A personal approach to Zen

Kategorie: Lifethoughts


Hope is a double-edged sword, on the one hand, it makes us look positively into the future and endure current situations with which we are not satisfied.

On the other hand, we often get involved in situations that are bad compromises in the hope that something will change soon and we can then solve the compromise.

We as humans are probably the only species on earth that has the ability to hope. We can dream ourselves into possible, better life circumstances and say to ourselves „one day…“.

Why do we have this ability? Is it a survival strategy that makes us superior to other animals, the ability to ‚endure‘ situations in the hope that something will improve?

Or are we with the hope also hopelessly lost at the same time and we give away our potential? Sure, hope drives us and makes us strive for a better life, but at the same time, it is often a source of despair when hopes are disappointed.

How can we reasonably consider and reflect on hope, classify it as realistic and useful, and when can we protect ourselves from hopeless hope, which becomes a striving that is futile and actually causes agony.

Is the hope of a dying person for an afterlife nonsensical or does it make it easier to say goodbye to this world? Is the hope for an improvement in the housing situation or the financial situation or an improvement in health good in itself, does it drive us enough?

Does hope make us lethargic or motivate us, does it make us actively change life circumstances and take risks? Or does it make us sit back and live with maggoty compromises because we just tell ourselves „it will get better“ until it can’t get any better?

Surely this is to be evaluated depending on the situation and hope can have many different forms. Our striving for a better life with the help of hope has certainly its sense and we have this ability certainly not in vain but it can also become a trap for us.

I wish to be able to deal with my hopes better and to realize that action is better now and life circumstances have to be changed actively because a compromise does not work. At the same time, I hope that I do not lose my hopes and compromise when I have to, for my own sake and for the sake of others.

Of course, I also hope to learn when hope makes no sense and pure acceptance of the circumstances will save me from suffering caused by hope.

For you, too, I hope that you can deal with hope.

Being Anxious

I’m meditating now for several months on different schedules and methods, from extended (for me) 15 minutes to half an hour or just very short sessions.

The effect surprises me because I’m getting more and more anxious and the opposite was expected.

Actually, I do feel emptiness and fear especially after I tried transcendental meditation. I feel isolated and alone and I am more afraid about the future than I ever have been.

Plus, I do feel socially isolated, though I’m living with my family, my wife, my wonderful kids who I love a lot. It’s crazy but I feel like I don’t get a connection to them.

Maybe this is supposed to be and to happen when you confront yourself with your inner self without layering noise and actions above your inner life in order to numb your inner voice.

But actually, with the anxiety growing, I do tend to do exactly this, trying to numb it down. Playing music because I can’t bear the silence, drinking in the evening because I can’t bear my own thoughts.

I do worry as I ever did but it scares me even more and my gut feeling is very bad, I do feel ‚dark clouds‘ or something similar like a weight in my belly and I definitely don’t feel free or light or happy at any time of the day.

The only pause is when asleep and in deep dreams and certainly the short time after awaking, there I feel ok. But then the other stuff crushes in immediately.

So, does this mean it does me badly or shall I confront myself with every fear and try to knock it down or try to resolve it through deep changes in my life?
I can’t narrow it down. It doesn’t make sense and makes sense. Everything is coming up where I made compromises and didn’t feel well with them.

And there are those things that I don’t want to admit to myself.

Mostly, it’s connected to my vulnerability and the inability to post it to other human beings, especially the ones who are near to me. The reason for sure can be found in the way I was brought up and the way I think I have to behave in this world, being strong, not showing my fears.

The stillness is also frightening because I see the ‚normal‘ life as a failure, our consuming, producing, polluting strategy. War in Afghanistan, people kill other people for no reasonable reason.

Climate change is inevitable and will affect my children. My children getting addicts and fuck up their lives. Anything.

It’s more than being worried.

No strategy is to be found yet, and I can’t accept the Zen saying that everything is meaningless and life is suffering.

Yes, it is but I can not overcome it, I feel it and to numb it through meditation seems counterintuitive and wrong.

About waiting

We spend a large part of our lives waiting.

Despite the hectic pace of our daily lives, it’s waiting for a bus, a train connection, a meeting or an appointment, or even a better life.

Often it is as absurd as in Samuel Beckett’s „Waiting for Godot.“ I have waited countless times for a bus connection in Munich and calculated how much of my life I waste on it and it was not insignificant.

In recent years I have thought a lot about waiting and have learned to appreciate it.

Often life is about making room for something you don’t know yet.

A new job, a new direction in life. Then I decided to make room, to end relationships, to quit jobs, even though nothing new was in sight yet. And then it is time to wait.

This time can be used to reflect on yourself and there is an art to accepting the time of waiting as something valuable.

