For years, decades in fact, I have been carrying around a book called Zen Flesh Zen Bones and quoting it to baffled students. Sometimes I just give them the book and find myself another copy. In the back, there is a collection of sentences under the heading ‘Centreing’ which used to baffle me too. I don’t wish to give the impression that I now know what it means – that would be a big Zen error. But I note that the kind of advice it implies (again, it’s not quite the Zen thing to kindly proffer advice) is now routinely visible on notice boards in hospital wards and waiting rooms. Which has emboldened me to keep quoting the real thing.
A sentence that has helped me, particularly when starting something big, states ‘Abide in some place endlessly spacious, clear of trees, hills, habitations’. I like the idea of the brain emptying out, giving space for new thoughts to arrive. I thought of this motto when taking a new year’s walk in the un-Zen seeming county of Surrey. As my photo (of Frensham Common) shows, there were in fact trees and hills to be seen, but an alluring vacancy as well. And I’ve also come to think that the event-less new year days are perfect for this brain-emptying phase. But someone should think up a term, akin to Hogmanay, for that dire morning when offices are re-populated and the inbox ping is once again heard throughout the land.
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones compiled by Paul Reps, Penguin (1971)