Zen and Mental System Unification

April 20, 2007

In the last few months, I recently had the pleasure of learning Zen meditation. I misunderstood Zen greatly before this, as I saw it as an activity where you endeavored to have no thoughts. However, this is not the case. Zen is simply sitting and observing your own thoughts. Where some meditation focuses on the breath, a point, or a repeated word, the object of focus in Zen is the mental dynamic. The only rules are that you do not pursue or oppose thoughts. The emphasis is on a very raw form of observation. Throughout this introspection I have encountered numerous phenomena, but one of the most interesting was the observation of how my mind was not entirely my own.

About a month into my practice I had finally settled into sitting and entering a relaxed state. Outer stimulus was no longer a big deal and I could observe my thoughts for long lengths of time. Most sessions revealed very little coherent or meaningful thoughts. Faces and images would pop up in the middle of much longer thoughts. It was very interesting, but nothing very profound had occurred. It was during one of these normal meditations that I became heavily involved in a set of thoughts. So much so that it was interfering with my ability to observe those very thoughts. The mental activity was seizing my central nervous system as if to prepare myself for some sort of action, but then the emotion peaked and I returned to a normal sort of consciousness. This event struck me because of the amount of control these fairly innocuous thoughts had over me.

I had always thought of my mind as a unified system, but this experience stopped that assumption. It seems that there are thoughts which we have that for some reason have not integrated totally and yet have connected themselves in the right places to be able to exert control over central nervous activity. After the initial event, the heavy involvement happened repeatedly during the following sessions, so much I wondered if it was going to persist. All this time I was attempting to neither pursue these thoughts or stop them from happening. After a while, the intensity of the experiences waned and I returned to less emotionally powerful thoughts.

I’m not sure exactly what was happening during these experiences. I think perhaps Zen may be an activity that creates a certain amount of unconscious integration. That’s certainly how it appeared as the power of these near-autonomous thoughts diminished. I felt as if I had learned some mechanism for rapid integration that had not previously been there. It certainly seems to be the case as I have continued to practice this form of meditation without returning to such severely involved states.

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