Here’s Why You Don’t Understand Zen Poetry

zen painting

Much of Zen Buddhism is purposely paradoxical and riddled with absurdities.

Its purpose is not to get you to think, but to get you to NOT THINK. The ludicrous language that often characterizes Zen poetry is designed to shatter your egoic, conceited notions of knowing, well, anything. This leaves you in a state of what Zen Master Seung Sahn calls “don’t know mind,” or a mind that is still, clear and free of preconceived ideas.

Just as you cannot see your eyes or bite your teeth, you cannot use your mind to examine your mind. Many Zen teachings are crafted (often in hilarious ways) to bring your perspective beyond your mind, so it’s not meant to be understood in the rigid, logical sense.

Seung Sahn, whose teachings are featured in the phenomenal book Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, has some of my favorite Zen poetry. Here’s a taste…

Zen Poetry

What is Buddha?
“Three pounds of flax”
“Dry shit on a stick”
I don’t understand these words
The infant is sucking on his toes

 

I traced the steps of the cow that has been long forgotten
Having caught the harness
I hope you will ride on the cow
Playing the flute with no holes
And enter your home village
Where flowers bloom in the spring

 

Good and evil have no self nature
Holy and unholy are empty names
In front of the door is the land of stillness and quiet
Spring comes, grass grows by itself

 
And here’s some of my own zen-style poetry (from my book Primordial Reflections)…
 

An autumn day
A walk outside
Smile, golden retriever

 

A zippery tandem
A tippery zife
Yeah that was random
But so is life


 

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Feelin’ Good, Feelin’ Great remains ad-free and I’d like to keep it that way. As you probably know, a lot of work and focus goes into maintaining a website and regularly posting publishing quality, life-enhancing articles from the heart. If you find value in this content, please consider supporting Feelin’ Good, Feelin’ Great. You can become a monthly contributor with the amount of your choosing.


 

The Paradox of Personal Freedom: How Positive Constraints Can Enhance Your Life

the path to freedom

As humans, we have an insatiable desire for freedom.

It’s only natural. Freedom is our essential state and we feel this in the innermost depths of our being. When freedom is blatantly denied, it is an excruciating hindrance and not tolerated for long.

However, every great truth is paradoxical from the perspective of the mind and through the filter of language. The idea of freedom is no different. You would think that total, complete freedom would mean total, complete happiness, right? But that’s not the case (in this reality, at least). Absolute freedom does not necessarily equate to absolute happiness.

Infinite options equals ultimate prison, in many circumstances. You end up with this paradox of choice issue. It’s like standing in front of shelving at a Safeway with 300 brands of toothpaste and just wasting 15 minutes of your life trying to pick a toothpaste. You don’t need that kind of cognitive burden and decision fatigue.
~ Tim Ferriss

 
Focused perspective allows for desired experiences to come to fruition, as a specific choice concentrates your reality based upon our intention. This focused perspective, or in other words, constraints on experienced reality, is the foundation for learning and evolution as humans. Limitation fosters creative solutions, resistance catalyzes growth and darkness is needed to truly appreciate light.

If you think about it, absolute freedom means sitting in infinite possibility without choosing a possibility. So in a way, you’ve chosen to compromise complete freedom just by participating in the 3D human experience.

Ok, metaphysical musings aside; what I’m getting at is this… In order to have a highly rewarding, fulfilling and purposeful life, you need to consciously apply the power of positive constraints.

You’re always making choices and assumptions (in every moment) that are condensing the light of your freedom/possibility to a focused area. And the key question is: Are you consciously aware of the choices and assumptions you’re making?

What are Positive Constraints?

Positive constraints are constraints that you consciously place upon yourself in order to direct your life in a desired direction.

For example, if you know that writing a book is something that will add immeasurable value to your life, you’re going to have to sacrifice other activities in favor of a regular writing habit. And you’re going to have to write even when you don’t feel like it. But as a result of this positive constraint, your life will be more fulfilling and you’ll create more freedom for yourself long-term.

Why Are Positive Constraints Useful?

Discipline and freedom are not mutually exclusive but mutually dependent because otherwise, you’d sink into chaos.
~ Paulo Coelho

 
Positive constraints focus your experiences towards what you want to prioritize in life.

They actually create more freedom in many cases. If you want the freedom to travel the world, you have to make sacrifices to get there. You have to save money (though not as much as most people think), quit your job (or work for yourself and do it remotely) and decide where you want to go. All of those things are positive constraints to bring you to a place of freedom to travel.

