In October 2018, I attended a course to learn to teach meditation and mindfulness. In October 2018, I attended a course to learn to teach meditation and mindfulness. The course was run by an organisation called Zenways, more specifically, the course was run by one of its members, Seán Collins. The course lasted for a week and I knew, at the end of it, that things would not be the same as before. A major change happened during that week I spent in Forest Row where the course took place. I felt like I gained tons of confidence in myself and in what I could do from then on. Of course, little I knew back then, that the journey would be long (actually the journey, I feel, never ends) at times it can feel arduous and other times it feels enjoyable. I was basically starting to realise a little bit more about myself and how the mind functions. How it, the mind, had power when it came to perceive things in and out of myself. The mind says that something is good, then I act accordingly. The mind says that something is bad, then I act differently. Throughout the life, the mind has built a storehouse of good things and bad things and one acts in accordance to this storehouse, attracted by the good things and repulsing the bad things. So, what changed during that week? It is very difficult to describe it exactly in words but, one way to put it, is that I found the neutral place. The neutral place is a mental awakening that sees things as they are and not as they are determined by the conditioned mind, by the storehouse of good things and bad things. It is a clearer way of seeing things, unfiltered, direct.  New potentials seems to be at the horizon.

In the weeks to come after the course, emotions started to pour. It seemed that things inside me started to disentangle and were being freed somehow. As they freed themselves, they would manifest in tears and, I would find myself crying and crying. No sad crying, no happy crying either, just crying. Beautiful and liberating. I could easily observe all of this outpour in a way which I would define detached. It was definitely happening but not happening to someone in particular, it was just happening. And, of course, it goes without saying that when one becomes detached from the inner turmoils, they don’t get so caught and so enslaved by them. I have learned with time that when I am not attached to what it is going internally, I don’t suffer, I can see what is going on without being overwhelmed by it. I guess that I started to have a first hand experience on how meditation and mindfulness worked in practice, I am not sure, I am just guessing here. Before then, I had lots of theory in my mind and by practice meditation regularly I was experiencing the array of benefits that meditation can offer; feeling calmer, being kinder, being more patience and so on. Now, I was starting to enjoy a different way to relate to myself and to things and/or people that were around me.

Going back to Zenways now. I found out about Zenways because some time before I read a book by Daizan Roshi called Practical Zen: Meditation and Beyond.

I remember I enjoyed the book very much and got attracted, among other things, by the fact that Daizan run an organisation or Sangha, a community where people practiced Zen Buddhism, I’d wanted to join that. I had never explored Buddhism before and I knew very little (nothing) about Zen either. I soon wanted to know more about them, Buddhism and Zen so after the course in Forest Row, I joined Zenways. My guess is that my ‘opening’ which occurred during the week of the course, lead me straight to go to the source of what I believed caused this opening in the first place. Perhaps a sense of gratitude, curiosity, excitement.

I joined Zenways and wanted to meet Daizan as soon as I could so I went down to the dojo in London, Campberwell, and finally met him. I went to speak to him in a private meeting which in the Zen tradition is called Sanzen. In these meetings, Zen students can tell their teacher about their practice, normally, but not only that. I remember that all I could tell Daizan was ‘thank you!’ or something along those words. I just wanted to convey my gratitude for the ‘shift’ or ‘opening’ that happened just a couple of months before.

Daizan, myself and my wife Amy on our wedding day

From that moment onwards, I got more and more involved with Zenways and their activities. Becoming a member of Zenways, means becoming a Zen student. Becoming a Zen student, in this case, meant to study Zen or to practice Zen under the supervision of Daizan. That is what I did, I started practicing Zen which meant, in my case, having a daily meditation sitting or two daily meditation sittings. Also, I started reading the vast Zen literature which has really been helping me to understand or, try to understand, where or what all the Zen masters of the past and present point at. It does feel right to say that all this practice, reading, applying mindfulness and so on started to develop a Zen mind or no-mind, whatever that means.

Also, little by little, I realised that Zen can be practised in an endless number of ways. All activities we find ourselves involved in, can be used to practice Zen and, possibly, the first and still to me, most important lesson has been that, when doing something, do it totally, become the action, be totally available, wholeheartedly. By becoming one with the action, one is no concerned with what is going on in the mind (likes, dislikes, resistances and so on) but they become just concerned with what is necessary to do. As I heard many times, we break down that wall of separation which makes us feel separate from the universe, makes us feel a separate entity, a ‘struggling’ entity, a ‘fighting’ entity, a tiny entity that is about to be crashed by the universe. Zen, in my own understanding, helps us to see that this split, this separation is just illusory, it is created by our own mind, by the storehouse of ‘good things’ and ‘bad things’. In reality, we are part of the moving universe, we are that universe in fact. The self and this idea of a separate self is an empty idea, no real. It stays together because of our habitual way of thinking about ourself and the rest. Little by little, this understanding or knowing becomes experiential but, I still have to work hard at times to bypass the habitual mind which do not allow me to see this Truth. It is a constant reminding myself of this, moment to moment, no split, no separation, just acting as required by the situation.

