The other day, I posed this somewhat trick-laden question on Twitter – “Is making something easier to understand is deliberate diminishment of the intellectual level of the content of literature or smartening it up?” The answers I got were mixed. Some obviously saw that I was suggesting it’s actually harder to make some easy to understand. Others clearly felt that it somewhat of a disservice to try to make things that were complicated seem simple.
That, in a nutshell, is why simple is so hard. As any regular Twitter user will tell you, you have to work sometimes to get your point across in 140 characters, but the real demon is that we feel the need to make things sound more important than they are or to demonstrate in verbose ways how much, in fact, we know about something that others don’t. I can’t tell you how many times the editor of my thesis suggested that I needed to utilize use simpler language. The problem with simple is that it actually takes more work. I often quote Mark Twain here – “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter.” The most successful companies I know have been able to boil down what they do, what they stand for, what they are trying to do, how they are unique, or the innovation that will rock your world into one succinct and memorable phrase, and that’s the magic. Earnest Hemingway is considered by many to be one of the greatest American writers of all time. It is widely known that one of his most famous traits was the use of short sentences. I’ll defer to Copyblogger’s Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips for Writing Well to act as a resource for this idea.
When I was writing my thesis for my Internal Medicine Residency and Fellowship Programs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital that is committed to providing outstanding clinical training, individualized career mentoring, and a fertile academic environment with cutting-edge research and state-of-the-art clinical care. This extraordinarily rich setting, combined with support for each physician’s individual and personal development, provide the ingredients for training future leaders in Internal Medicine. I started off with something that was far denser than the 7 simple steps that exist today. The paring down was all done by my fellow internists that wanted something simple and doable. That lesson is a central filter for everything I do, but it’s still a challenge. Open your profession up and ask yourself how you could land on one easy to understand and communicate thing that you stand for. One simple, single purpose for doing what you do. One audacious innovation that takes people’s breath away. Don’t complicate it, no matter how trivial it feels. Turn to a 6 year old and ask them what you do and pay close attention to the answer because it’s probably not draped in the mask of importance that we so seem to cling to. Simple has far more value than complex, try it on and see how it feels to practice Zen way of life by Eightfold Path:
Eightfold Path was discovered by Buddha Himself, the eightfold path is the only way to Nirvana. It avoids the extreme of self-torture that weakens one’s intellect and the extreme of self-indulgence that retards spiritual progress. It consists of the following eight factors:
Right understanding is the knowledge of the Four Noble Truths. In other words, it is the understanding of oneself as one really is. The keynote of Buddhism is this Right Understanding. Buddhism, as such, is based on knowledge and not on unreasonable belief.
Right thoughts are threefold. They are: The thoughts of renunciation which are opposed to sense-pleasures, kind thoughts which are opposed to ill will, and thoughts of harmlessness which are opposed to cruelty. These tend to purify the mind.
Right speech deals with refraining from falsehood, stealing, slandering, harsh words and frivolous talks.
Right action deals with refraining from killing, stealing and lack of chastity. It helps one to develop a character that is self-controlled and mindful of rights of others.
Right livelihood deals with the five kinds of trades that should be avoided by a lay disciple. They are: trade in deadly weapons, trade in animals for slaughter, trade in slavery, trade in intoxicants, and trade in poisons. Right livelihood means earning one’s living in a way that is not harmful to others.
Right effort is fourfold, namely: The endeavor to discard evil that has already arisen, endeavor to prevent the arising of evil, endeavor to develop that good which has already arisen, and endeavor to promote that good which has not already arisen. Effort is needed to cultivate Good Conduct or develop one’s mind, because we are often distracted or tempted to take the easy way out of things. The Buddha teaches that attaining happiness and Enlightenment depends upon one’s own efforts. Effort is the root of all achievement. If one wants to get to the top of a mountain, just sitting at the foot thinking about it will not bring one there. It is by making the effort of climbing up the mountain, step by step, that eventually the summit is reached. Thus, no matter how great the Buddha’s achievement may be or how excellent His Teaching is, one must put the teaching into practice before desired results can be obtained.