Being an entrepreneur epitomizes attaining freedom through positive constraints. In order to work for yourself, make your own decisions and have freedom of time and location, sacrifices must be made to get there. A lot of groundwork is required to get any business or entrepreneurial project off the ground, yet once the ball is rolling, it can create long-term freedom in many aspects of life.

The Freedom to Choose to Concede Freedom

Having the freedom to choose your own constraints is what makes life fulfilling and worthwhile. If you’re forced to do something, that’s a blatant form of slavery. If you’re programmed into thinking you don’t have a choice, that’s a subtle form of slavery. Both are extremely disharmonious and antithetical to human happiness.

Ultimately, everything you do is a constraint on freedom. The Latin root of the word decision means “to cut off.” By making a decision, you’re literally cutting off all other possibilities. So it’s important to be mindful of your decisions in every moment, because you’re always making decisions whether you’re aware of them or not. It is choice (decision) that collapses the wave-form of all possibility and gives us a specific experience. Without choice, there would be no experience. Having free will without making a choice is to not have an experience.

The key is being conscious of the choices you’re making and being aware of what you’re keeping and what you’re “cutting off” by making a decision.

Family and Oneness

One of the most gratifying positive constraints is choosing to start a family. By starting a family, you are choosing to give up some freedom, but the rewards of caring for others, giving and sharing can greatly outweigh the emptiness that comes from just sitting on the prospect of possibilities. Plus, taking care of someone besides yourself can be immeasurably rewarding if you already have some degree of self-mastery to build upon.

Creating a family is unique in the sense that it imprints and amplifies your impact on other people (particularly children). If you haven’t released your own demons, you’re going to infect your family with your dysfunction. This is why families tend to repeat the same patterns generation after generation, unless someone becomes very conscious and grounded in their own power. On the other hand, if you’re harmonious within yourself, you’re going to spread the light of your love even more and that’s a snowball effect too. So from this higher perspective, you have the potential to create more freedom and happiness for the whole (which we’re all a part of) by choosing the positive constraint of starting a family.

How to Apply Positive Constraints

1. Decide what you want – This is the decision that cuts off other possibility and focuses your reality. Make sure you’re consciously focusing your reality and being mindful of where your intentionality is being directed.

On a larger scale, figure out your purpose. Find what you want to prioritize in life and cast aside the things that aren’t in alignment with it. Also, you don’t have to have a fixed purpose for the rest of your life. Your purpose can change and evolve as you change and evolve.

For a clearer vision of your purpose, read my article: Reveal Your Life’s Purpose by Asking These 15 Questions

2. Implement habits to get there – Once you decide on what you want, action must be taken. Form daily habits to bring you in your desired direction.

Decide on 1-3 habits that are your “big wins” for the day and set aside blocks of time to do them, no matter what. With me, I set aside a 50 minute block for writing every morning and I record a video as well. Those have become things that I just do. Because I’ve built the habit, there is no decision to be made or questioning myself, they’re just what I do.

Don’t forget about the first hour of your day either. Your morning routine is the foundation for your day. Make your morning routine the leverage point from which you build positive momentum for the rest of the day. Ideally, it should consist of drinking a lot of water (re-hydration and cleansing), meditation and some form of stretching/mobility exercises/yoga to prime your body for the day.

More on morning routines:
How to Own Your Day: Tim Ferriss Shares His 5 Morning Rituals
The ‘Carpe Diem’ Morning Ritual

That’s it. Applying positive constraints is essentially just focusing and following through.

Enjoy your journey and much love to ya.

– Stevie P!

 

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Feelin’ Good, Feelin’ Great remains ad-free and I’d like to keep it that way. As you probably know, a lot of work and focus goes into maintaining a website and regularly posting publishing quality, life-enhancing articles from the heart. If you find value in this content, please consider supporting Feelin’ Good, Feelin’ Great. You can become a monthly contributor with the amount of your choosing.


 

The Power of Surrender

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In our modern Western culture, the word “surrender” is thought of as negative.

The basic definition of surrender is “to yield to the power of another.”

It has become synonymous with giving up and viewed as an irrevocable display of weakness. But, contrary to popular belief, the act of surrender may possess far more power than you’ve ever imagined.

