Overcoming Stress

(Zazen music plays in the background, and Rama speaks to the beat of the music.)

Zen Master Rama here with you today to talk about stress. For the next 45 minutes or so, I would like to talk with you about how you can more effectively deal with and overcome the stress of life. So relax. Loosen your tie. Unbutton your dress. Take your clothes off. Dance naked in the streets. Have a good time! It’s your life.

This is Zen. And in Zen, as we all know, anything goes. So sit back, sit tight, fasten your seat belt, relax. And leave the driving to us as we cruise through the world of stress management. Ways for you to overcome anxiety, insomnia, tense muscles in your shoulders, stomach and other places I won’t mention. Freaking out.

How to deal with the noise, the pollution, the demands of the information processing society. What to do when your pet frog, Wilbur, runs off and joins the circus. How to deal with your business that’s failing, your business that’s succeeding. The fact that you don’t have a business. It’s somebody else’s business. It’s none of my business. Think about it. I try not to.

Your mother-in-law is coming to visit for the next 20 years. Your pet duck just bit the mayor and the city is suing you for $20 million. Somebody found out all the things you’ve been doing and thinking, and they published it on the front page of The New York Times. You lost the big game, and everybody on the team knows it.

You’re successful, and the demands are just too much. You’re going crazy. What can you do? Success is no fun.

You’re failing. Nothing’s working out. You’re depressed, discouraged. You’d shoot yourself, but you’re afraid. I mean—stress! It’s no fun. Everybody experiences it, what do you do? How do you handle it? The pressure building up and up. Taking Di-Gel. Ulcer preparations, Preparation H, Preparation X, Y and Z. So listen to the Zen Master for a while and let’s think about all that stress and how you can deal with it.

I like this part with the guitar solo. Do you know dancing is one of the best ways to overcome stress? And laughing and loving and getting a little silly? Has it ever occurred to you that you’re just taking it all toooo seriously and that it’s all going to work out; you just need a little more faith in the processes of life?

You just kind of let go and unwind. Slow it down. You’re only here for a while. Might as well have a good time.


(Zazen music ends.)

Stress elimination. The koan is: “Life doesn’t change, but you do.” The world is the world. It’s different than you suppose. It changes with every state of mind that you enter into. What is stress for one person is not stress for another. One person is engaged in a business, has a million activities, is working through the day and is not stressed. Put another person in the same position, in the same life, and they’d be completely freaked out.

There are lots of books available on stress management. Stress management—I get a kick out of that. What a concept. But in my estimation, most people fail to understand what stress comes from. What they seek to do is treat the symptoms. The symptoms, as I mentioned before, are physical pain, anxiety. [Stress] can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, or just not having a lot of time, wasting all your energy. Missing your life. It’s no fun to be in pain—mental pain, physical pain or spiritual pain.

How do you cope with stress? Well, from my point of view, from the point of view of Zen, of course, it’s good to understand what it is you’re dealing with. We want answers. We want quick relief. That’s why we take the quick relief pills. The quick relief pills may give us some quick relief, but when the little pill goes away, the relief is gone because we didn’t take a larger look at what it was we were dealing with and try to understand it. Zen is the study of mind in all of its manifestations and permutations. And the power of mind directed at any problem will eventually overcome the problem. But it’s necessary for you to bring the full power of your mind to bear in an unhurried way, and [then] you can easily overcome stress.

Why does a person experience stress? Well, to begin with, there is really no such thing as “stress.” In other words, stress is a popular word that indicates a condition of mind, not something that really exists in the world by itself. Oh, I’m familiar with all the popular theories, the “fight or flight” response, and all that sort of stuff. But that really has very little to do with stress. Stress is a state of mind. It doesn’t exist independently of itself.

Go out in the woods and try to hunt a stress. Bring your crossbow or your shotgun and get yourself a stress. There is no such thing as stress. Don’t objectify it and think of it as something that is outside of yourself. Stress is a state of mind. It’s a state of mind that you enter into, like all states of mind, and it is a state of mind that you can leave. You simply need to understand how you have entered into that state of mind, and even more importantly, of course, what it will take to get you out of that state of mind.

