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Davis, California

Friday, April 19, 2024

Hitting my head against the wall

What oranges and dead ends taught me about life

I never imagined vigorously staring at a blank white wall — as well as contemplating life by strenuously observing a ripe, delicious orange — were two things I can consider  “revelatory.” While extremely frustrating chores by themselves, they have been incredibly helpful in my path to self-discovery. (And as an unfortunately potent method for procrastination.)

I never imagined that staring at a blank white wall could be so enlightening. Equally thought-provoking is a mental exercise involving the contemplation of an ordinary orange, which I learned from Brad Warner’s book, Hardcore Zen. Essentially, it involves visiting a quiet location and focusing on every single aspect of the piece of fruit: it’s texture, color, smell and just about anything sensory-related. These motions don’t necessarily have a purpose. Rather, it’s to get people into what I’m calling — and Warner details throughout his work — the “Zen mindset.” Put plainly, it entails being “in the now” as much as possible.

Yesterday, as I emerged from an essay-induced fetal position, I realized I needed to take a break from all of my writing work. I felt more stressed than usual because I had just re-read Thomas More’s Utopia, which catalogs a severely oppressive, tyrannical and creepy world that I’d never want to live in. Having felt extremely stressed and depressed from these activities, I decided at that moment that sitting perfectly still for an hour in unbearably dull silence was my best option. In retrospect, I now realize this might have been the least sensical thing to do. Nevertheless, it caused me to recall the book that taught me the aforementioned exercises.

What’s strange about the book, though, is it’s written by someone who one would never would even know what Zen is. As Warner describes in the text, he is an active practitioner of Zen, which in addition to being a general mindset, is also a Mahayana Buddhist denomination is primarily centered around the the no-frills meditation called  “zazen,” that I described earlier.

Almost as uplifting as it is sardonic, Warner’s high octane ride flings the reader through all the zany twists and eccentric turns of his autobiographical spiritual journey. This includes things like a brief tour throughout the 1980’s American hardcore punk scene, an incursion into the art of producing campy Japanese monster movies and the story of how he became a certified Zen master through his “dharma transmission.”


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