Let’s look at another interpretation. In the religious context, surrender “means that a believer completely gives up his own will and subjects his thoughts, ideas, and deeds to the will and teachings of a higher power.” (Wikipedia)

I’ve come to view surrender as something slightly different than what both the dictionary and religious definitions imply. To me, surrender is letting go of your egoic sense of control and allowing the rational mind to yield to a higher purpose. (“Higher purpose” meaning that it’s beyond and more expansive than the ego, the rational mind and physical reality.)

While the religious perspective has some innate wisdom, I don’t believe that this higher purpose or higher power has to be something separate from us. Separation is a physical illusion, as everything is connected on some level. We are multi-dimensional beings, whose layers eventually roll up to Source, God, the Infinite or whatever you believe is the essence of everything. However, simply heeding this intuitive wisdom, whatever that source may be, is more important than debating about exactly what it is or if it’s something separate from us or not.

This higher purpose often comes in the form of subtle intuition that the conscious mind can’t quite grasp. It can also be a deep-seated feeling (aka gut feeling) that you can’t completely rationalize but know to be true.

Surrendering to the Flow of Higher Purpose

I’m not going to say it’s God or angels or spirit guides or higher self or Zordon, because I don’t know for sure. But there is undoubtedly some source of intuition that subtly feeds us information and guides us in certain directions. I’m just calling it “higher purpose” for the (higher) purpose of this article (see what I did there?). Plus, it reminds me of the great Buckminster Fuller quote “God is a verb.”

Surrendering to the flow of higher purpose is ultimately a surrender of the ego and its controlling tendencies. It’s also a surrender of the problem-solving/problem-finding mind to heart-wisdom or intuition. There is less logic and rationality involved, but more feeling, trust and an intrinsic sense of knowing. You release all fear and flow with a higher aspect of yourself that sees beyond what your conscious mind does. While the conscious mind only sees the next step, the intuition sees the entire journey.

Trying to control life with your egoic mind is like trying to walk on your hands (your hands being your egoic mind and your legs being your higher purpose/intuition/heart-wisdom). Sure, you can walk on your hands, but your legs are so much more capable of walking. Besides, your hands are of far more use when they’re free. It’s just like how your mind is sharper and more useful when you’re not exhausting or stressing it 24/7. Let go of that inner egoic control-freak and surrender to the mysterious wisdom of your heart’s intuition. Remember, the mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.

Think of this higher purpose as a stream carving through the landscapes of life, always leading to the ocean called “What You Need Most for Your Growth” (Yeah, it’s an ocean with a long name). You can choose to flow with this higher knowing, or go against it. And we all know what happens when we go against our intuition…

Additionally, surrender doesn’t mean being a victim or just sitting around waiting for things to happen. It means heeding your intuition, surrendering to that higher knowing and moving with faith, knowing that your intuitive compass is pointing you in the right direction (because it always does). Another major component is surrendering to the moment.

For more in depth articles on ego, intuition and all of that good stuff:
How To Hone Your Intuition
What Does Your Ego Look Like?

Surrendering to the Moment

Though blind faith in man-made systems without any critical discernment can leave you vulnerable to manipulation, not having faith in anything is just as debilitating (if not more so).

Trust the process of life. Have faith that everything happens for a reason. Trust that life is unfolding for your highest good. Well, what’s the other option anyway? Living in perpetual fear and doubt!? Eh, no thanks.

“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

Surrendering to the moment doesn’t mean not changing anything. It’s simply an acceptance of what is, accepting that what is happening is indeed happening. There is none of the paralyzing, insidious self-denial that slowly gnaws away at your well-being. Accepting the moment (what IS) actually puts you in a better position to change or maximize your situation than not accepting the moment.

For example, if it’s 2PM and you surrender to the fact that you’re stuck at work for three more hours, it puts you in a position to make the most of it. But if you resist what’s happening, you guarantee yourself complete misery for the next three hours. Here’s another one: If you’re overweight and you accept it, only then can you make the lifestyle changes to make yourself fit and healthy. But if you’re in denial of the situation, that self-delusion will prevent you from facing reality and making a change.

The Journey of Life

Learn to let go of your sense of egoic control and trust the flow of life. And paradoxically, when you do this, more of your desires come to fruition. Life is strange, right?

Your intuition is your built-in GPS (higher purpose), trust that it’s bringing you to the right place. Just keep your eyes on the road (be in the present moment) and your hands upon the wheel (ready for action).

Feel the paradoxical power of surrender.

One love.

– Stevie P!
 