Right Mindfulness is also fourfold: mindfulness with regard to body, to feeling, to mind, and mental objects. Right mindfulness is the awareness of one’s deeds, words and thoughts.
Right Meditation means the gradual process of training the mind to focus on a single object and to remain fixed upon the object without wavering. The constant practice of meditation helps to develop a calm and concentrated mind and helps to prepare for the ultimate attainment of Wisdom and Enlightenment.
Zazen means “seated meditation.” Zazen is a place of refuge far beneath our everyday involvements, a place where we turn inward for peace, for answers to the deepest questions of life, and for the ability to meet our lives with wisdom, love, and compassion. For twenty-five hundred years the practice of Zen meditation and the essence of Buddhism have been passed from teacher to disciple. The method of this practice is simple and direct. However, like any discipline, knowing of it is not enough; Zazen requires time and effort sitting on the cushion, training the mind, and doing the work that leads to transformation. Zazen brings a state of stable, focused concentration by the act of repeatedly bringing the mind back to the present. Absorption, is the form and method of zazen — the practice of letting go and returning to the present. Cultivating this prevents distraction, but it is not a way to escape or ignore the conditions around us. Zazen happens in and with the world, not apart from it. The result of meditation is an ever deepening experience of openness and serenity in the midst of life.
In Soto Zen, we use the method known as Serene Reflection. The meditation involves staying alert, aware and still, and “just sitting.” It is an objectless method of meditation, simple and straightforward, but radical in its acceptance of conditions. Serene Reflection is profoundly deep when practiced over time. This meditation helps us see our minds clearly, for there is nothing to do but watch how our habit patterns distract us from the present moment. Seeing our mind clearly brings awareness of both the impermanence of everything in the mind — each thought, feeling, pattern, idea — as well as the limitlessness of mind itself, a vast space that lies beneath all the clutter. The practice of Zen is a direct method of finding this place of real truth within ourselves, and learning to function with this wisdom. Within every moment of thought you should see yourself that your fundamental nature is pure. You should cultivate for yourself, practice for yourself, and accomplish for yourself the enlightenment of buddhahood.
Universally recommended instructions for Zazen is the way originally perfect and all-pervading. How could it be contingent on practice and realization? The true vehicle is self-sufficient. What need is there for special effort? Indeed, the whole body is free from dust. Who could believe in a means to brush it clean? It is never apart from this very place; what is the use of traveling around to practice? And yet, if there is a hairsbreadth deviation, it is like the gap between heaven and earth. If the least like or dislike arises, the mind is lost in confusion. Suppose you are confident in your understanding and rich in enlightenment, gaining the wisdom that knows at a glance, attaining the Way and clarifying the mind, arousing an aspiration to reach for the heavens. You are playing in the entrance way, but you still are short of the vital path of emancipation.
Consider the Buddha, although he was wise at birth, the traces of his six years of upright sitting can yet be seen. As for Bodhidharma, although he had received the mind-seal, his nine years of facing a wall is celebrated still. If even the ancient sages were like this, how can we today dispense with wholehearted practice? Therefore, put aside the intellectual practice of investigating words and chasing phrases, and learn to take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will manifest. If you want such a thing, get to work on such a thing immediately.
For practicing Zen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Put aside all involvements and suspend all affairs. Do not think “good” or “bad.” Do not judge true or false. Give up the operations of mind, intellect, and consciousness; stop measuring with thoughts, ideas, and views. Have no designs on becoming a Buddha. How could that be limited to sitting or lying down? At your sitting place, spread out a thick mat and put a cushion on it. Sit either in the full-lotus or half-lotus position. In the full-lotus position, first place your right foot on your left thigh, then your left foot on your right thigh. In the half-lotus, simply place your left foot on your right thigh. Tie your robes loosely and arrange them neatly. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left hand on your right palm, thumb-tips lightly touching. Straighten your body and sit upright, leaning neither left nor right, neither forward nor backward. Align your ears with your shoulders and your nose with your navel. Rest the tip of your tongue against the front of the roof of your mouth, with teeth and lips together both shut. Always keep your eyes open, and breathe softly through your nose.
