mnmlist: the zen of limits

I had tea recently with a Zen priest, Susan O’Connell, who is Vice President of the San Francisco Zen Center. She’s a lovely person.

One thing she talked about was the “forms” that are a big part of Zen meditation — forms are the strict rules of posture, hand poses, sitting, and other parts of the meditation that are prescribed by tradition. Some people come to the zazen meditation sessions because they like the forms, and others come in spite of the forms.

Either way, people must figure out their relation to those forms. And they must deal with that in some way.

I told her that the limits I set for myself have the same function: limiting myself to 50 personal things, or 5 sentence emails, or 3 Most Important Tasks each day, for example.

Some people embrace these limits. Other minimalists reject them because they’re too arbitrarily restricting, or they’re not the point of minimalism.

Either way, you must figure out your relation to the limits.

Limits are not the point of minimalism, but they accomplish something important: they force us to figure out what’s important. And if we don’t want to figure out what’s important, they force us to figure out why.

There’s a Zen story (I’m paraphrasing here) about a student who asked a teacher, “What’s the most important thing?” And the teacher replied, “The most important thing is asking what’s the most important thing.”