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Feelin’ Good, Feelin’ Great remains ad-free and I’d like to keep it that way. As you probably know, a lot of work and focus goes into maintaining a website and regularly posting publishing quality, life-enhancing articles from the heart. If you find value in this content, please consider supporting Feelin’ Good, Feelin’ Great. You can become a monthly contributor with the amount of your choosing.


 

The Selfish Reason Behind Giving

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While hiking Mount Washington a few months ago, my girlfriend (at the time) and I got into some intense philosophical discussions during our descent.

In the midst of this mobile symposium, she asked me the most revelatory question I’ve ever been asked…

“Why do you like helping other people?”

Coming from an experienced psychologist, this wasn’t a question asked just for the sake of asking a question. Not at all. It was a friendly yet firm demand for genuine truth. She would not accept a vague, dismissive or even lightly dishonest answer. She wanted me to recognize the core reason as to why I enjoy helping others.

The only answer I could honestly come up with was this: I like helping other people because it makes me feel good.

“For it is in giving that we receive.” – Francis of Assisi

As humans, we’re inherently social beings. We thrive off of connection. And giving is an essential element in cultivating a sense of connectedness with others. That’s why giving feels so good. The research even shows that giving actually makes us happier than receiving.

In his book The Hidden Gifts of Helping Stephen G. Post writes:

“As the saying goes, ‘if you help someone up the hill, you get closer yourself.’ Whether the group is focused on weight loss, smoking cessation, substance abuse, alcoholism, mental illness and recovery, or countless other needs, a defining feature of the group is that people are deeply engaged in helping one another, and are in part motivated by an explicit interest in their own healing.”

This concept of helping yourself by helping others sounds paradoxical, but so do most profound truths. Giving is such an essential part of our nature that it transcends duality.

I feel good when I help others. That’s why I do it.

I help people because, in turn, I help myself.

When I give advice, it’s not only to others, but to myself as well.

I write, not only for other people’s betterment, but for my own improvement and cathartic realization.

Giving is the ultimate win-win situation.

Be generous, because you too will reap the benefits.

Much love.

– Stevie P!
 

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A Great Paradox of Our Age

We live in an age where everything we desire is available at the push of a button. We do not have to expend much effort to do anything. It’s comfortable. It’s safe. It’s a problem.

"What it must be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button? How would I spend the hours I now commit to combing the woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by? What do they do all day, these people in the Capitol, besides decorating their bodies and waiting around for a new shipment of tributes to roll in and die for their entertainment?"

“What it must be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button? How would I spend the hours I now commit to combing the woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by? What do they do all day, these people in the Capitol, besides decorating their bodies and waiting around for a new shipment of tributes to roll in and die for their entertainment?” (excerpt from The Hunger Games)

Isn’t it ironic that as everything is becoming easier for us, our mind and body, the two most fundamental facets of our lives (and the only things we have full control of), are becoming more and more difficult to maintain?

This is a result of giving our power away.

We no longer find and cook our own food, we allow others to do it for us. This disassociation from the food chain makes it oh so easy for companies to produce and sell us “food” that destroys health. It makes it easy for us to place the responsibility of our bodies in the hands the medical community. It makes it easy for “big pharma” to sell dangerous drugs to everyone with so much as a slight headache. Having food available at our beck and call 24/7 makes it easy for us to overeat. In terms of food, we view chicken not as the living animal, but as a chicken nugget. Our ignorance regarding this has made us vulnerable to a whole host of health problems. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and all other diseases associated with poor diet and lifestyle choices (key word) are rampant in modern society. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Knowledge is power, and applied knowledge is a powerful tool for change. We need to educate ourselves on health, learn to cook (create) for ourselves, and listen to our bodies. This empowers us, because being in control of our health creates an unshakeable foundation for success in all other aspects of life.

We no longer think for ourselves, we allow others to do it for us. Look around at all of the institutions in place that tell people how and what to think. The education system, the mainstream media, organized religion…etc. All of these institutions delimit free thinking. And what’s the result of this? So many people walk around with an underlying feeling of purposeless. The feeling that something is missing; that something is not quite right. Depression, fear, and anxiety are rampant in modern society. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Knowledge is power, and applied knowledge is a powerful tool for change. We need to start thinking for ourselves, keeping an open mind, being open to unlimited possibility, and letting our inherent creativity flow. It’s amazing how this creates a sense of empowerment and instills an enchanting purpose in everything we do.

Let’s take our power back, and hop in the driver’s seat of this ride we call life.