I personally think it’s nice to know what got you into the state of mind so that you don’t do the same thing again. You can get out of it, and that’s great, but then you can go right back into it. So in my approach to problem solving, I always think it’s a good idea to have an understanding, which is not necessarily intellectual—sometimes it is, sometimes it’s intuitive—of what causes a problem, a difficulty, and what the solution is. Of course, part of the solution has to be to avoid the symptoms or situations or energies that led us into the problem to begin with. Otherwise, we’re just back to taking Excedrin or Anacin or Valium. Do you know that Valium is the most popular prescription drug in the United States? Stress. A lot of people are in that state of mind.

Now, if you look at stress, the first thing you’re going to want to do is figure out the things in life that cause you stress and try to eliminate them. The koan is: “The world doesn’t change, but you do.”

Oh, the world changes in the sense that continents rise and fall, nations come and go, people are born and die, but the conditions of the world, the operative awarenesses of life are as they are, and have been for a long time and will be. The cast of characters may change and the locations, but life itself is life. You, on the other hand, change. All the time. Constantly. Your cells change in your body once every seven years. But even more importantly, your mind changes all the time. It’s always moving and shifting. You would change even more if you didn’t have such a fixed idea of yourself. The idea of the “self” is what causes you to be stuck in a particular state of mind.

Stress is a state of mind, and if you realize that, you’ll find that it’s something that you can deal with. It is my belief that stress occurs not because of the conditions of the world. Right now, I’m sitting in a big metropolitan city and I’m sitting in a tiny little apartment. Outside there are buses, noises, pollution; they’re building a new building down the block. This is the urban world. I’m not sitting on some lofty mountaintop, where I do sit sometimes. No, I’m here in the middle of it all, dealing with computers, accountants, advertising, business, athletics, education, and all the myriad worlds that I touch in my life experience. And I have learned that stress does not come from being busy, nor does it come from having a lot of things to do, or from demands. That’s what most people, of course, think. And if you think that way, I don’t think you’ll ever get out of stress—that state of mind.

Stress comes because you are doing things that you don’t want to do, and you are not doing things that you would like to do.

That is the sole cause of stress.

Oh yes, there is noise pollution, air pollution, water pollution, an intensive national debt situation, an unbelievable proliferation of nuclear weapons, and so on and so forth.

These are things that you cannot do much about, as an individual. As a collective whole, when society or humanity wishes to change these things, they may change, and you may participate in that process. But today you are not going to cause all of the nations of the world to put away all of their weapons forever. Nor are you going to rid the earth of pollution. Nor are you going to stop people from being unkind to each other. Nor are you going to simplify the IRS’s new tax form. Nor are you going to stop the kids from being kids, or husbands and wives from being husbands and wives. Nor are you going to stop the cancer that people are dying from in the hospitals. All of the things that cause pain will be there; all of the things that give pleasure will be there.

The koan is: “Life doesn’t change, but you do.” You can’t do much about all of this. But you can do something—everything, as a matter of fact—about your own life and your own state of mind. That’s where it starts. That acceptance is absolutely important. There will always be demands. There are always demands. Or there will always be opportunities and fun activities. Is the glass half full or half empty? It depends on your point of view.

To overcome stress, you go out to the countryside, you go out to the desert, you go to Hawaii, wherever it might be, or just sit at home. These things will not necessarily overcome stress because your mind goes with you wherever you are. People drink, they drug themselves, they pour alcohol into their bodies, they get involved with lots of kinky sex, they spend time with people they don’t like, they do all kinds of things to just break out of the stress pattern. None of which, of course, work. They all just make you feel a little bit worse the next day.

To overcome stress, you have to find out something. You’ve got to do some research and homework. And it’s very enjoyable research and homework. You need to find out who you are today. What it is that you would like to do today, and what things you really don’t want to do today. This is called self-knowledge.