To learn new things, be it through podcasts or books, to enjoy the moment and not to think about the waiting itself but about the time in the now and how it is given to you through waiting.

Suddenly that time makes sense and it’s not just a wasted life. Twenty minutes of meditation or short breathing space while waiting on a bus.

We often waste so much time on meaningless activity and waiting seems annoying but the attitude towards it changes everything.

Often it is the act of willing ourselves to spend time waiting that leads us to more freedom. Especially when we question relationships and activities that exist only for their own sake and we let them go.

It is difficult because we are afraid of the ‚empty‘ time, the time in which we do not know what to do with ourselves. Then it turns out that this time is necessary to learn more about ourselves.

The emptiness and the waiting can also prepare us for the new tasks and challenges we don’t know yet. It is important to get involved in it and to accept it and use it in these times.

I wish that we draw strength from the time of waiting instead of being angry about it and seeing it as wasted.

I wish that waiting is accepted as a possibility to live life in this so-called lost time.

Maybe a new adventure starts right there.


We are all children and remain so throughout our lives.

The love of our parents is a prerequisite for us to feel secure in the world. Our parents shape us in the first years of life like no one else.

We cannot decide where we are born and also not whether we wanted to be born. It is a matter of fate or luck and we cannot choose which parents we have. We are born into the lives of our parents.

Life attitudes and values, lifestyle and circumstances format us, so to speak.

I have always had a split relationship with my parents, precisely because of their divorce, and thus with parenthood.

I could not imagine having children. On the one hand, because I am constantly afraid for them, in which world will they live, which challenges will they face?

But also because I am afraid of giving them too much of myself. To transfer my primal fears and mistrust, my doubts and psychoses to them.

Now that I’m a father myself, I have to admit, it’s worse than I expected. The parenting job is the most horrible in the world, with lousy pay and constant over time.

My fears are one thing, but I often fall back on methods of my parents out of nowhere when parenting and it scares me.

No one can prepare you for parenthood and even what kids you get and how they turn out often seems random and a matter of luck. A mixture of genes and peer groups and your own situation in life, a thousand parameters influence the little ones.

I lose my temper way too often and constantly reach my limits. My children seem to love me anyway. This love is the strongest and most gratifying feeling I have experienced so far. My love for them as well. No one can prepare for or anticipate something like this.

I want my children to become free-thinking, independent living, happy people.

I want to give them advice and support and actually just protect them around the clock. But this is not possible and will not do them any good, I have to learn to bring the support and the letting go into a reasonable balance and I have to learn to speak with the children, in their language.

With them, I get the chance to experience my life from a completely new perspective and they teach me more about myself and the world every day than anyone or anything else.

With an open heart and when I am really with them, I see the world in a new way, marveling at seemingly small things, a tree, a bus, a beautiful color, a train, an ice cream.
They live in the now and know no yesterday and no tomorrow. They express their needs immediately. Their default mood is happy unless they are hungry, thirsty, or tired.

As Kahlil Gibran so aptly writes:

„Your children are not your children.
     They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
     They come through you but not from you,
     And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

     You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
     For they have their own thoughts.
     You may house their bodies but not their souls,
     For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
     You may strive to be like them but seek not to make them like you.
     For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
     You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
     The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
     Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
     For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.“

That’s what I have to learn.

Poem ‚On Children‘ from The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.

About grief and loss

My first serious confrontation with grief was the death of my grandparents.

Maybe it is like that in many cases when time passes naturally and no early strokes of fate befall us.

At that time this event had shaken me because I had a strong bond with them and I remember thinking at that time ‚best not to take human bonds too seriously, because, in the end, they must end in loss‘.

In fact, this is a core teaching in Buddhism as well, in other words, life is suffering.

What I didn’t understand at the time is that life can still be enjoyed, perhaps even must be enjoyed, and that human bonds are the most important thing there is for us. Only these bonds give our life real meaning.

And so I finally allowed it again, the love. The love for other people, friends, women, my children. Always knowing that a relationship probably has to end one day.

The thing I regret the most is the connection with my father, which broke up in a quarrel and now he is deceased, there is no possibility to revise something or to reconcile. Saying you love each other and then saying goodbye in peace is very important. This regret will definitely haunt me for the rest of my life.

Then there was the loss of a good friend that hit me hard. It came suddenly and for him at a relatively young age some time ago. But even though I miss him every day, I don’t mourn him that much because there was nothing unresolved between us. No conflict and I did not have the impression that he had not lived just one day in the life he wanted, he enjoyed his life. Sure, he could have had many more wonderful years and we could have had many more wonderful times together but I am glad for the time we had.

