Enter Zen From There

A Zen master and his disciple are hiking through the woods. They’ve been quietly walking and communing with nature for a few hours when the disciple finally breaks the silence to ask, “Master, I’ve been thinking about this for a while – how do I enter Zen?”

He was asking how to go about getting into a state of meditative presence – a union with the infinite.

After several minutes, the master replied, “Do you hear that mountain stream off in the distance?”

The disciple strained his ears to hear. At first, he couldn’t hear anything beyond the sounds of the forest – birds chirping, leaves rustling, small animals scurrying. But then he caught the faintest din of a distant stream and exclaimed, “Yes! I hear it.”

To which the master responded, “Enter Zen from there.”

The disciple nodded his head, both excited at the prospect and a bit unsure how to proceed. He continued listening to the stream.

After several more minutes, he spoke up: “Master, I’ve been thinking. If I wasn’t able to hear the mountain stream, what would you have said to me?”

“I would have said, ‘Enter Zen from there.’”

This powerful parable demonstrates the challenges many of us have with practicing any spiritual thought system.

I first heard the enter Zen from there story many years ago from Eckhart Tolle. His soft, meditative voice and joyful exuberance greatly enhanced the tale. But the message is so clear – we enter that stately calm within wherever we are.

We don’t have to go to a certain place, meditate a set number of hours, refrain from various pleasures, or any other specific action in order to metaphorically enter Zen.

In fact, life meets us exactly where we are and presents us – in every moment – with a doorway to that idyllic state.

But it is so much easier – and satisfying (to our ego) – to be told read this, do that in order to achieve the desired goal. In fact, many earnest Course in Miracles students will state after completing the 365th lesson, “I did the Course.”

Reading, studying, and contemplating the Course – or any other non-dualistic thought system – will never get you there. Until you live it.

We’re like the disciple whose never-ending thoughts keep churning away. Asking what and how over and over. And then straining to measure our progress.

And while guides and pointers and practices are extremely helpful, we still need to take the step of living what we’re learning.

The challenge is that our ego will continually thwart such attempts. We get frightened. We get distracted. Life gets busy, and then we’re back to mindlessness.

But it doesn’t need to be that way.

Every experience accords us with an opportunity to forge fate into shaping our character. It makes no difference if we’re stuck in traffic, arguing with a colleague, enjoying time with family, or hiking near a mountain stream.

Wherever we are – and whatever we’re doing – is the perfect time. In fact, it’s the only time. The present moment. The Now. That is where we enter.

So the next time we find ourselves frustrated with our current situation, we can remind ourselves that we’re looking at it wrong. That instant is the ideal opening to a place of transcendent peace, complete joy.

And we enter Zen from there.