To begin with, as I suggested, you need to consider yourself in a new way. People like to think of themselves as being “fixed.” You are born at a certain time. All of the experiences you’ve had between now and then—thoughts, feelings, emotion, education and basic personality traits and characteristics—are what make you, you. And you will always be you. You may change a little bit between now and the day you die, but you’re you.

This is an erroneous assumption. It’s false. This is a very poor way of seeing life.

You are not any particular way. You have passed through experiences, you have had a certain type of education, you have been taught certain value systems, but these are only ideas and experiences. They have nothing to do with the essence of who and what you are.

Think of yourself, for a moment, as a computer. A computer is a machine that does a lot of fascinating things. But the computer runs on software. Now, let’s suppose that we have a very, very powerful computer, but we have a software package that isn’t too powerful. So we have, let’s say, a word processing package or a database package or an accounting package, and we put it up on a very powerful IBM computer. While the computer may be capable of working very fast, if the word processing software doesn’t move that quickly, then of course we’ll never get the full benefit of the computer.

Well, within you there’s an amazing computer. And that’s you. Your essence. You’re capable of incredible things. Your mind is. Your mind is the computer. When I say “mind,” I don’t simply mean the analytical function of thought, and mind does not connote brain cells.

The problem occurs in identification. As you grow up, you begin to get an idea of yourself. You hold these things in your physical mind. And the more you collect and define yourself, the less you really see yourself.

You’re part of everything, but the mind particularizes itself and starts to think of itself as separate from everything else. So you look at a tree, and you know, “I’m not that.” You look at a house, and you know, “I’m not that.” You look at the young girl or boy and you know, “You’re not that.”

Therefore, you’re the opposite of everything that you perceive that is external, that you define as yourself. The reason you’re different from Jane is because your feelings are different. You like blue best, she likes red best, and so on.

So all ideas of the self are generated through opposition.

This is a false notion.

And this is what causes all the problems in life.

There is no self.

By that I don’t mean there isn’t a “you.” Of course there’s a you, silly! But there is no self in the sense that there is no fixed Bob or Sue or Mary. There’s only a fixed Bob or Sue or Mary either in Mary or Sue or Bob’s own minds, or in the minds of those they know.

When people think they know you, they hold an image of you in mind. And of course, when you deviate from that, they get quite upset, and they try to hold you into a position with a kind of mental pressure because people don’t like you to change. They’re afraid of the unknown—which is part of the software operating package that most people run on.

Now, stress.

Stress occurs because that which is within you—which is light, intelligence, energy—wants to do certain things and doesn’t want to do other things. And that changes.

Stress occurs, or is a result of, the fact that you’re out of tune with your life and your inner being.

If you are doing that which is within you, what that part of you that is beyond body would like you to do, then you would not experience stress because you would be very fulfilled.

You could be extremely busy, there could be all kinds of demands in your life, but you wouldn’t notice because you’d be having such a good time with your life that you would be relatively unaffected by environmental conditions and by the people around you.

In other words, if you’re basically happy and your life is moving in a beautiful way, then things won’t bother you. If you’re unhappy, then someone next door can make a little noise and it dominates your attention, and you get really pissed off. If you’re happy and having a wonderful time, you won’t even hear it. Or if you do, it will sound like music. It won’t matter.

Stress is a state of mind that results from a fixed idea of self.

In that fixed idea of self, you suppose that there are certain things that you want and don’t want. That’s what a fixed idea of self means.

A fixed idea of self is made up of memories, attractions and aversions.

The memories tie you down.

In other words, you remember what you liked at 12. Today you may be 30 or 40 or 20, and you don’t like what you liked at 12, but if you remember what you liked at 12, you may cause yourself to still think that you like something that you no longer do.

When you were 19, there was a career you wanted to follow, and perhaps you followed it. Perhaps you didn’t. Today you’re still following it, and you’re not happy because it’s not what you want to do now.

