MF 25 – The Daily Zen Creator Charlie Ambler Talks about his Meditation Journey

MF 25 – The Daily Zen Creator Charlie Ambler Talks about his Meditation Journey

MF 25 – Charlie Ambler from The Daily Zen Talks about his Meditation Journey

Note: This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview.

What brought you to a meditation practice?

Charlie describes himself growing up as a rather impulsive and anxious. His grandmother (a music historian) interviewed John Cage, the composer at one point. He gave her a copy of a book on Zen Buddhism. Charlie ran into the book, as a 13 year old kid, and was curious about it.

He got more and more interested in Buddhism, and started reading more about it online as well. He then started practicing it in his room, the various breathing meditation exercises. He settled on simple and direct method of Zazen Meditation breathing. He’s 22 at the time of this interview, so it’s been about 9 years since he first got interested in Buddhism and meditation.

Charlie finds that if he doesn’t meditate regularly, then he’s more prone to anxiety, destructive ways of thinking and harmful habits. He then feels generally less centered, and less creative.

And what specific practice are you using at this time?

Now he’s doing zazen meditation, or breath counting.

He remembers the old saying,

“Let your thoughts come and go,

but you don’t serve them tea.”

Have you noticed changes in your day to day life?

When he was younger, it was easier to meditate, there was less, a smaller bank of sensory information. Meditation was easier, despite the fact that he was a hyperactive kid. But now with all the reading he’s doing, and responsibilities and things and thoughts that come with adulthood, and the busy life in the big city (New York) he finds it more difficult to practice. But for that reason it is more challenging and rewarding as well. All the more reason why it is so important for him to do it each day.

He practices detaching himself from wanting to get anything out of it. Meditation becomes very difficult when you want to get something out of it.

You get into a chasing mind, which makes it all the harder.  

Yeah you get into thinking about thinking, a circular cycle. Once you allow yourself to step back from  your own thoughts, and get less stressed out. It helps, gives your problems less importance, let them come to pass.

Has your practice changed your outlook on life, you post on your web site how your thinking has changed?

When Charlie started he was reading about meditation he ran into more of a new age corporate way of viewing meditation practice. Like how a meditation practice would allow you to accomplish your goals, do your job really well, etc. But then as he dug deeper into the eastern writing behind meditation, he realized that the Zen school was more talking about divorcing yourself from attachment to expectations and outcomes.

He realized that this was part of this larger concept, well illustrated in Taoist writings, where you step back from something, you have this strange side-effect where you end up achieving it, by stepping back. He then quotes:

By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond the winning.
Lao Tzu

Charlie finds that when you practice meditation for a while, you don’t find yourself planning ahead 10 years ahead. He finds himself less trying to achieve things, instead to just do things. The funny contradiction in that is that when you stop caring so much about the results of what you’re doing, you end up doing a ton more. 

Ever since Charlie has really implemented that philosophy, he finds himself far less anxious about starting things. Just throw yourself into things, just do them. The key is to just do things, not care about the results. Learn from them yes. Sometimes the results is just garbage, and sometimes it works out.

There is also a part of understanding how who you are changes, the attachment and creations of personas changes too..

Definitely, Charlie found himself confronting himself with the Zen idea of true self, and how you find your true self by looking inward.

There’s the true self, a healthy ego, who you really are, and the false self ego, which is a combination of the various personas, cultural and social influences.

Yes, the meditation practice has helped me at least partially shed ideas of who he thinks he’s supposed to be. Make him less prone to idolizing and trying to be like other people. To learn from people, but not to emulate them. Or imitate them. Take only what feels true to himself. That questioning yourself and your beliefs seems to come naturally to Charlie when he meditates. Try to do something that is more in alignment with who he really is. Move away from things that are not in alignment with his real self.

Would you say your project with the daily Zen is more in alignment with who you really are?

Yes, it is now. The greatest gift I got from working on this site, is figuring out who I am. It’s reflected his own internal struggles with writing. Like periods with lots of sappy quotes, that don’t really have much meaning. Or the derivative articles like, “10 things to help you do your job better” listicles, that I thought I was supposed to write about. He then decided recently, like a year ago, that he wants to do this for a while. He wants to do it in a way that reflects himself, and feels true to himself.

