“silhouette of man meditating on rock cliff during golden hour” by Dharm Singh on Unsplash

3 Years in a Temple to Reflect on a Broken Relationship.

While traveling in Kyoto, Japan and staying at a Zazen temple, I had an interesting encounter.

I spoke to a former leftist who escaped Mexico to reflect on a broken relationship. He planned to stay for a few months.

Now it’s been three years.

In the following, you can read about his reflections on the broken relationship, desires and why he would be less angry if he had the chance to be 18 years old again.

In Buddhism, in general, the teaching is that the truth is right there but we do not look because we are constantly distracted.

When did you start meditating and how did you get into meditation?

I started doing Zazen six years ago. My girlfriend broke up with me and other things in my life were not going great, too. I was kind of depressed for a couple of months.

I recognized that I needed to do something about it but I had or have some problems with authority and I did not want to go to therapy. Then when I went to a bar with a group of friends one of them told me that she was doing meditation and that made sense to me that day. She invited me into the group and I really liked it.

This was six years ago and then you went to Japan to practice Zazen…

Yes, I have been in Japan for almost three years.

Reflecting on the last three years what were the key insights?

I think the key insight that motivated me to go deeper into meditation was actually about that relationship and I asked myself why the relationship failed.

During Zazen, many memories come up. I realized that all the problems started when my girlfriend said to me that she wanted to go to the USA to do a Ph.D. I didn’t want to go but of course, I was in love with her so I said yes.

We went together through the application process but during this process, I was suffering a lot because I actually didn’t want to apply. Because of this suffering, I was quite stressed so I became kind of neurotic and we were fighting all the time. That affected the relationship in a very bad way.

When I started doing Zazen I realized that if I had said to her that I don’t want to do this, I would have found another way to support her. Maybe I could have told her to apply to the U.S. and if she got into it, then we see how we figure it out and then we go together or something. Maybe I could have supported her better. In the end, I think in my application process I did make many mistakes. I would even say that I self-sabotaged. When she got in, she was always asking me when I would come, and I was making a lot of excuses.

Zazen made me more conscious…it was weird, if I had taken better care of me I would have taken better care of her.

That was some paradox that made me want to go deeper into meditation.

How can I harmonize my own desires with my circumstances, with other people’s desires and find harmony?

How can one start practicing Zazen without losing interest?

When I started my posture was really bad. It hurt a lot. I was doing Zazen once a week and then my teacher advised me to do Zazen at home by myself.

You don’t need to do it for two hours, just do ten minutes and when you feel comfortable with ten minutes go for 15 min.

My grandfather was a cowboy. Literally, he was herding cows. Whenever he was going to drive the tractor he started the engine and before moving, he would say, “Let us go slowly because I am in a hurry.”

He meant that if you go too fast you might get into an accident and you never get to the point where you wanted to go. I think this idea is important.

It is better to do it every day for ten minutes then going once in a while for three hours. You will not get the same results.

Part of it is to accept where you are. I had to accept my posture and this is where I have to start. You can accept your starting point and build upon on. I think that was the key.

How do you see the role of meditation in today’s technology-driven generation and fast-paced world? Do you have any tips?

Consumerism has taught us to look for comfortability so whenever we feel a bit uncomfortable we stop or we want to look again for comfortability. Another thing is that we are looking to satisfy every single desire that we feel. Also, the internet is trying to stimulate or put in us some desires.

As soon as you satisfy one desire you look for the next one.

So, it’s quite difficult to do Zazen for modern human beings. The posture and general Zen practice can be quite painful and uncomfortable.

We have a big problem with it and I would like if people would accept this pain or these difficulties that you have to overcome before feeling some joy or reap the benefits.

For me, I really wanted to stop suffering. I wanted to be ok.

I was a middle/ upper Mexican, kind of in the global average. All my basic needs and most of my shallow desires were satisfied but still, I was unhappy. So it was really clear for me that that was not the way for me to stop suffering.

One reason to go back to meditation even if it’s painful is that you are actually producing a lot of endorphins.

I asked myself why I wanted to go back even though it’s so painful.

I have bodily feelings.

Some chills that come from the head and bath your whole body. So you can also feel that sort of pleasure. But there is a danger that people might be looking for these experiences or sensations or states of mind.

But what really meditation teaches is that everything is impermanent and that pleasure will not last forever. Pain will come back again. So one question I often get is when will the pain go away. It will go away but it will come back.

Pleasure is not forever and also Zazen makes you realize that your own desires change. So if you stay in Zazen for 30 min and a desire comes, e.g. you want to eat pizza or go out with friends, then if you stay for another 30 min in Zazen another desire comes up, e.g. you wanna watch a movie or something.

In such a way you realize that it does not make sense to pursue all desires and then it will go away.

Though it is not that you stop having desires but you give an order to them.

Do you still have goals that drive you towards something?

When I was a scholar I studied political science and then Japanese history and I was kind of an anarchist, a left-anarchist so I was all the time talking about freedom, equality, democracy, anti-hierarchy and all of these pretty nice words but during meditation and this is the hard part of mediation, you realize you are not such a nice person.

You are hierarchical. You’re selfish, an elitist and all these things you are supposedly fighting against. I realized there is a huge gap between my words and my actions and my thoughts. They are not in harmony.

I also realized that my environment and my teachers, my boss, my other students' friends were all trapped in that. We were taught to be critical. We were basically complaining and finding fault in everything exterior to us but never saw much clarity about ourselves.

And that gap or fishing in yourself hurts a lot.

My aim could be phrased like this: I want to make my actions and thoughts in more harmony.

I don’t have any long-term plans.

I don’t know where I will go.

It’s not something that worries me anymore.

Everything that I learn here is useful in any place.

The circumstances will let you know. I might want to be a scholar or I may want to be a Zen Master. I might want to be a musician or a writer, a science fiction writer. I want to be married and have a family.

Those desires are there and sometimes I am worried.

I am not completely carefree but then again I remember the circumstances will let you know.

We are working in the fields and we eat what we grow or what the farmers grow.

So I am from Mexico and I like to eat fruits. I like mango and pineapple and all that stuff but I am in a small village in Japan and you cannot eat mango.

But we have radish and spinach and you can cook it with like soy sauce or miso. So you’re not completely constrained.

The problem is in modern cities you go to the supermarket and you can actually eat mango or whatever you want if you have the money.

We are not in harmony with the environment anymore and lose the connection and therefore we lose the information we need.

In Buddhism, in general, the teaching is that the truth is right there but we do not look because we are constantly distracted.

Imagine you would be 18 again in 2018 with the knowledge and experience you have right now. What would you do? What would you do with your life?

I would turn into a musician or into a fiction writer.

And I would not be so angry.

I must say I was a leftist and I appreciated anger…we should be angry because things are a mess but it was pointless and it was not well-directed.

I was angry with friends, girlfriends, my parents, with people where I should have enjoyed their company better.

There’s no point in being angry.

It’s better to take care of your surroundings, the people around you.

About the author:

Michael Burkhardt is an AI Travelpreneur (40+ countries). He helps AI enthusiasts acquire hands-on skills through Real-World Projects. Apart from AI he blogs about mindset shifts, meditation tips, and body hacks for travelpreneurs.

Connect with Michael on LinkedIn, Medium and Instagram.

Community Builder | Founding Member @Omdena | Writing about doing nothing well www.michaelmeditates.com

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