Because you identify through memory with a concept of yourself, you think that you still like that, you’re still doing that, when it’s the last thing that the deeper parts of you want you to do. Or, you never did something that you wanted to do a long time ago and you still think that you should do it, even though you really don’t want to.

Software packages come and go. They update them. You are running on a software package that was largely designed by others. Part of the package may have been designed by yourself, but it’s probably terribly outdated and outmoded and it’s time for a new one.

The reasons that you have chosen to be the person you are, are probably not your own.

Your parents, neighbors, friends, kids, society, peer group pressure, television shows and so on—all these things told you, as you grew up, who you should be, what you should be like, what you should like and what you shouldn’t. You could have been a guy in school, and maybe you wanted to play the piano. All the other guys told you you’d be a sissy, so you decided that it was not the thing to do. Maybe that’s something you’d like to do. But you decided it wasn’t because of pressure—peer group pressure.

Your mother wanted you to be a doctor. She infused that idea in your head and today you’re a doctor, and it’s the last thing you’d like to be. You’d much rather be a magician. You’d much rather be a computer programmer. You’d much rather be a cowboy.

Your father told you that when you grow up, you should have children. They gave you dolls to play with. They told you that was fulfillment, even though they didn’t seem too happy with the experience themselves. Today you’ve got a couple of kids, and you’re not happy with them. And you don’t want to admit it. Maybe they should go to boarding school. Maybe you should part company. But you feel obligated because you are brought up to feel obligated when that isn’t really how you feel at all.

Maybe you don’t have kids. Maybe you think that they’ll hold you down because all your parents ever did was complain about having kids. That was the image that they fostered in your mind, and maybe that was true for them and maybe they made a mistake. But maybe kids would be wonderful for you, and very fulfilling.

You see what I mean? Of course you do.

The thoughts and ideas and images, the fears we have, the desires we have, are not really our own.

They were given to us by people who are not very happy.

Look at the condition of our world. Practically no one is happy. The world is poised on self-destruction. We annihilate our own species in vast quantities all the time.

Obviously, we’re not dealing with a very intelligent race of beings if all they can think to do is destroy each other and gain power over each other and manipulate each other at every opportunity, which is what happens most of the time here.

There are individuals who are high-minded and we remember them and we read their books. There have been a few individuals who are enlightened, and we go to church and think about them.

But by and large, the human race is in a very basic level of evolution as opposed to other races of beings throughout the cosmos. Some are not as evolved.

But this race is not particularly evolved—they’re still working on power.

[Power is} the dominant operating theme in this world—gaining it and using it, usually to oppress others.

You were raised in this environment. You were taught to think this way. But, my friend, there are other ways of viewing life. There are other ways of thinking. It doesn’t matter what your age is or how much conditioning you have. You can let go of all of it and learn new ways.

Now, I bring all of this up because in order to overcome stress, you need to redefine your view of yourself, you need to update the software. You need to find out who you are today and what it is you would like to do today, what would make you happy.

You must have the courage to look at things that you are now doing, which you don’t really want to do anymore, and stop doing them.

Sometimes this will involve a lot of change—change in your family structure, change in your career, change in where you live, how you live.

But remember, everybody dies here on the planet Earth. There are no survivors.

You’re only here for a little while.

And how silly, not to be happy. Not to feel good.

Because I promise you, when you feel good, it doesn’t help anybody else. And when you die, you’ll be quickly forgotten.

You are independent. You can do whatever you like inside your own mind. You have the power to say yes and the power to say no, always. And that’s what Zen is all about. Saying “yes” and saying “no” and going within to that deeper part of you, and getting in touch with it and making friends with it and learning what it wants.

Because when you are in harmony with the Tao, with the deeper part of yourself, that part of you that always changes, and when you follow its inclinations, then, as Henry Thoreau said, “You’ll walk to the beat of a different drummer.” And that beat will be the right rhythm for you.

