Zenslacking is a new way to get your head around a cluster of age old problems- I’m stressed, I’m stuck, my life is bad, what can I do… Zenslacking says the answer is to do nothing, but do that nothing thing well. Most of our lives are spent doing nothing, sort of moving from one thing to another, in between time, down time, nothing time. When this nothing time is polluted by the rush and bustle of modern life you lose your bearings. Depression and anger vie for control of your mind. It’s time to chill, but your old ways of chilling don’t seem to work anymore. You just can’t seem to relax.
Doing nothing, badly, includes all that time you’re pretending to be doing something, thinking you should be doing something, feeling bad because you’re ‘wasting time’, feeling bad because the little you are doing fails to match your grand plans about what you could be doing.
I lived in Japan for three years and a kind of low key Zen permeates very many aspects of the culture. This isn’t to say that the Japanese are relaxed, most of them are just as stressed as we are. The standard way of letting off steam is to get blind drunk after work and throw up on the train home. But Japan is the home of Zen, which originally was an exercise designed to help people detach from their surroundings. It was practiced by ‘doing nothing’, often just sitting on the floor for hours on end. The low key Zen in Japan is simply the widespread knowledge that you have to be able to detach from things you really care about. From time to time. Without this ability to detach Japan would be even crazier than it already is.
It’s easy to get the work button jammed in the modern world. Or, rather, the way-of-working button. We get so attached to success we end up trying too hard. At everything. So, when we import something foreign like Zen, we contaminate it with our neurotic desire to try too hard. So part of Zenslacking is dropping down a gear in one’s approach to being detached. This is the slacking aspect of Zenslacking. This includes not seeing Zenslacking as a panacea. It’s really about taking bites, or even nibbles out of certain disabling states of mind. It’s not for everyone, and certainly not something you do all the time. But if the world is getting on top of you, Zenslacking is the way out…
So next time you’re doing nothing, badly, bear in mind
1. Less is More
2. More is Less
3. No question the world is mad. You have to be able to drop out of that madness from time to time. Zen slacking is one such way. Conventional zen is about ‘just sitting’ and thinking of nothing, but in a Japanese way which means on a hard floor for hours which can be very uncomfortable. The zen becomes a macho exercise in enduring pain. Before you know it you’re starting to go mad again. My zen slacker teacher (my only bona fide Japanese one) was a Buddhist priest who drank beer for breakfast and taught me how to practise ‘just sitting’ in front of the television. I didn’t learn much from him at the time, but over time his example proved enduring. Zen slacking is about doing nothing, well,- but not in a noisy way, in a real way- what better place to do nothing than in front of the TV?
4. My Zenslacking teacher never gave me any koans (tricky zen questions you have to solve to become enlightened.) All he ever said was, “You’re already enlightened- now you can forget about it.” His other favourite phrase was, “Zazen is easy, Zen is easy.” (Zazen is meditating and trying not to get attached to what you are thinking about and some people take it very seriously). I think what he meant was that doing nothing, well, involved not trying too hard. At anything.
5. Don’t try harder, just give yourself more time than you usually allow.