This is in a nutshell, the training that I have been doing with Zenways. There is more than this but for me at the moment, this is the core teaching/practice. Also, in these years with Zenways, I realised why it is called Zenways. The reason is very simple, there are many ways to practice Zen, not only one. Zen can be practiced whilst walking, working, running, speaking, looking into a mirror, working with a Koan…… Zen is no separation in the many different ways we manifest our presence in action. And then, of course, Zen would not allow any definition of Zen……


I know every wrinkle on my face, every scar, indentation, valleys and rises as I stared in a mirror for 5 consecutive days.

I went to a Sesshin last month, a meditation retreat in the Zen tradition. During this period of intense practice (meditation practice), one follows a very rigid schedule; sitting meditation, walking meditation, working meditation, eating mindfully, mindful movements, chanting and silence, lots of silence. And, it was from the shadow of this silence that I got to see very clearly what was going on in the mind when I attended the various scheduled activities. I could not distract myself by chatting to someone else but I had to live totally with my own thoughts, feelings, emotions. Resistances, likes, dislikes, wanting to move, scratching, rushing to get some food, not considering others, getting upset because food run out…… In silence, all these things are clearly seen, they are clearly heard like a scream in the dark, one can’t pretend to not have heard it.

Don’t get me wrong, there is also great beauty in spending so much time in silence, especially for a person like me that feels at times inadequate when being around people. I didn’t have to talk, I just had to get on with the various tasks, my own inner stuff and my face reflected in a mirror, not such a bad thing after all.

At the Noddfa centre, around 30 people moved inside the boundaries of the rigid Sesshin schedule, focussed on themselves; noticing their thoughts, emotions, likes and dislikes. Noticing without reacting, that is one of the qualities of a mindful mind. Noticing what arises, allowing space without grasping. The more I allow, the more there is a sense of space expanding (well, that’s what it feels like). In the moment I try to grasp a thought, for instance, the same space shuts down around that thought, I am caught, my attention is caught. Is there anything wrong when the attention gets caught? No, nothing is neither wrong or right for that matter but I am limiting myself within claustrophobic boundaries whilst missing out on the actual experience that is unfolding around me. I am holding on to something, not letting go, fixated on a concept or an idea, very intellectual and not really experiential. Of course, there are times when I need to focus on thoughts, I need to analyse or work something out or when I speak to someone and I want to know exactly what to say. However, when meditating we want to allow thoughts to arise without us ‘disturbing’ them. Thoughts are not a problem at all but what we do with them can create the conditions for some potential disharmony with how we deal with situations, people and ourselves too. We all know how one thought leads on to the next one and the next one again in an endless thread that carries us down the spiral of our own creative, corrupted, conditioned, individual story about how things are. This spiralling is what we call the world of separation, our story versus what is out there, the ‘hostile’ world. Rather than experiencing things, we think about them, what we like or don’t like about them, how we can twist them to try to ‘gain’ something, how to avoid or how to have more. Thoughts are gauging the actual experience of life, they are not the experience itself, they are ideas about it. My experience with Zen is that we are practising to break down this illusory wall that separates us from the ‘hostile’ universe. Once the wall is down, there is no separation, we are the universe, there is neither hostility nor no-hostility, we are just what we are. However, why did we stare in a mirror for 5 consecutive days then?

The Mirror Zen Sesshin is based around the practice of sitting and facing yourselves in a mirror. Practice which was developed in a Japanese temple called Tokei-ji in the Kamakura period by female Zen master Kakuzan Shido. Kakuzan Shido would meditate before the mirror to see into her own nature. In the same way, later generations of nuns and us at the Noddfa centre have been meditating on various koans associated to the mirror image and reflections. I can kind of imagine Kakuzan Shido walking towards a mirror; thoughts must have popped into her mind whilst she was getting closer to it. As she got very near to it, she must have clearly seen that those thoughts were not reflected in the mirror, they were reflected by an inner mirror which we commonly call mind. Possibly, she saw the reality that laid in front of her reflected in the mirror and the reality of her own thoughts. Two separate realities. There were thoughts about how she saw things, how she believed things were. Clearly, she realised that the 2 realities were not matching. What was seen by her own eyes was different or corrupted by what her mind was saying. The mind had ideas about what she was seeing and these ideas were clearly subjective, conditioned, dependent by factors such as mood, lightness, darkness and so on and so forth. For that reason, I guess, she carried on with this Mirror Zen practice, she refined it and passed it down to other students. This is my reading of how things went which I am sure is very far from what really inspired Kakuzan Shido.

Is the mirror showing the content of my own mind? Where in the mirror are the thoughts which appear in my mind? Can I see them? These were some of the questions that naturally arose and sustained me during my practice of seeing into my own nature. If thoughts are not in the mirror, where are they coming from? These questions help breaking our logical way of seeing things and open up to a different way of experiencing life in general; not so much an intellectual endeavour but rather an experiential experience, a moment to moment experience, from a philosophical approach to things to a more practical one, from an intellectual way to relate to things, to a more intuitive one.

What did I take home from this retreat? I am not sure that I took home something specific from the retreat. Definitely lots of inspiration to keep practicing and admiration for all of those who practice. Gratitude towards Kakuzan Shido and 22 generations of practitioners after her who kept this specific practice alive. What was apparent in the mirror of my mind were those thoughts of inadequacy that at times take over. Being able to let go of those fears and of that sense of me, personal me, separate me, that illusory sense of separation in general. That is what showed up very strongly at the end of the retreat. So ‘full speed ahead’……