First off, tomorrow, like almost every other Saturday, I’ll be leading Zen at the Veteran’s Memorial Center 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome! It starts at 10:00am not 9:30 tomorrow. There will be yoga led by Nina Snow before zazen.
And next weekend I’ll lead a 2-day retreat at Against the Stream, Nashville co-sponsored by the Nashville Zen Center May 16-17 and I’ll be speaking in Nashville at Against the Stream, Nashville on May 19th. For more info go the the Nashville Zen Center’s website of the Against the Stream, Nashville website.
Oh! And commenting on the blog works again! Hooray!
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Last week a guy asked me about imaginary conversations. He said he spent a lot of energy engaging in imaginary conversations with people he knew. These often stressed him out and made him upset.
I imagine everyone does this. I clearly remember bringing a lot of these imaginary conversations up to my Zen teachers when I’d have private talks with them. But when I did, they always shifted the focus of the conversation we were actually having right then and there on to something more concrete and real. It took a while to get the message that these imaginary conversations weren’t actually very important.
Still, they went on all the time. Some of them kept me awake at night. Some of them gave me bad headaches or indigestion. Some of them made me so distracted I’d forget what I was actually doing and screw things up for myself. Even though the conversations were imaginary, they had real world consequences.
Nowadays I have very few imaginary conversations. Oh sure, they happen sometimes. But not that often and usually only when I deliberately try to have them for some specific reason. Like when I need to figure out how I’m going to explain something to someone with whom I’ll have very little time. Or I sometimes work out what I’m going to say at a public talk. But it’s very rare for me to engage in the kinds of conversations in my head that used to drive me to distraction.
I do recall what might have been the last time I had one of these completely unbidden imaginary conversations that really drove me up a wall. I don’t remember all the details. I know it was my grandfather I was going to explain whatever it was to. This imaginary conversation went on and on, taking all kinds of different twists and turns. I was living in Japan at the time and I was going to see him in a few weeks. When I actually got to Ohio and started saying whatever it was, I realized that my imaginary “grandpa” in my mind responded so differently from my real grandpa right in front of me that it was clear the whole imaginary conversation I’d been having with him had been a complete waste of time.
That realization wasn’t what made the imaginary conversations stop. Merely intellectually understanding a thing like that doesn’t do a whole lot.
What worked was my daily Zen practice.
See, when you do Zen for a long time you start to notice that the conversations you have with imaginary people in your head are a lot like a piece of gum that all the flavor has been chewed out of. There’s just no reason to keep that piece of gum in your mouth anymore, so you spit it out.
It was only on retreats that this understanding began to become really clear. Although the half-hour sittings I did every morning and evening helped a lot.
You’re working with habits and habits are hard to break. You think it’s tough to quit heroin or cigarettes? Try quitting a habit of mind that you learned before you were old enough to even go outside on your own and that is reinforced by just about every TV show or movie you see, almost every book, magazine or webpage you read, pretty much every conversation you have with just about anyone about just about any topic. That takes a lot of work.
Quitting the habit of holding loads of useless fake conversations in your mind will not make you any less able to have those kinds of fake conversations when it’s practical to do so. But it will make you sleep better, digest better and maybe even not screw up so many things you try to do.
And that’s today’s little lesson! Thanks!
Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
May 16-17, 2015 Nashville, TN 2-DAY RETREAT AT NASHVILLE ZEN CENTER
July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE
September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT
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