Henry Thoreau lived at Walden Pond for about two-and-a-half years and, you know, he didn’t stay there forever. There was a point when he left. As he said in the close of Walden, he realized, having lived there for a while, that he’d done it and that he had other lives to live. Even though it had been beautiful and wonderful, it was time to travel.

How many other lives do you have to live in this life? How many have you lived already?

Overcoming stress, then, requires that you get in touch with yourself, and that you stay in touch with yourself because you will change. You’ll be very happy when you keep up with those changes, and you make them in accordance to what it is you want as opposed to what it is you think that you want.

Winning in this world is getting to do what you want to do. That’s winning.

If you want to be enlightened, then winning is becoming enlightened. If you want to aid others in their enlightenment, then winning is doing that. If you want to make a million dollars, then winning is accomplishing that. If you want to marry a beautiful woman or a beautiful man, then winning is doing that. If you want peace of mind, if you like to travel, if you want to be independent economically, winning is doing whatever it is that you want to do.

When you win, you’ve accomplished the purpose of your life. It’s not particularly selfish or hedonistic. Those are just ideas. Those are moralities.

From my point of view, which is the point of view of no illusions, there’s only winning and losing. You might as well be a winner—because you’re on your own journey. And if your definition [of winning] includes aiding others and contributing to society, great. If it doesn’t, great.

Who’s to say what’s right or wrong?

Only you—and of course, the courts and the society. But they can be totally wrong. Nazi Germany. What did they say was the right thing to do? To destroy and burn Jews? That’s what the courts and the society said.

So just because the courts and the society say it, doesn’t mean it’s right.

That’s what creates social change—we get a new idea. We see things a new way, hopefully from a more enlightened perspective. In any case, whatever they’re doing out there is not necessarily what you’re doing or what you need to do.

What you need to do is go inside yourself and find out who you are today, this month, this year. Do the things that are compatible with that, and then you will not be in a stressful state, you will be in a happy state. You will be excited about your life, you will be actively engaged in different pursuits. That’s what matters, and having the courage, of course, to do that. To not do that is to be stressed out and to take Valium and to bury yourself in a world of things that you don’t care about because you don’t want to handle the pain. What a waste of a life.

So then, how do you do that? Well, of course, that’s what Zen is all about. Zen is about getting in touch with your life, your time and your mind. It’s about gaining the energy and power to be a winner—and all of that starts with meditation. When you meditate and learn to control your mind, you will be able to get in touch with that part of yourself which knows what it wants, as opposed to the levels and layers of conditioning in your mind.

There’s a deeper mind and a surface mind. The surface mind is the part that’s been programmed by everyone else and is filled with ideas and images. Within you there’s something deeper that’s very still and very intelligent. That is what mind is, as I refer to mind. The thinking mind is a simple machine. But the mind beneath the surface is ancient and is connected with all things and all intelligence.

Meditation is the process of stilling the outer surface mind so that you can become aware of the deeper mind within, which has all the answers. There may be something very interesting 20 feet below the surface of the ocean. But if the ocean is filled with waves, we can’t see it. As soon as the surface becomes calm, them we can see into the depths.

Meditation is a process of learning to still the mind, both in formal meditation—which in Zen we refer to as zazen, sitting down and meditating for 20 minutes or half an hour or an hour—and also during the day, as you’re in the midst of activities.

Learning to be still, to be where you are now—without having your mind wandering all over, thinking a lot of useless thoughts, and getting you all stirred up and agitated—this is mindfulness. It is the other part of Zen practice. Where you will bring your mind, specifically, where you are and not have it wander all over the place, so you can bring the full force and power of your mind to bear on whatever it is you’re doing.

All the while this is taking place, you should be drawing awareness from a deeper part of your being, from that deeper inner mind. That deeper mind will direct you. And if you follow its directions, once you’ve learned to get in touch with it, then you will overcome stress.

That is my solution to stress. It doesn’t involve moving to the country, it doesn’t involve not moving to the country. It’s not specific to anything. It’s specific to you. And if you are willing to take some time to do that, then you will find that you will have a terrific life. But you need to gain the equilibrium, balance and poise of your deeper mind.

