In zen, (or the thing that I’m thinking of that seems to mostly overlap with zen, I don’t want to be presumptuous), the trick to peace is to stop perceiving what ought to be as different from what is. As in – to stop wanting by realizing that you already have what you want, or something similar.
And of course as soon as we hold this as a verbalizeable concept in our mind, we fall into the trap of placing this whole thing – being zen – as a goal. Zen is “I have what I want” – and so to say “I want zen” is hilariously self-defeating.
This means that any sort of discussion about zen as a goal becomes self contradictory – in speaking about zen in any sense separate from “a current experience”, we have lost it. The concept behind this is the same sort of concept people are pointing at when they talk about unspeakability or undefinability, or ‘unasking’ in the meta sense, again usually in reference to zen.
Here specifically I wanted to explore a question which I’ve heard as a steady rebuttal in various forms in response to this idea. The question is this: “If zen cannot be a goal, and is rather about not-goal, how then do you achieve any sort of change? How does this not result in stagnation?”
In response to this I think we can look at things that aren’t conscious, or are barely conscious, or anything which doesn’t possess the sensation of goal setting. They still undergo change. Energy is in motion and reactions happen. It’s impossible for stagnation to occur.
When we usually talk about the sense of changing and goals, we mean something that carries a sense of willpower and direction. We choose a route or an end point, determine it as superior to other points, and call things that help us achieve it as ‘good’ and everything else as ‘bad.’ It is an action we impose upon our own reality.
In contrast, zen calls for the change that occurs through observation, sort of how becoming more aware of your own motivations for things can trigger self-acceptance, or how knowing a character’s backstory triggers greater feelings of empathy. In circumstances like these, observation creates change, but the change feels like it happens to us, like it’s inevitable and directionless. I do not feel like I enacted any acceptance upon myself, I feel like I just looked at myself more deeply. I don’t feel like I decided to make myself feel empathy, but rather that I just looked at the motivational parts behind a person I disliked.
I think a desire for goal-change over observation-change comes from distrusting observation-change. Perhaps we think it won’t make us the happiest, or give us what we want. Maybe it makes us feel a loss of control, and that is terrifying. Holding onto goal-change makes us feel like we have had a role in our lives, like we dictate our direction and our reality.
And from the perspective of zen, there is no judgement in that. Zen cannot be a goal, so not being zen does not mean you’ve failed.
So in summary I guess there is no point, do whatever you want. Have fun! Or don’t, whatever, zen doesn’t care.