either /or categories and decision trees. The second controls creative leaps, music appreciation, and the formation of images. We also come with resident programs, two of which are safekeeping and discovery.
Safekeeping ProgramThe function of the safekeeping program is to protect and guard us. The famous psychology experiment with Little Albert provides an example of safekeeping in action. Little Albert, just a baby, was playing with a fuzzy white rabbit when a sudden loud noise frightened him, making him cry. The next time he saw the rabbit, he cried and refused to touch it because his safekeeping program associated the rabbit with the loud noise. Later, when little Albert met Santa Claus for the first time, he took one look at the big fuzzy white beard, began crying, and refused to sit on Santa’s lap.
Makes judgements, evaluates, trusts the known,
identifies consequences, labels, seeks closure.
Structures situation, creates rules, alert to threats,
cautious, avoids surprise
The Little Albert story demonstrates how the safekeeping program creates categories to evaluate new experiences. Dangerous situations are identified and responded to on the basis of their similarity to other dangerous experiences. To Little Albert, Santa’s beard and the bunny’s white fur were lumped into the same category—white fuzzy hair that was associated with a loud frightening noise.
The safekeeping program has much survival value, but it can be a liability in a rapidly changing world in which old categories no longer apply. Safekeeping programs protect us from dangers, but they can inhibit our adapting to dramatically new situations. And adapt is what we all must do now.
Discovery ProgramThe discovery program functions in a wholly different way. For one, it doesn’t use words; it does not break things into categories or think in terms of either/or. The discovery program uses trial and error, which is essential for rapid learning and adaptation. If we are to adapt to the Information Era, which promises to change dramatically the very underpinnings of society, we must engage our discovery programs. Practicing the oriental discipline, Zen, develops discovery capabilities. By developing a Zen mind, we were more able to handle change because we are less inclined to blindly follow the safekeeping program while clinging to an obsolete past. Instead we become more open and receptive to a new future. The teaching and practices of Zen show how to bypass the ever-vigilant safekeeping program. But because the Zen mind comes from a part of us that is nonverbal, it is difficult to describe in words.
Imagines, feels, inductive, seeks novelty,
sees patterns, is playful, accepts
ambiguity, trial and error,
experiments, pathfinding.AcceptanceThe metaphor of the mirror conveys the basic elements of the Zen mind. The mirror teaches "acceptance" or "non-evaluation." When you step before a mirror, it reflects you without evaluating who you are or engaging a dialogue about it. A mirror simply reflects your image.
Unlike a mirror, we constantly evaluate everything, which is a safekeeping function that puts things into pre-established categories. As Joseph Chilton Pearce said, "We see through the prism of our categories." We do not respond to the "real" world at all, but to our preconceptions about it. Our reflections are like those of a funhouse mirror that distorts the image. This is another way that the safekeeping program undermines adaptability.
Try This ExperimentStep 1: Look around the room for yellow objects.
Do this now before reading on any further.Step 2: Close your eye and picture the room in your mind. Keeping your eyes closes, in your imagination notice all the red objects in the room.
Step 3: Open your eyes and observe the room again.
Unless you are remarkably observant or you peeked at Step 2, you probably had difficulty naming red objects. Because your attention was focused on yellow, you ignored things of other colors. You did not “see.” A crucial first step in adapting creatively is to “see.”
Let GoWhen you step away from in front of the mirror, it stops reflecting your image. The mirror doesn’t argue about it or cling onto your image. It doesn’t accuse you of abuse and get depressed. The mirror simply lets you go.
Us humans are not as smart as the mirror is. When things change we often refuse to accept the new circumstances. Instead, we cling onto and demand that things remain as they have been. In so doing, we stress ourselves and impede our seeing and adapting to the new conditions. This is when our safekeeping program is most detrimental. When things change, we need to let go of the old expectations. We need to switch on our discovery program, accept the ambiguity of the moment, be playful, experiment, and find new pathways.
