existentialist cafe

life is sacred

Tag: zen

the Zen of sneezing

Who can’t appreciate a good sneeze? It is satisfying in a very fundamental, visceral sense. As the sneeze arrives, your whole being signals its imminence, bending with anticipation toward a good outcome. I don’t need to tell you the pain and disappointment of an aborted sneeze. Equally abhorrent is the distorted or misdirected sneeze. The sneeze that dispels some or all of its force against the throat and tonsils is a cruel mockery of a fine thing.

When done correctly the sneeze is divorced entirely from act of will. It seems to overtake you, arising from deep within the bowels and transferring its energy without loss or inefficiency through the lungs and out the nose. I think it is appropriate to think of well-formed sneezes and non-well-formed sneezes. A well-formed sneeze is like the proper execution of a Japanese tea ceremony – pure intention leading to pure act. A non-well-formed sneeze is not only inelegant but ugly and useless.

I had a professor who said that in her private practice much of dealing with anxiety was teaching people to breathe correctly. The anxious mind is so overwrought that it seeks to control even this simple, fundamental act, trying to abscond with the involuntary breathing muscles and creating a disgusting hybrid of forced breath that compounds stress and anxiety. So with sneezing. Control must be relinquished, though it is difficult to do so. As delightful as a sneeze is, one can not coax it. It can be invited, but not pressured. One can take a posture of openness and readiness, and that is all. A sneeze which is allowed to mature in its own time is a marvel. It neither hurries nor waits.

Thus the benediction ‘God bless you’ is appropriate only in the case of a non-well-formed sneeze, for such sneezes are indicative of the mind which has not subjugated itself to the rule of Christ. Such a mind seeks to terrorize heaven and determine not only the ‘day and the hour’ but also the manner of events that are beyond our control. But the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night. One can only prepare the way and abide in patience and attention.


It occurred to me while I was at the bar that some goods can only be attained absent of the immediate intention to have that good. At the moment the most obvious one was humility. It is nice for me to decide that I am not a very humble person and would like to, and perhaps to carry that consciousness around with me and to set up trying to attain it; however in order to be humble it is necessary to lose a sense of myself as a person who is humble or not humble. Humility seems to be a virtue which happens vicariously, especially when the invest yourself fully in some worthy activity. It requires a certain kind of losing of preoccupation with the self and its status, but instead a face-to-face encounter with the greater-than. Humility is the limp that one gains in wrestling with an angel; it is not the blessing which one demands of the angel.

So people have told me that only when they no longer cared whether they would fall in love that they did. So others have told me that only when they have ceased being concerned with finding happiness that they found it.

Attention and consciousness is a mental program which is initiated by an unsettled state of affairs. Our focus is pulled onto that problem in an effort to detect the source and the solution. Self-consciousness is tripped when a problem with the self is detected. When you are not happy then you were aware of the thing called happiness, and you desire to be happy. Happiness is the one thing which utterly defines the situation you are in, and happiness as a goal fills up your field of consciousness. But if happiness can only be found by not seeking happiness, then you are in trouble. This may be way Zen Buddhism practices the attainment of non-attainment. What more do we have that we ought to give over? I’m afraid that the quest for self-actualization is in the end a vacuous quest. If the ‘self’ is what we aim for, then we should not be surprised if we end up thoroughly self-involved. But Jesus says, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

In the woods

i spent some time in the woods today in silence and was rewarded by a hummingbird far from feeder or flower darting to and fro among the pines

the lilac bush in my path held my feet fast no matter how hard i struggled to escape like a bug enraptured by the light and it lingers still

patient old oak tree
little squirrel makes more noise
than you thought he could

Today a symbol fell from heaven, carrying with it evidence of both its origin and its destination. Sandwiched in between a flash of red and a blade of grass, or between laughter and silence, or between the sunlight and the forest floor. There is no sense of why or how, but only whence and whereto. Today, the dandelions floated by from a lawnmower, like a special effect for the afternoon reverie, so I could sink deeper into a daydream.


There is a time for ‘why.’ Follow that daisy chain further and further back into your metaphysical past. Ask, answer, ask again, to infinity and beyond. Then, finally, when your tongue is swollen, give yourself the silence that you could have learned from the beginning. Do not interrogate the portents from heaven that fall on your lap. There is a neuron in your brain that understands this matter, without speech. Do as it says. If you must speak, know that speech is only the background noise to the efforts of your mind.

There is a time for speech. Speak to others, who do not understand, who desire to understand, who need to understand. Speak to yourself who does not understand, who desires to understand, who needs to understand. Speech fills up our hesitation. When our conscious mind is at a loss and grasping for sense, sending its tentacles into the air to find some purchase, speech coaxes it on. Silence unnerves it. Speech soothes it. There is a time for speech.

And there is a time for silence. Listen to that portent from heaven, that flash of red against the winter white, that dapple of sunlight on the forest floor. Listen, for a long long time. Then get up, and go.

The way a crow
shook down on me
the dust of snow
from a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
a change of mood
and saved some part
of a day I had rued.
~robert frost