July 11, 2019

Happy New Year! A new year is like a new chapter in life. It marks a time to reflect and abandon old habits, and start anew. People always seem to have this mentality: “I am looking forward to the New Year or I am looking forward to this or that.”  On the surface this mentality implies optimism and a positive outlook. However on a subtler level, this mentality hints at dis-satisfaction with the present and hope for a better future. Why can’t we be happy right now? Why delay happiness for later? The future is unattainable; the present is completely within our grasp. Instead of looking forward to good things happening in the future, we can be happy at this very moment. How can we be happy? In Zen this concept is rather simple. You want to be happy but you happen to be depressed. Just stop generating depressed thoughts and generate one happy thought and immediately you will be happy. So in some sense looking forward to happiness is a waste of time! The present moment is full of possibilities. All we have to do is take action and seize the moment! It’s foolish to wait for happiness to come to you. Instead of counting down the days, enjoy each and every day. When you reach that one-day you’ve been counting down to reach, you’ve actually neglected to enjoy the days leading up to it. For example, a lot of people countdown the days to graduation. Yet school can actually be really enjoyable if you have the right mindset. In fact, most people look back on their days in school with fond memories. Ah a simpler time, am I right? So maybe we should wake up and try to enjoy the road, not the destination. If you think about it, enjoying the present moment is very Zen. From a Zen perspective, looking forward is not so good. It implies you are not living moment-by-moment but in a non-existent future. Your mind should be calm and aware and focused on the present not wistfully imagining a better future. Even if you take it literally, from a Zen perspective looking forward is not so good. Looking forward is very mundane and ordinary, but looking backward or looking within is the purpose of Zen. Looking forward gets us into a lot of trouble! We see only the faults of others not ourselves. Also, we become attached to everything we see! Ooh an IPad! On the other hand, by looking backward we are able to reflect on our state of mind and develop a sort of inner-awareness. This way we can slowly begin to learn how to only look at ourselves and try to improve ourselves by getting rid of bad habits and attachments. So in some ways, in spiritual practice taking a step back is actually a step forward in the right direction. If we are truly diligent in practice we will be able to illuminate inwardly at all times and completely destroy our small “I.” We can remove our false sense of self layer-by-layer like peeling an onion. Then someday we will be able to see our true Big “I” which goes by many names: God, Mind, Creator, True Self, etc. So next time someone says they are looking forward to something, just tell them to look backward.  You’ll be doing them a favor.