How to Lose Your Zen at the Beach

The beach is my Zen place. The rhythmic sound, the open expanse, the sand between my toes…

My Zen place.

I take an annual vacation with two people who are fairly politically quiet one-on-one but when they are together, work each other up until they are cocked and loaded to fight the culture war. They usually do this in whispers that I am sure to hear, and then escalate over the days until they are calling out weblinks to one another to check out the latest outrage.

They used to blame Obama for everything, real or unreal, valid or invalid, and felt very justified in doing so. Now, these same two people are indignant that Trump is being blamed for things like escalated tensions in North Korea. Because of course that is a holdover from the failed Obama policies, and Hillary’s failed diplomacy. Word of the day: hypocrisy.

I am trying not to say this out loud and light the match of the culture war right and dash all hopes of enjoying my beach Zen.

These people are critical members of my family, so it would disrupt the overall Zen of my life to miss these vacations or to vacation alone. With the whispers, I can hold the Zen and occasionally send links to fact check their crazy conspiracies.

But occasionally their wild stories have merit, and that really messes with my Zen.

As a long-time meditator and spiritual seeker, I’ve worked for years to dismantle the blind patterns that I live by. I’ve mastered seeing things from lots of different viewpoints without losing emotional equilibrium, and I can understand various beliefs and worldviews without feeling I need to buy into them to appreciate them. It works pretty smoothly until it involves family.

Then I lose my Zen.

I’m working on that. Each vacation I work on this and each year I am pleasantly surprised that I am much further along the road of keeping my Zen than I was the year before.

In past years I would shaky just thinking about the week ahead. This year, I was amazed at the calm I had during the 6-hour drive to the beach. Totally and authentically non-reactive at the comments and conversation. Day one my Zen wavered but re-centered. This is day two. Starting to shake a bit more, and I’m noticing my reaction spike whenever I hear the words, “Listen to this…”

Everyone loves to have their beliefs and worldview mirrored back to them. It makes them feel safe in the world, part of a tribe. The illusion of certainty is not just intoxicating, it is wired into the brain as a survival strategy. Each year I am reminded that for as much work as I do in this, I am no different.

My challenge for myself is that I want to go beyond just surviving to thriving. And thriving, to me, means moving beyond the survival impulses that keep us armed for a fight in the culture and other wars, and toward acceptance and understanding of differing viewpoints so that we can work together and create a world that supports our collective long-term prosperity.

So, today’s strategy is to return to my heart breath — breathing in and out as if through the heart and keeping my awareness on the heart as the breath flows through it. I believe the heart is the center of wisdom, contrasted with the head, which is the center of beliefs, ego and fixed patterns. Calling my attention away from thoughts and back to the heart has been the best way for me to come back into Zen in the moment.

Back to the heart. Back to the breath. Back to wisdom and connection even with those who have a view of the world that challenges mine. Back, hopefully, for today anyway, back to Zen.