I once went to a symposium on mindfulness where the speakers included Korean Zen teacher Hyon Gak Sunim and a psychologist. The psychologist came equipped with a powerpoint presentation and laser pointer. Perhaps it is no surprise that Hyon Gak Sunim easily bested him the minute he sat cross-legged on top of a rickety table without any notes and asked, what are you, before you are thinking?

Since then, nothing makes me smile quite like Korean Zen, with its playful impenetrability. In this single talk, Hyon Gak Sunim cut through the usual sticking points of Zen meditation. Don’t try to “quiet the mind,” as you so often hear, he said. It’s impossible; you can’t stop thinking. Let thinking happen without attaching to it. There is no correct posture, no correct mantra, he said. You can say “Om mani padme hum” or “Coca-cola;” the repetition is the meditation, not the words themselves. (It turns out the divine really is in everything, even a brand name.) All religions are correct, he said, and all spiritual practices “work.” One woman asked, how do you pick a spiritual path or practice if all are equal? He replied, “What flavor of ice cream do you like?”

I find tremendous freedom in this last idea. It shifts the focus point from one of intellectual understanding and belief to one of being and perception. (It reminds me of what the Photographer once called “seeing into things.”) It releases me from having to know. To see clearly, I intentionally cultivate not-knowing. So I love the things that stop my mind, the way Zen Master Seung Sahn’s advice does: If you don’t know, only go straight, don’t know.

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