I heard about a football coach who told his players that if they found themselves in the end zone they should “act like you've been there before”, i.e. show a measure of dignity, respect. Non-binary ideas like this are rare enough and the spirit, the mindset of this one stuck somehow; maybe because in football it is rather rare. More often, there is an elaborate end zone dance after a score.
My generation, (Boomers), stand aware and sometimes accused of having treated ourselves to an endless end zone dance; a triumphal, in-your-face attitude to the collective good, the future and the shared environment in which enrichment justified extreme spoliation. It is by now scarcely controversial to claim that ruthless expediency has been more valued than anything else. This is a terminal path for human civilization. That is our reality today...the path must change and the only way is to mount a global effort to restore, respect and sustain; an effort that must match the momentum of decades of heedlessness. It might be impossible.
I suppose every generation is required in some way to pick up the tab for past generations. I read recently that in Great Britain a government loan taken to pay off 19th century slave owners was finally retired in 2017. But the bill this generation has to pay is much higher than that. Today the tab is existence itself.
For so long in the western world we were winning every battle, righting every wrong, prospering beyond the dreams of avarice, and all the while being decidedly heedless of the harm and suffering of the earth and most of its people.
Mindfulness, obviously, is the general antidote to heedlessness, and the world needs it to become a meme of potency. A meme behaves much like a virus...but it is just an idea. A viral idea starts with a personal recognition, so we all have something to contribute. The initial condition of mindfulness is to cease causing heedless harm. This shift in attention and intention has restorative power that every person can experience. Recall the covid-quiet spring of 2020. When everything locked down the air and water began to clear up right away in the relative calm that ensued.
Our task is to be mindful, the starting point of which is to stop being heedless about things; in particular, the harm to and suffering of others. In order to stop being heedless about such things it is necessary to meditate. Certainly, mindfulness training, among others, can do a lot with self conditioning and understanding but the underlying intention to cease being harmfully heedless won't grow beyond seed, beyond being just a good idea, without the stillness of zero.
Meditation is a highly contrived reassembling of body and mind so as to affect a joining. The so-called 'stillness of zero' is the idealized condition of this joining. Being zero, it is neither one nor many.
Joining of body and mind leaves behind a recognition of connections and patterns. That recognition is true self study, the initial advice in Zen for living life as a path. With this, self is forgotten and then affinity and interdependence begin to influence perceptions and behaviours. Eventually, it is said, the body/mind will just drop away for each and all. The meditative zero, though, at every point, provides the same direct experience of a pristine harmlessness, so we always have something worth emulating. Just this is worth aiming for because it is without harm or hindrance. In Zen lore this kind of personification is called “no rank” personification, i.e. being present but without conditions or comparative thinking.
Wayne Codling is a former Zen monastic and a lineage holder in the Soto Zen tradition. He teaches Zen style meditation in various venues around Victoria. Wayne’s talks and some writings can be found on his blog http://sotozenvictoria.wordpress.com
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* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, March 27th 2021