So he removed all ads, and simply do writing and pretty art like images. This writing blog practice helped him do something that gives him fulfillment. Even if no one read it, Charlie would feel grateful.

Yes, the Daily Zen now really expresses who I’m actually am. Charlie finally feels that it is real to him, because it expresses who he actually is. This makes the writing so much easier, because he’s writing from his own point of view, about concepts he encounters while he meditates. Instead of trying to emulate Thích Nhất Hạnh, or Allan Watts. 

If he gets lazy, and stops meditating, the process becomes much more difficult. It encourages him to continue his practice. And the practice itself provides him with most of the content.

Do you practice with others?

No it’s always been a solitary pursuit. He’s gone through a few sessions, but trying to get to a point where he can lead meditation sessions.

So the Daily Zen website is one way that encourages you to continue to practice..

Definitely, the following has grown significantly, and that provides a social element that keeps me practicing. Everyday that gives a level of encouragement.

For the folks that don’t know about your web site, is it just the site, or also the Twitter and Facebook account. 

It started exclusively as a twitter account. when Twitter was very young. That is where he feels the biggest sense of community with it. Most of the discussion is on Facebook and Twitter, but most of the social interaction is on Twitter. And it is fun, and zen in a way, because twitter’s 140 character limit. They have to be brief! Good forum for quotes and aphorisms.

What have you found that resonates the most with people on Twitter?

Short statements by himself or found in other places like quotes from books, that elucidates a certain idea about compassion, or meditation, or mindfulness. Sort of brief aphoristic statements do very well, sometimes way better than I anticipated. I share long posts, but most favorite and successful are quotes.

That resonate with you as well?

Yes, my own favorites, like little zen proverbs.

“After enlightenment, the laundry”. 

 “Let go or be dragged!”

Quotes by Tolle, Osho, Thay, Alan Watts, spiritual teachers, etc.

Others are little bits of wisdom that reveal ideas that is like zen in nature. Even Nietsche who hated Buddhism, who has similar ideas nevertheless.

“When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.” Where your world is made up your thoughts. And what comprises your thoughts ends up coloring the way that you experience the world. That really ties close into what my experience of meditation is.

You mention on one of your posts,

“The world becomes amazing when we acknowledge mere existence as a miracle in and of itself, and when we appreciate what is and has always been, rather than what could be.”

How did that understanding occur to you at some point?

Yes, that is something a way of thinking that occurs during meditation at some point. Appreciating everything equally. Where there is no judging things as good or bad, just letting them wash over you. It comes for Charlie as a comedown from good things in relationships and things like achievements that happen. There is a return to reality once the euphoria washes away.

That state is pretty arbitrary, that sense of contentment, and that state of euphoria is available at any time… We’re taught that it needs a stimulus (like a great job, or getting some other reward) before you can feel this excitement about life. If you learn to discipline your mind , you can experience it just by looking at for example an animal, or the sky, doing anything, etc. That is the biggest take away from that type of non-judgement that occurs during meditation.

I think there is also an element of slowing down that helps with this appreciation of the miracle of life. You mention about humans fabricating needs, and things that keep us from experiencing the miracle that is life right in front of our noses. Quote from Charlie’s web site:

“A false sense of necessity is the mother of invention, and humans will never rid themselves of this need to fabricate new needs. We can learn from cats and other animals to relax, to love in a simple way, to eat when we’re eating and sit when we’re sitting. Humans always seem to be existing for something else, but animals exist for the here-and-now.”

It’s a weird thing and weird political idea. There is this, “the cult of progress”. Constantly building new things, going to the next level. That to him represents the the kind of societal craving that individuals have that makes them unhappy. He wonders if that is contributing to a mass unhappiness. People so obsessed with the future, because of technology and all these other things. And as a result forget the past and neglect the present.

Insightful!

Yeah, that’s where I’m at, its the kind of practice that makes it OK to change your mind. Change is OK, 6 months I might feel differently.

Any example of where you bring your meditation practice with you?

