zen and mindfulness: the marrow


This is the sixth in a series of topics from the seminal book on Zen: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. I’m going chapter by chapter and offering my thoughts on the subject Suzuki addresses. You should definitely check out Suzuki’s book. It has changed many lives.

This chapter is called “The Marrow of Zen” in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, but I don’t want to write about the marrow of Zen because I am not really a Zen practitioner and so for me to speculate on that would just be silly. I would, however, like to share my thoughts on Suzuki’s concept of the marrow.

The thrust of this chapter, as far as I can tell, is that those who outwardly seem the least-suited to Zen practice—for instance, if you have trouble sitting in correct Zen posture—are actually the best suited for getting to the marrow of Zen practice.  Those who have the most difficulty end up with the strongest practice.

I believe that a person’s personality is not fully formed until they have gone through some serious trial or had their heart broken in some way. I always wonder about people who seem to have had an extremely easy life (not that my life has been particularly difficult): who is that person, really? This is an sentiment carried through in the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, who would put characters into life or death situations to see their character. Horror movies such as Saw play with a similar concept.

It’s very difficult to see what Suzuki means when he refers to people being more or less valuable as Zen practitioners, since I don’t believe he means “better” or “worse,” since those things don’t really exist. From a mindfulness perspective, however, I think this harkens back to the last blog post about mind weeds.

When you find yourself in a particularly anxious situation, I do not believe you should be grateful for it in the way some religions believe. It is unfortunate that you are in this anxious moment and you are uncomfortable. However, if you approach it head-on and mindfully, fully experiencing it so that you can pull the weed and plant it again to nourish your mind, I think you will reflect upon that moment as one that enriched your mindfulness practice. There may be many downsides (depending on the lasting severity of the incident or anxiety) but as regards your mindfulness practice, it will be enriching.

I don’t know whether to call that being “better” at mindfulness or being closer to serenity or what. Your comments will be much appreciated.

Related posts:

  1. zen and mindfulness: mind weeds
  2. zen and mindfulness: breathing
  3. zen and mindfulness: control
  4. zen and mindfulness: mind waves
  5. zen and mindfulness: posture
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