There can also be mourning about friendships we lost even if death isn’t involved. You lose track of someone, you have a conflict that doesn’t get resolved, you turn to different life paths and don’t see each other anymore. I lost friends along the way which I deeply regret and I’m mourning their loss even if they’re still out there somewhere.

Grief and loss are certainly processed differently in each individual case and there are also strokes of fate in which it is probably not possible. I imagine the loss of my own children and the thought alone must be suppressed, the fear and grief even if such a thing has not happened, is unbearable in the imagination alone.

So it is the acceptance that our lives are fleeting that is so difficult, and even the beautiful moments are not permanent. If life is long enough, the chance of a ‚happy ending‘ dwindles. At the same time, it is the cycle of life and mortality that makes everything so special to us.

Therefore, every moment in the now should be enjoyed and the beautiful and also less beautiful moments should be perceived and accepted as what they are:


It is hard, it is easy, it is cruel, it is beautiful, it is all that and wants to be lived.

Public. Private. Secret.

Everyone combines different lives in him or herself.

There is the public life with our job, our responsibilities, our identity, defined by others who see us in action, there are the skills learned and executed.

There is the private life with our relations to loved ones, friends, children, we behave in another way and this life and the relations within it are often chosen or they were chosen by fate. Regarding our parents, we had no choice. And actually, also our children don’t have it and neither we have about them.

And there is this secret life which no one knows about and which everyone has. Nothing or very seldom there is something shared with the outer world. It can be dreams, hopes, wishes, many sexual desires never talked about maybe.

A whole universe exists in every one of us and everyone is a universe on its own.

Those ‚roles‘ do interfere with each other and though there is inevitable dissonance in it, it can feel ok.

The highest priority for each person I guess is to feel safe. If something goes wrong or forces are demanding actions from these roles we can not cope with anymore, we start to feel uncomfortable.

Many times we go into a direction at a certain age, maybe with a job or a marriage and the consequences do have a broader impact than we could ever have imagined or something evolves in us and the need can’t be ignored.

If that happens we know we have to change something and oftentimes it seems not possible. Instead of becoming angry and trying to destroy or self-sabotage your job or career or family life, I think it’s best to just watch closely and be aware of what really makes us uncomfortable.

Then after analyzing and accepting, what might be hard, we can slightly change. This change starts in our mind and if the mind decided to go in a direction, everything else will follow.

I do strongly believe this, not as this esoteric wish to the universe, but as our mind is a force that can lead us to something else. Something new if we are open to it.

I always feel strongly about the movie „The Curious Case of Benjamin Button“ and especially the scene where Julia Ormond sits on her mother’s deathbed and realizes who her father was.

As though there’s not much told about her in the movie, you see that she is not happy. And as she reads the postcards her dad wrote to her over the years, there follows this moving sequence where Benjamin tells her:

‚Whenever you feel in life you got to something where you’re not happy with, or proud about, you always have the chance to start over. Do it. And I wish you the courage to do it.‘

That’s not a correct quote but how I memorize it. You can watch the scene above.

Because there are so many astonishing things out there to be seen, and the beauty of life lies in that option to simply start over and pursue what makes you happy.

For what it’s worth, it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be.

I hope you make the best of it.

About starting to meditate

The hardest thing to me is the thing about meditation. What’s it for and what do I get from it? Will there be a state of mind where I glide away from reality and find myself in another dimension where I feel the energy and everything is connected? Or will there be the peace of mind? Happiness? Many promises are given when you start to meditate. There even shall be even medical advantages be seen in those who meditate.

How shall I meditate? There are so many options. There is this vipassana thing, there is the transcendental meditation method. There are a thousand variants. When I read the books from the monks who are teaching meditation they are always talking about endless meditations. I don’t have time for that. I also don’t want to get a meditation class or a teacher as I don’t live in a region where some good ones or those who I read about are available.

So, I start out to make my own experiences. First, trying to just sit still for a few minutes, without expectations and trying to not actively think about something.

Woah, this appears to be a hard task and I realize my mind is not stoppable.

I always knew, or better, learned over the last decades that the monkey mind can be a pain in the ass. Especially at night. You lie in bed and it goes round and round, variants of your youth memories, mixed emotions about forgotten friends, e-mails written in my mind, books written in my mind, philosophical questions answered and raised. Personal issues argued with close ones, dreams about a better future, dreams about a worse future, fear of the future, be afraid for my kids. All in one night. The dreams themselves while you’re asleep are something else.

How eliminate the monkey mind? It simply doesn’t work for me. So, I accept its existence and I try to ignore it from time to time. This is my mediation now.
Trying to sit in silence; doesn’t have to be completely silent around me, but I’ve to be silent. Trying to hear the silence of the universe. For at least two minutes.
What happens? I feel slightly better afterward.

That’s a start.

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