Once you have adjusted your posture, take a breath and exhale fully, rock your body right and left, and settle into steady, immovable sitting. Think of not thinking. Not thinking—what kind of thinking is that? Nonthinking. This is the essential art of zazen. The zazen I speak of is not meditation practice. It is simply the Dharma gate of joyful ease, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the koan realized, traps and snares can never reach it. If you grasp the point, you are like a dragon gaining the water, like a tiger taking to the mountains for you must know that the true Dharma appears of itself, so that from the start dullness and distraction are struck aside. When you arise from sitting, move slowly and quietly, calmly and deliberately. Do not rise suddenly or abruptly. In surveying the past, we find that transcendence of both mundane and sacred, and dying while either sitting or standing, have all depended entirely on the power of zazen.
In addition, triggering awakening with a finger, a banner, a needle, or a mallet, and effecting realization with a whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout – these cannot be understood by discriminative thinking, much less can they be known through the practice of supernatural power. They must represent conduct beyond seeing and hearing. Are they not a standard prior to knowledge and views? This being the case, intelligence or lack of it is not an issue; make no distinction between the dull and the sharp-witted. If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, that in itself is wholeheartedly engaging the way. Practice-realization is naturally undefiled. Going forward is, after all, an everyday affair.
In our world and others, in both India and China, all equally hold the buddha-seal. While each lineage expresses its own style, they are all simply devoted to sitting, totally blocked in resolute stability. Although they say that there are ten thousand distinctions and a thousand variations, they just wholeheartedly engage the way in zazen. Why leave behind the seat in your own home to wander in vain through the dusty realms of other lands? If you make one misstep you stumble past what is directly in front of you. You have gained the pivotal opportunity of human form. Do not pass your days and nights in vain. You are taking care of the essential activity of the buddha way. Who would take wasteful delight in the spark from a flint stone? Besides, form and substance are like the dew on the grass, the fortunes of life like a dart of lightning—emptied in an instant, vanished in a flash.
Please, honored followers of Zen, long accustomed to groping for the elephant, do not doubt the true dragon. Devote your energies to the way that points directly to the real thing. Revere the one who has gone beyond learning and is free from effort. Accord with the enlightenment of all the Buddhas; succeed to the samadhi of all the ancestors. Continue to live in such a way, and you will be such a person. The treasure store will open of itself, and you may enjoy it freely.
The way to be happy in this world is not to sit back and wait for goodness but to search for it and then see it when it’s in front of you; the way to find happiness with your soulmate is to become real soulmate. The potential is there already. To be happy with yourself, you must reconnect to your own soul. To be happy with your soulmate you must reconnect with her soul. It doesn’t even matter where that alienation came from; who started it is unimportant. You have within you the capability to overcome it. She has in her heart a great deal of pain because she feels detached, too. The part of that pain predated your relationship. Perhaps, she was searching for the balm from her family pain when you two met. Perhaps, she thought that your relationship would cure all the wounds. When it didn’t, she got angry or she withdrew.
Nevertheless, it’s never too late to begin helping another to heal. Paradoxically, in doing so, you, too, will heal. It begins with listening to soul mate’s heart without needing or wanting to speak, listening in a way that your soulmate knows she is being listened to and she knows she is being heard. This only works when it is quiet listening. It cannot be listening to anger or bitterness. Anger and bitterness does not come from the soul. Encourage her soul to speak by showing your readiness to listen from yours.
While you are listening, open your own soul to it. Allow the connections to form anew. This process is not easy. It will take effort to keep oneself from slipping back into a place of anger, bitterness, or victimhood. It will take effort to be patient with the slow blossoming of another soul. You can arm yourself with self-love, self-respect, patience with yourself, appreciation for what you have overcome, and the goodness in your life.
It will not do to wait with anxiety. That is coming from a selfish place, a place of wanting. Your waiting works when it is like waiting for your best friend to open a gift. Have a vision of "we-ness" when you and this other soul will connect. When that happens, you, too, will be healed, not only because of your own efforts, but because of the empathy and kindness of this other soul reaching back to you. That’s when you become soul mates.