It is easy trap when you live in a major metropolitan area to be totally inundated by the chaos, sensory information overload in modern cities are really insane places. Sometimes it still jars me.  Like when I go into an area, like times square, or Manhattan, with a lot of skyscrapers, it used to paralyze me, how artificial is, it used to give me anxiety.

But now I see myself as part of the whole thing, I’m a functioning part of this thing. Just like Alan Watts says you’re a functioning part of the universe. He has a great speech about New York City, where he teaches his audience to view the city, as akin to a human body, with all the organs, where it functions autonomously, thanks to all the individual cells. And the cells end up being individual people, animals, and machines.

Living in the city forces you to see yourself as not apart from the city, but as very much part of the fabric. That translates for me into everything. You’re part of everything, and someday you die, you don’t disappear, you just transform into a different thing. Its this concept of universality, recognizing that you are part of everything. It didn’t cause me anxiety or an inflated sense of ego. When you understand it in some way, it’s a humbling experience.

You don’t really feel forced to assert yourself.

But at the same time it doesn’t make you so small that you become non-existent, there is something that also comes forth that brings forth your unique individual contribution…

Yes, there is this  Jiddish concept that my mother really likes, called the jadsahara. This idea that you are both a speck of dust, as well the universe. So folks either feel either on top of the world, or feel insignificant. The key, I think is instead you want to go beyond one side or the other, transcending both, realize that you are both. Both insignificant, and very significant. If you’re alive, you’re always going to exist in some form or another.

So does this also change your choices, and intentions, as a result of how they live on in some way or another..

Yes, that is how I view karma, the ripple effect of your actions.

Resources

Ep 24 – Guided Meditation with Kristina Rood and Ocean Wave Sounds

Ep 24 – Guided Meditation with Kristina Rood and Ocean Wave Sounds

Ep 24 – Guided Meditation with Kristina Rood and Ocean Wave Sounds

Kristina used to do diet counseling, and has practiced Zen and TM meditation for a long time. She will be interviewed on this show one of these days, so she can expand on her meditation journey. Please use the comments area below to share your thoughts on this meditation.

She would be happy to create another guided meditation, like a specific meditation for dieting if there is interest.

See also below the Youtube version of her ocean meditation.

Resources

 

When Fragmented Attention Causes Harm

Recently Kristina and myself were packing and readying to move to our new house some 1500 miles south, and I recall doing an errant down the hill to the grocery store. It was spring in the Northwest, and the light was streaming through the beautiful green translucent leaves. There was luscious green grass all around, plenty to eat for a rabbit. As I waited to turn on a side street, I briefly stopped to enjoy watching a small rabbit hopping across the street I was turning into.

Rabbit

Then shortly after a sports car appeared quite suddenly from the opposite direction, and a man in it was smiling and chatting on his mobile phone.

He drove over the rabbit, and I could clearly see the rabbit was being torn up and mangled. The man and his car moved on without stopping a beat, and the rabbit was now laying motionless on the street. The man was so involved in his conversation that he barely noticed. He kept on driving and chatting, moving on with his life.

I immediately felt sadness, and went over to the rabbit to at least get him off the street. That way, even if already dead, the rabbits body would not sustain additional damage.

As I approached he body, I could see the legs were broken and twisted, and all of it’s abdomen, stomach, and intestines were hanging out. Even it’s heart was visible, and it was still beating. It was sad and emotional for me to watch this precious little heart beating, but the rabbit was likely no longer there, or unconscious and dying.

I stroked it’s ears and head and talked with it some soothing words. And then told the rabbit I was moving it to the side of the street, so it could die more peacefully.

After having moved it slowly, as everything was hanging out, a few minutes passed. Slowly the heartbeat became less pronounced until finally it ceased. I tried closing the rabbit’s eyes, but they stayed open.

I wished the rabbit peace and got back in the car. I reflected on how all of us, not just the guy on the phone can get so distracted from the present.

As you can see by this example, we really cause harm when not paying attention to what is right beneath or in front of us.

At the same time, I also reflected on my own journey, and could clearly see that this move out of state, while hectic, and with a few minor moments of forgetfulness, was overall so much more stable and less messy, than the move we did 16 years earlier. I could see how years of practicing meditation and mindfulness and mingling this into every day life allowed me to be able to be so much more present for this big life transition than the earlier move was.

