Happy to Be Here

Actual photo of me at drinking party in Japan.

Here’s a question I got on the Internets:

I´ve been doing Zazen for about 9 months now. I also stopped drinking around the same time because I felt it really affected my practice in a bad way. Since committing to this practice I’ve gradually, among other things, started to enjoy my alone time again.

As a Finnish person, it sometimes feels like it’s socially unacceptable not to consume alcohol when participating in social events like after-work-gatherings etc. I’ve always considered myself as an introverted person and alcohol has never been anything but a “social lubricant” for me. Since I started doing Zazen I’ve gradually come to lose interest in these kind of social events. The conversations in these settings feel completely pointless, and though I kind of feel obligated to participate I’m always left feeling drained and empty, which also tend to affect my practice. 

Since I started doing Zazen I’m having a hard time enjoying what’s considered as “normal” social activities. Now a days I tend gravitate towards much more quiet activities such as spending my time off in my log cabin in the mountains with my dog. 

I guess my question is; Is this normal? 

Here’s my reply:

I have a story that’s a little similar. I did a lot of my Zen practice in Japan, where drinking is a very important part of most social activities. I never liked alcohol very much. When I first arrived in Japan, I tried to start drinking like Japanese people do. But I hated it.

Then I went the opposite way. I stopped drinking altogether. (Before I moved to Japan I used to drink a little bit, but never much.) I found that if I told Japanese people, “I don’t drink because I’m a Buddhist,” they believed me! That was very surprising because I knew that most Japanese Buddhists drink alcohol pretty regularly. But Japanese people don’t know much about Japanese Buddhism!

ANYWAY, what I did was, I still went to events where people were drinking, but I did not drink. The conversations were stupid. But, in my case, I had the opportunity to learn a little more Japanese each time I went out. That helped me deal with the unpleasantness of it. But once I understood what people were saying, I discovered it was just as stupid and empty as what drunk Americans talk about.

If you’re not going to become a monk, you have to have some kind of social life. But, me personally, I always had a very limited social life compared to most people. This was true even when I was a child and a teenager. I devoted myself to other things like writing, playing music, reading, even sometimes meditating.

I think some people just aren’t naturally very social. The difference that Zen made was that, after a while I stopped feeling bad about myself for being like this. I could accept it. I no longer looked at my anti-social personality as something I needed to fix.

So maybe you can accept that you don’t really like most social activities, but also accept that sometimes they are necessary.

Because the other thing I learned from Zen is how to enjoy even situations that I did not enjoy. 

I used to think that if I was some place and I would rather be somewhere else, then this was a problem. I believed my own mind when my own mind told me, “If you were somewhere else, then you’d be happy.”

Then I noticed that what I told myself wasn’t really true. I can be unhappy anyplace!

I also noticed it wasn’t relevant even if it was true. I wasn’t someplace else. I was here. I was always here. No matter where “here” happened to be.

Wishing I was some other place than here was the root of my problem.

Sure, each of us has preferences. Each of us have different things we would rather be doing and different places we’d rather be. But we can’t always do those things or be in those places. I asked myself; How can I enjoy the place I am? Instead of being miserable wishing I wasn’t here, how can I enjoy being here, no matter where “here” happens to be?

I noticed that it would be better just to find something to be happy about in situations I didn’t enjoy at all. Often it is really difficult to find those things. 

But, like I said above, in Japan, I looked at those boring, stupid drinking parties as an opportunity to listen and learn Japanese. Maybe, for you, it can be something else. Like maybe you can enjoy how bad the music they play at the bar is. 

Now that I’m back in the USA, sometimes I find that very interesting myself. Why did the guy in that band think those lyrics were good? Why doesn’t anyone else notice how stupid this music is? Why did that bass player play like that? Or, if I’m having a bad conversation, I can ask myself something like, “This person is saying ridiculous things, but what does she actually mean?” I try to really listen, no matter how boring what I am listening to happens to be.

I have discovered that I can find something interesting even in the most boring conversation in the most ridiculous place. Sometimes I pretend I’m an anthropologist from Planet Mongo trying to work out why the humans enjoy things that make no sense at all to me. Or why the humans say the things they say to each other.

I hope that helps a little.


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October 11, 2019 ZERO DEFEX at Jilly’s Music Room, Akron, Ohio with The Tufted Puffins and The Psyclones

October 12, 2019 11:00 am LIVE Letters to a Dead Friend About Zen Podcast Highland Square Library, Akron, Ohio

November 8-10, 2019 ZEN & YOGA RETREAT Mt. Baldy, California



Every Monday at 7:30pm there’s zazen at Angel City Zen Center (NEW TIME, NEW PLACE!) 2526 Kent StreetLos Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!

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