But if ever the least flicker of satisfaction showed on my face,
the Master turned on me with unwonted fierceness.
“What are you thinking of?” he would cry.
“You know already you should not grieve over bad shots;
learn now not to rejoice over the good ones.
You must free yourself from the buffetings of pain and pleasure,
and learn to rise above them in easy equanimity,
to rejoice as though not you but another shot well.”
Zen in the Art of ArcheryBe a WitnessMentally reviewing things from past situations with an eye to improving how we handle things in the future is one way we learn. But we often err in being judgmental and evaluating our performances, which leads to guilt and self-consciousness. When you use mental review it is vitally important to suspend judgment. Do not evaluate. Instead, sit back and witness—see the scenario. Let it unfold before you without making internal comments. Just see what is happening, like a mirror "sees." When you try this, you’ll will find that it is difficult to suspend judgment. The safekeeping thinker persists in evaluating, putting things in categories of "good" and "bad". When this occurs, notice that you are judging and let the judgment go. Be a witness not a judge.
With practice you can be a witness in the moment, while performing. This is different from being self-conscious which is caused by negative evaluations of ourselves in the moment. Self-consciousness puts on the brakes. Trying to be perfect, we fumble. The witness sees the fumble but does not judge it. The witness is you being aware of being alive now. The unfiltered awareness allows you to enjoy the moment fully and readies you for change.
Be YieldingTo be yielding does not mean to be passive, allowing yourself to be suppressed or walked upon. Instead, be like a blade of grass in the wind—bend when necessary, then spring back. Yielding means to be receptive, interacting with the world and responding to it rather than rigidly clinging to a particular position or posture.
Go with the FlowMany incorrectly think that to go with the flow means fanciful undirected movement. Actually it means to find existing lines of movement and to go with them rather than against the movement. Martial arts employ this principle. By using judo, for example, a petite 95-pound woman can effortlessly flip a 200-pound man attempting to attack her. The woman does not grab and throw the man who is larger and stronger than she is. Instead, she yields to and uses his movement to propel him away from her.
When riding a wave, (the surfer) must strive to stay just slightly ahead of it,
since if he moves out too far he will not be “with it;”
he will lose contact with the power which has been propelling him along
and quickly sink…if he allows the wave to overtake him,
he will be overthrown or “wiped out” by the wave’s crushing power,
since, once again, he will not be “with it.”
-Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook
Secrets of the Samurai
Legend has it that the martial art jujitsu originated in China during a long cold winter. Each day, the snow fell on two trees in a field. Being firm and rigid, the limbs of the larger tree supported piles of snow. Finally, the branches, no longer able to bear the weight of the heavy snow, cracked. The branches of the smaller tree also accumulated snow, but being supple, not rigid, they bent to the ground, letting the snow slide off, and then returned to their original positions. The tree that yielded survived the winter.Accept Paradox
In our daily lives, at work or at home, to yield means to alter goals, as circumstances require. Like water flowing downstream, yield and flow around the rocks in life. Be flexible. Look for alternative and creative ways to reach your goals.
We tend to get trapped in either/or or dichotomous thinking. Yet life is not either/or; it is a continuous process. Because of the way we have been taught to think and perceive, we break the continuum into separate categories. But this is a false separation, an overlay of the rational mind—the safekeeping program in action. We judge ourselves as being good or bad when we are in fact, both good and bad. We struggle over emphasizing self-interest or the interest of others, when in fact, they are both important. We worry about living now or planning for the future, when we should live now and plan for the future.
We do not play the game of Black and White—
the universal game of up/down, on/off, solid/space, and each/all.
Instead we play the game of White versus Black.
For, especially when rates of vibration are slow as with day and night or life and death,
we are forced to be aware of the black negative aspect of the world.
Then, not realizing the inseparability of the positive and negative poles of the rhythm,
we are afraid Black may win the game. But the game “White must win”
is no longer a game. It is a fight, a fight haunted by a sense of chronic frustration,
because we are doing something as crazy as trying to keep the mountains and get rid of the valleys.