However, what the rabbit in it’s death was showing, that we, all of us have a tendency to get caught up in a small bubble with so many distractions that fragment our attention.

Increasingly in recent years, our attention has become fragmented, and our focus shortened. With internet and mobile device use, the rise of social media, advertisements and infinite choices competing for our attention, and so many other demands in our lives.

To me this increasing fragmented attention is highly likely causing harm to something, or someone, somewhere.

We have to keep practicing, keep refining our practice, so we can be awake, and present for this moment, where all life flows.

The more present and awake we are, the less harm we cause.

Please verify this with your own experience. What happens to your encounters in the now when you become more present? Alternatively, what happens to your immediate family, the human family, and the rest of our planetary family when you’re less present?

I’d love to know what your experience is like.

MF 23 – Guided Meditation for Present Moment to Moment Attention and Awareness

MF 23 – Guided Meditation for Present Moment to Moment Attention and Awareness

Guided Meditation for Present Moment to Moment Attention and Awareness Cultivation with Sicco

This episode deviates from the usual interview episode.

Kristina and myself are in a time of transition. We’re moving to another state, hence I thought this would be a bit easier to do than arranging an interview. This is also based on request from several listeners. They wanted a guided meditation to listen to from my perspective, so here it is above (click on the link above to download or play directly in the web page).

Kristina trucking past Mt Hood

Kristina and me trucking past Mt Hood

The awesome Mt Shasta

Please let me know what you think of this episode in the comments below!

Thanks!

MF 22 – Solo Episode about Recklessness as a way into Attention, Awareness, and Consciousness Practices

MF 22 – Solo Episode about Recklessness as a way into Attention, Awareness, and Consciousness Practices

Episode 22 – Solo episode about why I value meditation and mindfulness

This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview

Good morning, we just had a 4.1 earthquake out here in the Anza-Borrego desert, just as I was towards the end of my half hour meditation session. A reminder that we are not on solid ground, the ground can be pulled literally underneath us.

Since we’re moving, it is too difficult logistically for me to do interviews, so I will attempt to create a couple of episodes that are different from the usual interview format.

The next week after that, I’ll share an episode with a guided meditation from myself, and one that my wife, Kristina made for Youtube. After that we’ll resume interviews.

I believe there are a number of reasons we start meditating, in this episode I just want to look at one angle. Here is one of the reasons I started meditating, being less reckless.

So one of the things I was thinking to bring up on this episode, is by bringing up something that moved me towards a meditation/mindfulness practice as a teen. I already explored some of the reasons I wanted to learn to meditate in the introduction episode, so for this episode I’ll just explore another piece of this. As you may have noticed by listening to this podcast so far, the reasons people give, why they started a meditation practice are wide ranging, and some will admit that they don’t know for sure, or can pinpoint exactly what or  how it all got started for them.

And for illustrative purposes, and since it will be most accurate if I recount my own experiences, I want to just focus on one of the reasons I likely felt compelled towards a meditation practice.

There were of course positive causes like, why am I here, how can I be a kinder person, but there were also other things that motivated me. While my curiosity for a lot of things is usually beneficial, I can look back and also see how curiosity combined with a tendency for distraction/ self-absorbtion/self-centeredness can also turn into a more destructive force like recklessness, or disregard for others or the environment.

So let’s look a little bit at some of the more destructive reasons that brought me to a mediation path.

I suppose I could be on occasion reckless like most children/teenager growing up. Now I don’t want to paint myself as a little shit, I also was sensitive and didn’t like what we were doing to each other, and animals, and the planet at a young age. I recall not liking it when fellow kids took apart living spiders, and similar things boys primarily seem to be attracted to doing.

I think it is important for me to not just show flattering things, but just to be real, and show that I certainly had good reasons for needing to take a look at my own actions and thoughts.

