Mindfulness is one of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism, and Zen Buddhists have developed unique ways of practicing it over the last 1500 years. In a way, we could say that each detail of Zen is a mindfulness practice. From the way the bowls are held in mealtime ceremonies to how carefully the monks sweep the temple grounds each day, it is all mindfulness in action. The forms of Zen continue to evolve, with modern Zen teachers creating styles of practice for their students that draw on psychology, yoga, social activism and even baking. Along with a new avenue to the transcendence that lies at the heart of Zen, each implicitly provides a new framework for the development of mindfulness.
Zen Mindfulness joins that stream with a new three step approach that treats our states of mind as places that we visit. We explore the landscape of each one and discover its characteristics so that we can pinpoint our position at any time. As we do this we learn to consciously move between these mind-states. Ultimately we see how to integrate and balance them, moving from one to another to live our life in a dynamic way directly inspired by the living moment rather than being unconsciously driven by our fears, worries and fantasies. When we’re emotionally overwhelmed we can recognize that we’re in that “place” and remember to move down the path leading to equanimity. When we need to take resolute action, we know which mind-state is the best one for the job.
As we learn to recognize when we’re in these places and move between them, we spend less time being “lost” – semi-consciously impelled from one emotionally charged state to another – and more time being fully aware of our decisions and actions as well as the interplay of our thoughts and emotions. This is Zen Mindfulness, and as it is built on the solid foundation of experience it is not easily shaken.