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:

Seeking Disorder

To say that this week has been “off” for me would be an understatement. Earlier this week I was apathetic about being apathetic. Later in the week I rashly injected some excitement into things by tearing a page out of the book of my youth. I think the two might be subconsciously related.

On Monday of this week I had a blog post 99% written about how I was having a ho-hum start back from vacation. On the work front, one of my team members did a great job of covering for me while I was at the beach. We have also been in a nice and predictable state of affairs in my department for some time, so I was feeling a bit apathetic about my transition back to work. On a personal front, things have also been very smooth. My wife and I have settled into the most comfortable relationship of our lives. We know what to expect from one another, we don’t harbor grudges or nitpick, and we work together to achieve a well-run household. But at the moment, we’re not striving for anything either. She’s between college classes, the kids are in a lull with their schedules, we’re done with vacation for a while, I’m not actively training for any upcoming races, so there isn’t a “next big thing” to work toward. As I was putting the finishing touches on that “things-are-going-too-smooth” blog post, my boss called to give me 5 new short-term assignments. Twenty minutes later, I opened the mail to find that I received a traffic citation by camera in a tiny village I drove through several weeks ago. The citation feels like a scam for various reasons so I’ll need to investigate further. So… I suppose the lesson here is if you’re feeling a little too bored about things going well, start saying it and the universe will deliver some excitement. None of it made me mad though. I actually welcomed the immediate purpose of the “to do” list.

Now nearing the end of this week, I’ve taken care of most of those new assignments, but I think there is still something brewing under the surface. On Tuesday, we were out with some friends and – while I don’t want to get into any details – I took some uncharacteristic risks that I’m not at all proud of. Then on Wednesday, I played in a league game with my soccer team and it got a little physical. Instead of brushing it off like I have come to do in my older, wiser days, I got “involved.” I wound up getting into a verbal battle and an under-the-referee-radar physical altercation with one particularly hot-headed center back. This is not who I am. At least it hasn’t been for the last 10 years.

So in the immortal words of Marvin Gaye, “What’s going on?” How on earth did I go from a calm dude before vacation to easing back into work to uncharacteristically risky behavior to a war of words and wrestling moves with a Cro-Magnon center back in the span of a few days? And more importantly, why?

I’ll probably need to do some additional soul searching on the topic, but I have a feeling that after having a few weeks of calm, quiet order, I’m actually craving some disorder. That’s bananas, isn’t it? But as I think about it, it seems to fit. At every given moment of every given day, I have everything I need. I’m not saying I’m rich and don’t want for anything, but I have a home, a healthy family, a loving wife, nutritious food in the pantry, clean water to drink, self-actualizing work, the freedom of self-expression, the ability to pay my bills and so on. On top of that, I’ve had an eventful first half of the year with several exciting trips and plenty of fun. The last few weeks have been almost mind-numbingly smooth. How on earth can there be any malcontent sown from any of that? But I am mindful enough to know that I’m currently walking around with a chip on my shoulder. Is it really so basic? Do I want what I do not have, even when what I have is at its essence, exactly what I want?

The mind is a funny thing.