If Critical and Creative Thinking comprise human intellect, then Zen Mind is the antithesis of thinking. It is a concept based in non-intellectualization. It is not, however, a type of mindlessness or fantastical way of thinking. It is not thinking at all.
All of our thinking is based on mental constructs we have been taught or developed from our interpretation of our daily experiences in reality. While thinking is certainly a condoned practice, I believe we need time each day to allow our minds to venture into a state beyond thinking, or, as it's more traditionally taught, before thinking.
Training the Zen Mind involves several types of meditative exercises, but before we talk about those, I want to say a few words about what Zen Mind is not. It is not some airy-fairy state of mind or an alternative realm of reality. While many forms of meditative practice
claim to transcend reality, Zen meditation seeks to be grounded in the "here and now". It is about developing the skill of focus and remaining present in the physical, emotional, and psychological world around us. The idea of transcending our present reality, is actually a gross misinterpretation of Zen meditation.
There are several types of meditation used to practice, develop, and enhance our ability to focus on the present moment. Like a muscle, our ability to focus must be exercised and made stronger through regular practice.
I can't stress enough the importance of developing the ability to focus more intensely and for longer periods of time. This practice will become an invaluable tool for most every aspect of your life.
The six types of meditation I advocate are:
This technique involves using an anchor (counting breaths, focusing on breathing, an image, etc.) to help bring the mind back to a point of concentration. It is used to develop focus and a state of no-mindedness (Mushin) while sitting perfectly still. While this technique may seem more basic that some of the others listed here, it is often the most challenging and rewarding.
This technique starts off as centered meditation and then enters a mode of focusing on a certain question, topic, or area of practice. Traditional topics may include the impermanence of life or concept of detachment. Modern techniques are more expansive and often end up in time spent journaling on a topic after calming the mind.
While contemplative meditation spends time asking a question or searching for an answer, Intention-Based Meditation focuses on a specific intention such as a mantra, affirmation, or prayer. Like contemplative meditation, it is often practiced after a period of centered meditation.
Centered, contemplative, and intention-based meditation are used while keeping the body as calm and still as possible. This enhances the mental and emotional centers, and offers us an opportunity to develop a calm focus or no-mindedness while seated. Active meditation is a type of centered meditation that involves movement, such as walking, running, painting, playing an instrument, etc. It moves us off the meditation cushion and challenges us to keep the mind still while we're moving.
This technique is much like active meditation, but moves beyond interaction with ourselves or inanimate objects (such as our body, a paintbrush, an instrument, etc.), and into a moving practice that involves another person such as martial arts, sports, or dancing. This practice aims to keep the mind still while moving and interacting with another person, usually in a controlled but conflictive manner.
The practice of meditation while sitting still, moving, and interacting with another person in a controlled manner prepares us for implementing Zen Mind into our everyday affairs. The goal here is to use opportunities that arise in everyday life, namely our humanity or the humanity of others, to hold our focus, concentration, and calm while interacting with ourself, others, and our environments on a daily basis. It makes life our meditation cushion.