So I’m sitting there this morning, doing my regular Zazen as usual and it just kinda hits me; this whole “thinking not thinking” thing.

For those of you who don’t know, there’s a famous Zen story. Dude goes up to a Zen Master and asks, “What are you thinking sitting there?”

Zen Master says, “Thinking the concrete state of not thinking.”

Dude says, “What’s the concrete state of not thinking?”

Zen Master says, “It’s different from thinking.”

Like everyone who practices Zen, I hit this state of not thinking and miss it in more or less equal measure. After 20 years of doing the practice, the neurotic belief that my thoughts really mean anything important has pretty much worn away. That’s a very important step. And it takes many years to get there and a lot of real effort.

But the habitual regurgitation and rumination of thoughts by the brain is a hard habit to break — even when you know they’re all bupkiss anyway. But, just this morning I hit upon that sought after state of non-thinking and noticed how it was done. It’s not a matter of trying to add some kind of energy into the equation which somehow stops thought. It’s a matter of subtracting energy.

It takes energy to think. We don’t usually notice this. But thinking the way we usually do is like any other habit. Twiddling your thumbs, for example, or tapping out rhythms to songs only you can hear. To stop thinking, all you really need to do is stop using energy to regurgitate and ruminate upon thoughts. It’s a matter of not starting rather than stopping.

Just something I thought I’d share.

2 Responses

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  1. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer March 10, 2014 at 9:05 am |

    I am pretty sure that what you are describing is accurate. I cannot claim to be able to think not thinking in any sustained way but when it is most likely to happen for me is when I just give up hope of doing it “right”.

    And hope is a kind of mental energy.

    I have to say at this rather low point in my practice history my most difficult problem is being confronted with the fact that practice is not giving me anything. I can clearly see that I am driving myself crazy, but I continue to drive my self crazy.

    It is very disheartening.

  2. hesse57
    hesse57 January 23, 2015 at 8:50 am |

    Language is such a complicated thing! To make matters worse, my command of it is sorely lacking. Adding to the pile of limitations, my understanding of Zen is bordering on non-existent. More practice, more sitting or is it less thinking?
    Despite of – or is it ignoring – these points, the urge to say something has got the better of me.

    It appears to me that it is not so much about ‘thinking’ but rather doing! The things in life you do instinctively – breathing, blinking or catching something you have dropped (though in each of us these might need refinement) we do without thinking. Not entirely correct I know but…

    This is something that doesn’t get enough mention. The master at living may fill his or her life with the ‘doing’ and then need much less thinking time; perhaps then the issue takes on real meaning and depth.

    I believe that Zazen and ‘living’ must be treated as one and the same! They are – aren’t they?

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