This week I am happy to introduce LPN’s influencer and Zen monk, Andre Halaw.
I had the lovely opportunity to ask him some questions and learn all about the Neti-Neti Meditation technique!
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to began your Neti-Neti Meditation venture?
Although I am a Zen Buddhist, I discovered the Neti-Neti process from reading Nisargadatta Maharaj. Essentially, his teachings, like the Buddha’s, is that we falsely identify ourselves with our body and thoughts, when in reality, they are not-self. Neti-Neti means “not this, not that.”We are not anything that we can hear, smell, taste, touch, or think. This teaching resonated with me and my experiences as a meditator because I found that the more I identified things as ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’, the more control I needed to exert in order to protect them. That translated to a constant state of anxiety and trepidation as I constantly felt the need to defend myself and those things I viewed as mine.
2) What differentiates your book Neti-Neti Meditation from most “how to” books of meditation?
Neti-Neti Meditation differs from other forms of meditation in that it employs negation to wake people up. In Neti-Neti, we identify things that we think of as our–such as our bodies, thoughts, emotions–and then actively realize that they are not us or ours. For instance, when we experience a negative emotion such as anger, we explore its feeling and texture for any trace of ‘I’, ‘me’, or ‘mine’. When we exhaust our examination of it, we recognize that the emotion is actually impersonal, and therefore has no power over us unless we identify with it as ‘ours’. The same process applies to any event, emotion, or mind state. None of these things are us, which means that we transcend any and all of these things. The result is a less rigid sense of self and a more fluid way of engaging our lives because we are no longer fixated on defending this imaginary ‘I’.
3) Can you briefly describe your spiritual practice as a Zen Buddhist monk in the Five Mountain Zen Order and share what it means “to live a simple and meditative life”.
In the lineage of Zen that I practice, from Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn, meditation means being engaged with the present moment. Where are our thoughts? When we’re cooking breakfast, are we rehearsing an argument that we are planning for later that morning? Meditation begins on the cushion, but should extend to every aspect of our lives. This doesn’t mean that we never get mad, quite the contrary. We still get angry and sad, but what is our relationship to that emotion? Living mindfully, we no longer feel the need to control every event and emotion. Sadness is okay, as long as we don’t feel the need to change it; then it becomes adversarial and an emotion to overcome.
4) It seems like 4 out of every 5 people I know suffer in one way or another from a mental illness such as anxiety and depression. Have you seen a rise in mental illnesses, specifically the most common-anxiety disorders, and if so, why are people feeling anxious more than ever right now?
As a Zen teacher, I encounter a lot of people who are unhappy, either existentially or psychologically. Modern culture highlights (and perhaps magnifies) the alienation that people inherently feel. Fortunately, this same technology that leaves so many people restless and feeling incomplete, can also connect people. With a few keystrokes, anyone can be in touch with the words of the world’s greatest sages. That’s encouraging, I think!
5) How can Neti-Neti help those who are suffering from the above, as well as chronic physical pain?
People who suffer–emotionally, psychologically, or physically–often compound their unhappiness by identifying with the experience, as if it is theirs. It isn’t. Pain is an impersonal occurrence; it’s not mine. People then craft stories to accompany their suffering, such as, “This kind of thing always happens to me,” thus adding yet another layer to their suffering.The beauty of Neti-Neti is that it severs this self-narrative by exposing it for what it is–just more thinking. We are not our pain; therefore, we are not owned by it. Anything that we can experience, we ultimately transcend. Neti-Neti, the process of negation, reveals this. The result is freedom, not from our pain, but within it.
You can visit Andre at his Zen blog, Original Mind at originalmindzen.blogspot.com. or follow him on Twitter @ OriginalMindZen. He has five books available on Amazon.