Because of our propensity to categorize things into either/or boxes we are constantly confronted with confusing contradictions that immobilize us. Organizations, for example, are paradoxical. Organizations, which are made up of people, seek clarity, certainty, and objectivity. Yet people are not clear, certain or objective, they are changeable, and subjective. Believing that these contradictions should not exist creates frustration, confusion and attempts to conform to modes of being that are not possible to achieve. The organization with its chain of command is structured so that no one person has too much control or power, yet to be mentally healthy and productive, individuals must have a sense of personal power.
Shift Your ViewpointTo break out of immobilizing paradoxes, we must look at the situation in a totally new way, making what Marilyn Ferguson in The Aquarican Conspiracy calls a "paradigm shift." We must ask the right questions. For example, people once believed the earth was flat. From that paradigm, intricate belief systems about the stars, moon, sun and their relationships to earth evolved. The discovery that the earth was round and circled the sun was a dramatic paradigm shift, one that altered the way of life. More recently, there has been another paradigm shift. For centuries, leading thinkers adhered to Newton’s mechanical theory of the universe. But Einstein’s theory of special relativity upset the basic premises of Newtonian physics, turning them inside out.
Don Juan: Yesterday you believed the coyote talked to you.
Any sorcerer who doesn’t see would believe the same,
but one who sees knows that to believe that is to be pinned in
the realm of sorcerers. By the same token, not to believe
that coyotes talk is to be pinned down in the realm of ordinary men.
In order to see one must learn to look at the world in some other fashion,
and the only other fashion I know is the way of the warrior.”
Journey to Ixtlan
We are often unaware of our basic beliefs and guiding principles. A belief most of us have accepted is that the only way to success is to climb up the linear career ladder. Few people even realize that this is a career strategy; still fewer challenge it. Ronin have made a paradigm shift and do not unquestioningly accept specialization as the only career strategy and a straight-line progression as the only acceptable path to success.
When you develop and exercise your Zen mind, you enhance your ability to make paradigm shifts, to see things in more ways than one and to ask new questions. With a Zen mind, we realize that life and work follow both the principles of science and the principles of magic.
Laugh a LotLaughter is a stress buffer, but as with relaxation, the dynamics remain a mystery to medical science. Humor is a powerful tool for breaking out of paralyzing paradox, allowing us to look from a different vantage point to gain a new perspective and release tension.
When you catch yourself taking things too seriously, use this as a signal to laugh. Think of the "cosmic chuckle" and of the absurdity of our human condition. Satirize your dilemma. Imagine yourself in a Charlie Chaplain script. As a discipline, practice seeing humor in disaster. You’ll find freedom there.
The Donkey Chase: A Sufi TaleWhen you jump on your donkey in a knee-jerk response to chase after situations of the moment, you often create an amusing picture to those witnessing it. Always remember the cosmic chuckle and laugh loudly.
Nasrudin, the playful teacher, was riding his donkey out of town when he passed one of his disciples who asked, “Where are you going?” Nasrudin simply grinned mischievously as he rode past.
Sure that the old man was up to something, the disciple jumped on his donkey and rode after him. When Nasrudin saw he was being followed, he urged the donkey on to trot. So the disciple kicked his donkey and chased after the old man.
Seeing that he was being chased Nasrudin took a shortcut across a field into the cemetery where he pulled his donkey to an abrupt stop, leaped off and hid behind a gravestone. On his heels, the disciple pulled his donkey to a stop ran over the gravestone, and looking over at his crouching teacher, he demanded, “Why were you running away?” To which Nasrudin asked, “Why were you chasing me?”
Copyright 1984, 1987, 2001 by Bevely Potter, from The Way of the Ronin :Riding the Waves of Change at Work, Dr. Beverly Potter, Ronin Publishing, Berkeley, CA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This article may be downloaded and copied for individual use. Any other use requires written permission from Beverly Potter.
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