Why Not Inner Peace Solely Through Christianity?

Over the past year or so, I have somewhat frequently touched on my mindfulness practice and how I have essentially grown into a Zen Buddhist. In my post, From Middle America to Zen Buddhism, I talked about the seeds that were sown throughout my early life and how my mid-life challenges sealed the deal. But one aspect I haven’t covered is, why not seek inner peace through Christianity? After all, it is the faith of my family and my childhood. So first, let’s get this out of the way. Zen Buddhism is not my religion. Zen can be – and is often the case in Asia – practiced while holding true to another, or multiple other faiths. Among many things in Zen Buddhism, the “and” instead of the “or” appeals to me. But not so fast, let’s break it down.

Focus on the mind

Probably the biggest thing that pulled me into Zen is the focus on the mind. While Zen – which is a subset of Buddhism – offers plenty of instruction on behaviors, it is well more focused on taming the wild mind than Christianity. Christianity offers the hope of redemption in the afterlife for believing and following in Christ in this life. Those are admirable goals. However, in my search for inner peace, I was looking for ways to sort out the messiness of my mind in my life right now. The Bible offers learning through parable and the story of Jesus. Zen offers learning and guidance through the direct experience of right now.

A lot of Westerners think that Zen is all about getting blissed out in a hippie dippie fashion. Not at all true. In fact, Zen practitioners rarely talk about enlightenment. It also isn’t about going all Type B personality with a “whatever” attitude to accept things with resignation. Again, not true. Rather, the idea – in my novice words – is to stop putting ourselves through the weekly, daily, hourly, and even minute-by-minute torment that our minds are seemingly naturally wired to do. I’ll imply this a lot throughout this post, but I can easily see Zen philosophy and Christian faith working in concert in my inner life.

Writings that don’t take themselves too seriously

The next thing that I appreciate about Zen is that practitioners aren’t expected to believe every single word as the absolute no-questions-asked truth with a capital T. I have a cousin who is a Southern Baptist preacher. I love him dearly, and as we grow older in life, we plan to spend more time together. This winter, he asked me to read a book by Tim Keller called Making Sense of God. The book got bogged down into the historicity of the Bible, among other things. This approach does not appeal to me. I think there are just things we humans can’t know for certain, and that some things should be taken on faith without too much wrangling or backing into facts and figures. It feels cheap to me when I hear these kinds of arguments.

In Zen, practitioners have a concept called “fingers pointing at the moon.” In this case, the moon represents the Truth, which in my novice words, is kind of the individual goal in Zen. The fingers represent the writings and other messages from practitioners. Zen recognizes that some writing is parable, some is fable, some is historical, and some is a mix of all. But the idea is that there is something for everyone. If parable gets you closer to your own Truth, great. If picking apart historical facts and figures are your gig – that’s cool too. Use it all to find what works for you. This aspect of Zen actually helps warm my heart to the Bible when I hear people tell me that Creationism is an indisputable fact and Noah had dinosaurs on the Ark. I respect your right to believe that, but I reserve the right to doubt it.

Compatible behaviors

Finally, what I really love about Zen is that the expectations are compatible with world religions. So practicing Zen – which in my humble opinion is pretty much ancient psychology – can be held in the same head and heart as a devout Christian. This was perhaps the bridging notion for me to delve further into Zen from the secular and generalized “mindfulness” practice. Zen is a peaceful, sensible, and effective practice that doesn’t try to extinguish other Truths.

If you’re interested in learning more about Zen Buddhism, here are some really great resources:

Being a Beginner

Several weeks ago, I posted that I am Learning to Climb. This week, I continued learning my new hobby by watching some instructional videos and continuing to apply the lessons at the climbing gym. I learned about static versus dynamic climbing and a few ways to move the body to reach new holds without relying on shear power. I went to the gym this morning eager to apply the lessons, which after about 60 minutes of bouldering, left my wimpy runner’s forearms and hands absolutely shredded. I took a break and while I did, I watched a couple of young teens easily scale the routes that had left my hands and forearms throbbing and nearly useless. Rather than being daunted, I cracked a smile. Just a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been able to recognize how much better these teenagers were than me. I didn’t know to follow routes or attempt to climb with any technique. That realization prompted a thought: I love being a beginner.

I didn’t always love being a beginner. In fact, I hated it. In my youth, if I wasn’t naturally pretty good at something from the start, I didn’t want anything to do with it. I see this same tendency in our younger children. It is difficult for them to have the confidence to try something and look silly in the process. I’ve read before that this is one reason adult learners have a harder time picking up addtional languages – they have gotten to a point of mastery in their first language and don’t want to make silly mistakes while starting anew. These days I’m quite happy to put on a dunce hat and try something new. To a point. You’ll still never see me strap on a set of dancing shoes and hit the club – that is simply not my scene. However, in many, many other things I am happy to try and fail and try again. So that realization prompted another thought – especially in light of inspiring our kids to try something new: what changed? 

Best I can trace it, I think it all started when I went back to college as an adult learner to pursue another degree. In this case, I was motivated by the potential for advancement in the workplace, and – let’s be honest – the money that comes along with it. I went into a business program at a local liberal arts college to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Management and Leadership. The experience was life-altering. Up until that point, I had boxed myself into adult life with a wife and kids and kind of thought, “This is it. I’ll go to work, come home, sit on the couch and watch TV, play with the kids and then go to bed.” Rinse and repeat. I assumed development was now in the children’s boat. But my time in college courses exposed me to philosophy and interesting reading; to class room discussions about ethics and professional development. I built confidence through writing papers and giving presentations. I was way better at this stuff than my first go at university. Soon, I was developing in other parts of my life as well. I joined an adult soccer league. I started running to be a better soccer player. I got into much better physical shape, which made me eager to try more new things.

As I consider helping our kids find their passion for becoming beginners, I am a bit flummoxed. My motivation was intrinsic because I wanted to make more money and help the family continue to progress. It was an internal decision that no one asked me to make. The kids don’t have families or anything else depending on them to grow and develop. So I guess that’s the lesson. People develop at their own pace and I don’t know that there is much to do to speed it up. I will just continue to expose the kids to new things and maybe something will click. And… well, maybe it won’t.

What’s your approach to getting out of your comfort zone? Do you have any tips for helping younger learners be confident enough to try new things?

Stop Kicking the Can Down the Road

Hi everyone. My name is Troy and it’s been five weeks since I’ve posted. I’m full of excuses. Busy at work, planning a trip, international travel, illness, different spring breaks for four kids, yada yada… But in reality, there’s a wealth of things on the list to write about and I haven’t made the time for it. If I’m honest, I haven’t had the inspiration. I have sat down multiple times to craft a post, and I haven’t finished one. So this is the marker I’m laying down. Write, or hang up the keyboard.

I have several posts planned. Here’s a quick list of what I’ll post in the coming weeks:

  • Travel:
    • A frequent visitor’s guide to Barcelona
    • Buying property in Catalunya
    • Attending El Clasico as a Barcelona fan in Madrid
  • Fitness:
    • Being a Beginner
    • Learning to Climb Part 2
    • Running – Continuing Return from Injury
  • Mindfulness:
    • Why Not Inner Peace through Christianity?