Some examples of my own recklessness in childhood

I liked adventure, exploring, and had curiosity for a lot of things (which hasn’t changed much by the way). To give you some sense of that, I used to row to this trash heap, and dig through it to find old electronics in particular, and see if I could fix them. And so it happened a couple of times, where I got very intense 220 Volts electrical shocks, because I was taking old defective radios and things apart and then trying to put new plugs in them. This type of curiosity coupled with ignorance and disregard for safety was a form of reckless endangerment to myself.

Another thing I liked was playing with fire literally, whether that was things like lighting an ashtray on fire in the house and running up to my parents upstairs, because I couldn’t completely extinguish it, or lighting trash cans in the park on fire to create interesting effects in the park. Or blowing up an old guitar with fireworks.

One of the things I remember was noticing how I almost always had a cut, or bruise, blister, or something else painful going on, because I was into something I probably shouldn’t or wasn’t paying attention.

Another reckless example. For a time I was riding a bike without breaks, so the only way to stop was ride it in the bushes, or use my feet as brake pads.

Another area in which i was reckless was while bicycling in traffic.I would not hesitate to run red lights, cut people off, and pass when ill advised. One time I paid for that by passing two slightly overweight folks, and then slipping on the ice, with them both falling on me and the bike.

The most dangerous time was when I had fallen in love in a summer camp in France with a Dutch girl, and as I mentioned before, when back home in Holland, I would listen to music while bicycling, and completely involved in the music, not caring about my bike.  This is perhaps more likely behavior of young folks who might be tempted to think death, old age, and ill health is for other people or far off in the future.

This I paid for, because on one intersection, I did not have due diligence when looking both ways for traffic and so got hit hard (30-40 mph or more) and literally was thrown off my bike and experienced the event out of my body. Then landed hard, and have had back issues on and off ever since. While the experience was a fascinating experience of time slowing and the mind, and gave me a few days off school. What this did really bring home to me, was that I was reckless and had a problem being fully present and attentive to what was happening around me.

With all these injuries I realized I was clumsy in the attention department, and started realizing that a practice of attention was necessary for me to learn to reduce these accidents.

So as part of my spiritual reading, besides books about Hinduism, I got attracted to Zen. Now I think in part because I had a tendency to be distracted, I was at that time attracted to the simplicity and no-nonsense directness of Zen. The lack of clutter, it’s emphasis of simplicity, inner peace, wisdom and understanding, clarity and dignity, grace, and the deep appreciation and cultivation for each moment.

One book in particular got my attention and drew me a little closer to a Zen meditation practice. I don’t remember which book, sorry. But in the book there is a story of a monk who likes to get out of the monastery at night to hang out in the city, perhaps going out drinking sake and making friends in the bar.

What interested me, is not so much talking about the monk violating the monastic community by escaping the monastery. It’s about his mindfulness and attention. So perhaps some teachers or head monks would have just chastised the escaping monk, and told him to stop violating the monastic rules. But what’s interesting is that in this story the Zen teacher decides to follow the monk and observe him for a while.

So the next day, the teacher calls in the monk and wants to have a chat with him. He says, you know, I saw you getting out again last night, climbing over the fence, and so I followed you. When you got to the city street, you crossed the street not paying attention, and you bumped into a woman who was carrying a baby. This woman was already stressed (could see on her face), and you bumping in her, without paying attention, caused her to drop the bag and she was having to clean up. This also caused a car to have to stand on his brakes. More agitated, she then walked into the bakery to get bread and passed on her frustration to the baker who had just been dealing with his sick wife. His mood was not helped. And so on, and so on the teacher goes on to explain how each of these acts had a ripple effect, seen and unseen.

So what so impressed me with this story was how one’s own mind, attitude, and behavior can affect others in ways we have no idea about. They can have ripple effects that is just not measurable, except in this instance where a very perceptive teacher follows just one of the consequences of our own behaviors.

I’ll never forget this story, and how it impressed on me the importance of one’s own state of mind, and attentiveness to the present moment and all our encounters.

Perhaps you say, great, glad you figured this out, but I was a good child, I don’t make a mess of things around me, and have never had these issues. Is that really true?

My good friend David Bainbridge visited yesterday, and he wrote a big book that is a guide for Desert and Dryland restoration.

To be continued

Resources

  • A Guide for Desert and Dryland Restoration

Page 6 of 13