Zen Ox Herding 1: Seeking the Ox

Desolate through forests and fearful in jungles, he is seeking an Ox which he does not find.

Up and down dark, nameless, wide-flowing rivers, in deep mountain thickets he treads many bypaths.

Bone-tired, heart-weary, he carries on his search for this something which he yet cannot find.

At evening he hears cicadas chirping in the trees.

The first stage of awakening is the search for meaning. This usually starts with looking outside yourself: for worldly pleasures, success, money, the perfect relationship, owning cool stuff, or filling your head with interesting ideas and philosophies. This is really an attempt to make your life more comfortable so you can avoid pain and suffering, but in the end, none of it works – at least, not for long.

After a while you become disillusioned. You want more from life, but nothing you do or own gives you want you really need. You may not even be sure what you really need, you just know something is wrong. You may experience a loss of purpose and direction and begin to question everything in your life. This could be as simple as feeling mildly perturbed and a bit grouchy, or it could be a full-blown dark night of the soul. This can happen at any time in your life. You’re not sure what you want – you just know you don’t have it.

Whatever happens, the start of the journey always involves a leap of faith. You don’t know what to do or even what you’re searching for but you know there must be more to life than what you’ve found so far.

The feeling of bewilderment and uncertainty may not be fun, but it’s essential. Without the great doubt at the heart of your life, you wouldn’t begin the search for more. Finally you stop looking for answers in the outside world and turn inward and start to ask what your life really means. So the search begins…

Next: Finding the Tracks

Painting by Jikihara Gyokusei and Verse by Kuoan Shiyuan

Read whole series here