Your deeper mind has everything already. It knows everything already. It has all the answers. And if you can gain control of the surface mind, then the deeper mind will control the surface mind. It will send it the right thoughts and inspirations and feelings. Whereas if only the surface mind is operating, it’s like a tractor and the operator has fallen asleep and the tractor is just going all over the place—it may be destroying the very fields that the farmer wanted to plant. But if the operator is awake, he can control the tractor and grow a lot of food and do his job and be a winner.

Within you, the deeper mind, which is not limited by time or space, is asleep. I mean it’s not asleep, it’s awake, but it’s not interfacing properly with the surface mind. So your life is going all over the place. You might hit one or two things by luck. You might get a break in the storm, and one day you get a few creative ideas and see your life in a new way. But then the storm rolls back in, the fog comes in and you can’t see again.

Naturally, if you live in a world of people, as you do, who don’t see —where seeing is not the norm but is quite unusual—then you may not even realize that this exists. But throughout the ages, people have practiced self-discovery, whether it’s in the form of Zen or other things, and learned that there’s something outside of daily life, which is their mind.

And your mind is your life. It’s your essence and your substance. It’s the part of you that has always been and will always be.

Its formation will change constantly—which is what makes you always new—unless you hold yourself down to a fixed idea of self.

So my suggestion is, if you wish to overcome stress, to take the time to learn about who and what you are now, and to let go of those things in your life which are no longer relevant, and to continue to do this process as long as you live.

You will learn to do this through introspection, through the process of meditation, by learning how to do a system analysis of your life and your energy and your time, and just by living in the moment, by living now.

By gaining control of your outer mind so you can direct it, both when you meditate—to get in touch with the deeper mind—and also to utilize it, to follow the instructions of the deeper mind so you can focus on what you’re doing completely and be successful in whatever it is you choose to do, or are doing at the moment.

Zen is the program that teaches you how to do those things. As you practice it and grow into it, you will find that it works. That’s my experience. It definitely works. Anything else is just another pill. It’s just another Valium. It’s just another drink. It’s just a little more cocaine. It’s just another relationship. It’s just another headache. It’s just another spoiled day.

Why live that way? Whether it’s Zen or yoga or Christianity or whatever it is that does it, it doesn’t matter what it’s called. It’s all the same.

The difference is, however, in Zen, very developed means of controlling the mind are taught. You might stumble upon these methods in a religion or a way or a whatever.

In Zen, of course, there are no cults and no gurus. It’s for an independent person who lives in the world and is active, who wants to gain control of their time and life and mind.

Now let’s consider meditation for a minute. I don’t at this time wish to explain meditation completely. That is done in books that people write, or I’ve written some books and made some tapes about meditation. It’s a very vast subject, and certainly in the time allotted to us in this little tape, I can’t possibly explain it all. It’s like explaining how to be an eighth-degree black belt in 45 minutes. You can get somebody started, but it’s a very, very deep subject, and you grow and develop in it as you practice it.

But let’s consider meditation for a minute, as I suggested, zazen practice. And let’s consider mindfulness. These are the two things that you can do to help eliminate stress.

Let’s give you a couple of techniques. If you practice these things, they really help. And if you like what you practice, I would suggest that you explore Zen more thoroughly, or any form of metaphysical practice that involves meditation, and learn more about controlling your mind.

As I mentioned before, there are two practices. One is formal meditation, which is zazen, the other is mindfulness.

Formal meditation is what you do when you’re just sitting around once or twice a day, meditating. You’re taking the time to sit up straight and focus and gain control of your outer mind and make it still so you can go into the inner mind, and the two can join and become one. That’s meditation. This is done through the practice of concentration, which is focusing, and meditation, which is letting go. Control and abandon. Focusing and letting go.

Then there’s mindfulness, which is what you do the rest of the day and night, when you’re not sitting formally and meditating, and this is the practice of learning to be where you are now.

