In my first post Practical Zen in a Nutshell we saw that Zen, when boiled down to its essential elements, consists of the fourfold practice of 1) meditation, 2) mindfulness, 3) letting go of attachments, and 4) being in touch with our true nature.

Over the next series of posts we fleshed out those concepts in detail, and in the last post we began the process of paring Zen back down to its bare essentials so that it could be carried in our pockets and used on a moment to moment basis. This post completes that process.

So what’s the Zen cycle? Let’s take a look.

As we’ve previously seen, it’s in the first practice of meditation that we hone our three remaining Zen skills of mindfulness, letting go of attachments, and being in touch with our true nature.

Specifically, the practice is to focus on the breath with a tenderhearted awareness of our thoughts and feelings which is mindfulness (focused attention + tenderhearted awareness = mindfulness), then when we get distracted (or attached), we compassionately let go of the distraction/attachment and return to our true nature of love, compassion, kindness and peace.

So then what do we do?

We return to focus on the breath, with a tenderhearted awareness of our thoughts and feelings. Then when we get distracted or attached, we compassionately let go of the distraction/attachment and return to our true nature of love, compassion, kindness and peace.

And so the cycle emerges.

Similarly, in our everyday lives when we take Zen to the streets we focus on whatever we are doing, with a tenderhearted awareness of our thoughts and feelings. Then when we get distracted or attached, we compassionately let go of the distraction/attachment and return to our true nature of love, compassion, kindness and peace.

So then what do we do?

We return to focus on whatever we are doing, with a tenderhearted awareness of our thoughts and feelings. Then when we get distracted or attached, we compassionately let go of the distraction/attachment and return to our true nature of love, compassion, kindness and peace.

And so the Zen cycle in meditation is the Zen cycle in our everyday lives:

  1. focus and awareness (mindfulness)
  2. letting go of distractions and attachments
  3. returning to our true nature of love, compassion, kindness and peace

Then we get back to:

  1. focus and awareness
  2. letting go of distractions and attachments
  3. returning to our true nature

And at its very barest of bones, all you have to remember is:

  1. focus and awareness
  2. letting go
  3. true nature

That’s it – the Zen cycle – the everyday practice of practical Zen on a moment by moment basis:

  1. focus and awareness
  2. letting go
  3. true nature

We can put that on a 3 x 5 index card (if there’s still a such thing in this computer age) or a scrap piece of paper to literally place in our pockets and remind ourselves of:

  1. focus and awareness
  2. letting go
  3. true nature

And life has a very good reminder system for getting back on track if you drift off and forget about the cycle, because any time you’re experiencing anything other than love, tenderheartedness, compassion, kindness and/or peace, you’ll feel it, either in the form of anxiety, frustration, anger, depression or any other negative emotion. And when that negative emotion is traced back to its source you will find an attachment to a desire.

At that point you skip straight to the practice of letting go and remind yourself to compassionately “let go, let go, let go” in the field of tenderhearted awareness (as we saw in Letting Go: The Path to Peace) until you can get back to being in touch with your true nature.

If it’s a particularly sticky attachment, then hold it in spacious awareness (remember the raging bull story) and carry on with what you have to do until you can get a few minutes to take some focused breaths and get back to the peace of your true nature.

And if the attachment still won’t go away, give it the room it needs in spacious awareness and do the best you can in getting on with your life until time or circumstance allows it to dissipate.

This will all make more sense if you’ve been following the previous posts but if you’re new to the site and want to delve further into these practices, I’d recommend starting with Practical Zen in a Nutshell and continuing on from there in chronological order as the concepts build on each other (and hopefully make for good reading!).

Recap

The Zen cycle first practiced in meditation then taken into our everyday lives is just this:

  1. focus and awareness
  2. letting go
  3. true nature

Then return to

  1. focus and awareness
  2. letting go
  3. true nature

That’s it for now, thanks for stopping by and see you soon.

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11 thoughts on “The Zen Cycle

  1. It all made sense to me Richard. Perfect sense.
    I’m still trying to perfect the three parts of the Zen process. It’s an ongoing effort in my daily life to remember and shift my focus back to where it should be. I feel like I’m still battling the “letting go” stage but I’m working on it and I think, ever so slowly, your words are helping.
    Thanks so much. I always look forward to your posts. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Miriam. I’m not quite sure there is a such thing as perfecting the three parts of the Zen process – it’s a life-long practice. We can certainly get better at it, but the mind is like a car whose alignment needs adjusting and will drift off unless we have our hands on the steering wheel. The Zen cycle is our hands on the steering wheel. Don’t get discouraged – there’s no such thing as perfection but just by doing it, not only will you get better, but you’re miles ahead of those who sadly aren’t even aware that there’s a way to alleviate their suffering and not be controlled by their own thoughts. So well done for trying – and don’t give up!!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So true Richard. I realised after I posted my comment that I used the wrong word. ‘Perfect’ is something that none of us will ever really achieve, but you’re also right in that we can only get better at something if we practice it. The problem with me is that my focus sometimes is off so I have to constantly challenge myself to get back on track and think the thoughts that will propel me forward. Rather than dragging me back. Thanks for your encouragement. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Just keep in mind that everybody’s focus is sometimes off, and is usually off more than it’s on, but the more we practice the better we get. And don’t forget to be tenderly compassionate towards yourself. If you’re like me and are a recovering perfectionist, you’ll tend to be hard on yourself in order to get better, when in fact it’s when we’re compassionate towards ourselves during times of perceived failures that we do the best – that’s supported by studies on those who have slips on diets. The ones who were self-compassionate when they slipped did better in the long run than the ones who were hard on themselves. Tenderhearted compassion – we’re going to be with ourselves for the rest of our lives, so life will be a lot nicer if we’re kind to ourselves, which then makes us better at being kind to others – and I think I’ve just half-written my next post! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. So, so true. I am guilty of being hard on myself, even when I think I’m being kind I’m actually beating myself up over slips and failures and moving backwards. Or at least what I see as moving backwards. So much self-doubt and introspection really isn’t helping me and I’ve been going a lot of that lately. BUT I’m determined to keep trying to shift my focus to where it should be.
        Thanks again Richard for allowing me to vent my thoughts, I appreciate it. You’re like a breath of fresh air for me at the moment. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad it resonated and good point. I’ve found that when we’re in touch with our true nature of love, compassion, and kindness, those kinds of thoughts naturally flow. Conversely when there’s depression, anxiety or anger, those kind of thoughts flow as well. Another important reason for being in touch with the true nature. Thanks for bringing that up and for the encouraging comment.

      Like

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