Sunday, October 17, 2010

Zazen in the Marketplace

In the Realm of the Hungry GhostsIn the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Health and Beauty Fair, Helsinki, October 17, 2010

I spent about three hours at the Health and Beauty Fair today. The Helsinki Zen Center had a stand, and Ari, one of our sangha leaders, asked if I could mind the shop for a bit so he wouldn't have to stay there all weekend. When I asked what I was supposed to do, he said that there are a couple of zafus and zabutons there, and he thought it easiest to just sit there and do some kind of practice, and answer people's questions if they asked, which they didn't, mostly. "Just go there and be yourself." So there I was, sitting away for most of Sunday morning.

It was fun, and surprisingly good practice, too. The hubbub of the fair was not distracting; in fact, it kinda grounded me to the present and made it easier not to drift off. The knowledge that I was out in public and people would probably stare gave energy and alertness. Yet, to my surprise, I didn't feel nervous or self-conscious, and could keep my attention on the practice quite effectively. I did five roughly half-hour rounds all in all, with roughly five-minute breaks in between; I didn't use a timer, so I went over some of the time (I think the longest round was nearly 45 minutes, actually), and under some of the time.

There was the constant drone of talk in the background. People were walking in front of me; I only saw shoes and ankles. Sometimes a few stopped and picked up a leaflet with our contact info, at which point I gasshoed them and said that it is allowed to talk to me. No big conversations, just a few words exchanged, mostly. A middle-aged lady started rhapsodizing about how peaceful I looked sitting there, and then went on to explain how she couldn't possibly do that because of her job and her teenage children and this, that, and the other, and then she went away.

At one point, two clowns came by, and sat with me for a few minutes. They were there for the kids, mostly, I think. When they left, one of them bowed and said that she's with the Triratna folks. That was nice. It's a shame nobody took a picture, because I'm sure it looked very funny, with me and the clown sitting there in our little stand.

Zen CuriousSome guru or other lecturing about zazen.

Ari eventually showed up and I helped him set up the "slow space" where he was doing a mini-introduction. Then Markus showed up too, and relieved me from zazen duty at the stand.

I've been at fairs before, but this was by far the least stressful and tiring one. I hope somebody got something from it. They certainly took all of our flyers, and Ari's lecture was, once more, jam-packed. As I was leaving, a passer-by looked in on them and said "Who's that? Must be some guru or other."

Then I walked home by the railway and took some pictures. It was a nice way to spend a Sunday.



  1. i often meditate on bus rides, park benches, and in other public places. good practice.

    that graffiti pic is very odd.

  2. Ya think?

    I think there's one guy (or girl?) spraying these messages on sidewalks in my part of town. The handwriting is mostly the same, anyway, although the colors change. My favorite is "The universe loves you. Love it back!" although "Sun is God!" is pretty nice too.

    I love these little messages people leave in their environment. Another one I saw today had a drawing of a face, with a caption "The thoughts you put don't stay in my head."

    I've meditated on public transport before, too, as well as transit halls and waiting rooms. Not a park bench, though, and not where I'm specifically on show.

  3. Did you count breaths during those sessions? Up to 10 or higher? Eyes open or down at the feet?
    Did your meditation stop folks from asking questions about your group?

  4. I think it would have, which is why I gasshoed and spoke up whenever someone picked up one of those leaflets or stopped for more than a casual glance.

    I practiced the way I always do; the only difference was with the circumstances. I didn't face the wall, though.

  5. That is interesting, I have never seen a meditation booth at a fair. "The Marketing of Zen" would be an interesting post. "Gasshoing" is interesting part of the market -- cloaking a mental discipline in Asian culture (a greeting, in this case, or floor sitting, in the pic). Mind you, I love gasshoing. Just fun to think about who would stop at such a booth and what would they be hoping to find.

  6. When I needed to get away from our Zen Center in Los Angeles for a while, I used to go sit on Santa Monica beach during off-peak times of day. Not as many people, just the ocean and the sun. I'd wear a hat for the sun and just sit for a while and for the most part people ignored me.

    There was one time I remember, though, when I felt a presence near me and heard a camera clicking. I lifted my head enough to see, and what do you know: an asian tourist was having his picture taken next to me.

  7. @Sabio – Yeah, that would. I have a visceral dislike to the concept, but I also think it's important to raise a flag, somehow, to make it known that Zen is there, if you happen to want it. That surely falls within the definition of marketing too. It's just awfully strange to market something when there's really no product there to sell. Our booth was mostly empty.

    The main reason I feel so ambivalent about it is that with marketing comes pressure to adapt your product to the market, and there are plenty of warning examples of what can happen if you do that too enthusiastically.

    Out of curiosity, why do you associate floor sitting with Asian culture? I just thought it's the most natural posture for meditation. Sitting on a chair gives me an ache in the lower back, or makes me drift off if I have a back rest.

  8. Your points are excellent! I think it is thoughtful and good to let people know about contemplative-inclusive traditions, the question of how is tough.

    As an adult I never really habitually sat on the floor until I was in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Japan. I would think they could build meditation chairs that are far better for knees, backs and such than floor sitting. That said, I LOVE sitting on the floor and for meditating, would prefer it to chairs, I think. But then, my knees are fine for now and I had greater than a decade of Asian acculturation.