When you are in the supermarket, you should be in the supermarket and only look at what’s going on in the supermarket, and not have your mind all over the place. You should shop and put your whole mind on shopping. When you’re at work, you should just be working and put your whole mind into work. When your mind drifts, you should bring it back to your work. When you’re driving on the freeway to work, you shouldn’t be thinking about work and what you’re going to be doing in the office, you should be experiencing the freeway and the music or tape you’re listening to. When you’re in bed with someone, you should be in bed with them. Experiencing them. Not thinking about someone else who you’d rather be in bed with, or thinking about your job and so on. When you’re out running, you should be involved with running. When you’re dancing, you should be involved with dancing.

This discipline, which is called mindfulness, comes about through practice, and it’s lots of fun. It eliminates a tremendous amount of stress. Stress comes because you’re putting yourself in too many places at once. You’re thinking about too many things. If you didn’t think, there wouldn’t be any stress. Now, the answer is not necessarily to avoid all thinking. Sometimes that’s done in meditation in order to get into the deeper part of mind, which doesn’t think, which has more sophisticated ways of processing knowledge than thought-word constructs.

But during the day, sometimes you need to think. Sometimes that analytical form is useful. So the thing to do is to practice mindfulness.

You need to monitor your mind. Whenever you’re in a room, you should confine your thoughts to the room, unless for some reason you have to anticipate something coming next.

In other words, you shouldn’t have your mind drifting all around.

So begin practicing after this tape, being where you are.

Monitor yourself. Observe when you’re in your car, what you’re thinking about, and stop thinking and be in your car. When you’re in a meeting in your office and someone’s speaking, listen to them and don’t be thinking five steps ahead. Stay with them and observe. If you need to do some creative planning, which is necessary sometimes, then take your whole mind, sit down, close the door and do your creative planning. Don’t drift all over the place.

This ability will be increased and enhanced by the daily practice of meditation, where you are sitting for a specific period of time and doing nothing but focusing.

Naturally, there are times when we need to let go and not just focus, and that’s abandonment. That’s having fun—dancing, going to the movies and so on. There’s a certain amount of discipline in concentration, even in letting go. But letting go is the fun—it’s the abandonment.

You need to have both sides to overcome stress.

It’s good to focus, but then you’ve got to be able to let go, to laugh, to go see a silly movie, the kind you’d be almost embarrassed to admit you’d go and see because it makes you laugh.

To be able to jump into the water and swim, to jump in the water of life and swim and let go, to let go of everything.

To lose self-importance and merge with life.

Zen practice will aid you in learning how to let go—because your ability to let go is in complete correlation to your ability to hold on or focus. It’s much easier to learn how to focus initially than it is to learn how to let go. To try to let go can be very difficult. But if you learn how to focus, to hold on, then you will find that automatically, you will know how to let go. This is the Zen way.

Learn how to focus. Then, in the practice of meditation, you’re going to learn first how to focus before you learn how to let go. When you sit down once or twice a day for 15 minutes, if you’re an absolute beginner, or perhaps half an hour or maybe eventually up to an hour, you’re going to learn how first to concentrate, to focus. Because when you can focus your mind—and there are exercises and practices to do that—then you will find that you will also have learned how to let go of the mind, that is to say, how to make the mind quiet and still, which will cause you to get in touch with the deeper mind, which will then surface and aid you and show you what it is you should be doing, which you can then, of course, do with great clarity because you’ve learned how to focus your mind by practicing mindfulness all of the time and practicing focusing techniques when you do zazen.

So the technique then, for all the time, is to be where you are now, to just continually remind yourself, starting now. Now you’re listening to my voice and you’re listening to this tape, and you should be here now. You shouldn’t be worried about what you’re going to do or whether it’s going to work or not or how you should apply it. You should just listen to my voice and these words. Then, when the tape is over, whatever your next activity is—drinking a glass of water, going someplace else, getting out of the car, whatever it is—you should do that and watch your body and be aware of it.

Be completely one with all of your activities and actions. Then when you sit down to do zazen and meditate formally once or twice a day, you should do that completely.

Again, at this time, I’m not going to teach you zazen—that’s a whole subject in itself, meditation.

But I will say that if you’d like a basic concentration exercise, you can simply try sitting down once or twice a day and focusing on something for about 15 minutes. You might focus on a candle flame, a pretty colored rock, whatever it is you like—a flower. Sit up straight when you do it. You can sit in a chair and lean your back against the chair or sit up straight if your back is strong enough or sit in a cross-legged position, but don’t lie down because you’ll relax too much. Your body will relax and your mind will relax out of habit, and you won’t have the proper concentration level.

Concentration is like developing a muscle. The more you practice it, the stronger you get. And you get strong very fast. You will find as your mind is able to focus more, you will let go more.

So if you were to sit down for 15 minutes, what you would do is, for the first ten [minutes], practice focusing. With your eyes open, you can look at an object and just look at it. When thoughts come in and out of your mind, ignore them. Instead, just focus on the object of your concentration.

At first, it may seem an impossible task, and you’ll keep getting lost in thought. But as you keep doing it day after day, you’ll find that you’ll get better at it. You’ll find, of course, that you will also, as a corollary, be able to focus on whatever it is you are doing—throwing that football, making that business deal, moving into a higher level of mind, controlling your emotions, or probing within yourself to find out what it is you’d really like to do and be at this time.

So concentration is the most valuable thing there is, the focusing. For the first ten minutes, sit there and focus. Then for the last five minutes of a 15-minute session, let go. Close your eyes and just let go. When thoughts come in and out of your mind, just ignore them. Instead just be still.

Let go! That’s what letting go means. Letting go doesn’t mean, “OK now, we’re going to try to go in there and get some information out that we want to solve a particular problem.”

Your inner being already knows; it’s trying to communicate with you.

But it needs to shift you into a different state of mind. And to do that, you need to focus and concentrate so that you can pull your power together and then let go, and the shift will take place by itself. To keep struggling is of no avail. You just waste a lot of energy and a lot of time and get very stressed out. So the answer is to do business and to have a good time. Doing business is focusing and concentrating. And letting go is having a good time. I think having a good time is focusing too, just because it’s so much fun, and it feels so good. But do those things, and then leave your life alone.

The answers will come. And when they come, act on them, confident that they’re coming from the deeper part of yourself, and if you’re not sure, wait. If they’re the real answers, they’ll stay with you. They won’t fade after a day. They’ll be deep intuitions and you’ll know what it is you should be doing.

If you’re experiencing a lot of stress, that means that you’re not doing what you really want to be doing, and there are things that you’d like to do that you’re not doing. It means that you need more control of your mind and your time and your life to change that.

The practice of mindfulness, of focus throughout the day, and the practice of zazen meditation—I would recommend twice a day, which is composed of concentration most of the time and letting go towards the end of the session and experiencing stillness—these practices will put you in touch with your deeper self over a period of time, and you will be able to figure out what it is you want to do, as opposed to what everybody else has always told you that you want to do. And when you do those things, that’s winning—if you succeed at them—and that’s your battle and your challenge. And if you develop a Zen mind, you’ll be able do these things with no problem.

(Zazen music begins in the background.)

So this is Zen Master Rama, telling you that yes, you can overcome stress. Definitely. But you can’t do it by taking a pill, getting laid—oh, that can be an interesting change, maybe, I mean sex is fun, sometimes anyway.

But what you really need to do is to get in touch with your feelings, to find out who and what you are. That’s the only way to do it that I know of—to gain a strong and powerful mind, to deal more effectively with your life. The more you do it, the better you’ll feel.

So have a good day. And pay attention to what you’re doing, keep your mind there and then try practicing zazen as I teach it in my seminars or on tapes or in books, or as other people have taught it—it’s all the same. We each have our own special way of transmitting that experience.

(Zazen music ends.)