Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mindfully Eating a Lemon

Since our middle school starts at 7:25 and the sixth graders I teach don't eat lunch until noon, I let them eat a snack during their third hour class.  One mid-morning, while standing in line along the wall outside my classroom door waiting for class to start, I saw a boy holding an unpeeled lemon.  I was a bit confused as to why he had a lemon so I asked him. 
Giving me a quizzical look, he sarcastically said, “Um, it's my snack.”
“The lemon?  The lemon is your snack?” I asked.  “What are you going to do with it?”
“I'm going to eat it,” he said. 
“You're going to eat it?  The lemon?  How?” I asked.
“I'm going to peel it and eat it.”  Duh. 
He rolled it in his hand and started to peel it with his fingers, like you'd peel an orange.  He held the peelings in the cupped palm of his left hand and then tossed them into a nearby garbage can.  When he came back, he separated a wedge from the whole lemon and bit into the wedge and ate it. 
“I've never seen someone eat a lemon like that before,” I said to him.
“Okay,” he said, still incredulous that I was asking him about his lemon.  “Well, how are you supposed to eat it?”
“I slice it in thin strips and put it in water or squeeze it on food.”
Then a girl standing next to the boy said, “You have to try eating it whole then, Mr. Eich. It's amazing.”
Another girl chimed in.  “It's so sour in your mouth.  It's delicious.”
I noticed that several kids standing in line were listening to this conversation.  “Do you all eat lemons like this?” I asked.
Several of them said yes.
“Okay,”  I said,  “I'll try it.”
I realized that these kids have grown up sucking on sour candy and that a lemon wedge popped into their mouth, its sour juice squirting on their tongue, tastes familiar, and yet, better than the candy they love because it's the real thing from which they derive their enjoyment of sour candies.  I also realized that this is a generational difference.  I know no adult who peels and eats a lemon like he or she would an orange.  I'm sure they're out there, but I haven't met or heard of any of them. 
Several days later, I bought a lemon with the intent of eating it like I would an orange: peeling it with my fingers rather than slicing it with a sharp knife into thin strips, separating the wedges, and then placing half in my mouth, and biting into it, and if possible, eating the entire lemon like this.  I like lemons but I do find them sour.  When I set out to peel the lemon, however, I couldn't break through the thick yellow skin with my finger or thumb.  I squeezed the lemon in my hand hoping to soften its skin.  No luck. I set it aside and waited for several days. 
I've been teaching my students poetry, descriptive writing, and the personal narrative for  the past three months and what I repeatedly tell them is to pay attention to the five senses and to incorporate these details into their writing.  Writing requires concentration, I tell them.  What I am essentially teaching them is mindfulness.  Writing requires mindfulness.  Eating requires mindfulness.  Or rather, it can.  We don't always have to write or eat with such mindfulness, but sometimes, and I would suggest often, eating or writing or walking or making food with mindfulness helps us to appreciate what we are experiencing more.  That's why I want to mindfully eat the lemon: to experience the taste and to be more aware that I am experiencing it. 
My opportunity to eat the lemon arrives on the morning of Christmas Eve.  I'm alone with no distractions.  I have nothing I need to do except mindfully eat the lemon. I set it in a large silver stainless steel bowl.  I grab a folded black cloth napkin.  I make a cup of green tea. I take all three items to my writing room/guest bedroom and sit on my bed.  Winter sunlight pours through the large rectangular window.  The sky is blue.  A thick layer of snow covers the roof tops of the neighboring houses.   I hear a jet passing overhead, first a sonic roar booming close and then fading into the distance until the sky is silent again. 
I hold the lemon in the palm of my hand.  Like goosebumps, miniscule dots cover its bright yellow skin.  I smell it.  It smells of lemon skin rather than lemon.  I squeeze it.  The lemon is solid.  I massage the lemon to loosen it up.  I attempt puncturing its skin with my thumb but am unable.  Wanting to eat it and not wait until another time, I bite  into the lemon.  My bottom teeth easily pierce the skin.  I taste the peel on my tongue. 
I begin to peel it.  I take my time.  I end up with five peelings, one of them almost half the lemon.  Because the skin is still hard there is a thick skin surrounding the lemon.  It's as if there were two skins, the outer skin and the inner skin, both of them attached to each other.  I start to pull off the thin skin in tiny strips.  Sometimes I can see the membrane on the skin.  It's a creamy white color, unlike the fruit itself which is more of a translucent amber. 
When the lemon is peeled, I pause for a moment and look at the whole lemon sitting there in the palm of my hand like a large egg in a nest.  The sticker attached to the skin stated the lemon was from California.  We often take it for granted that we can get citrus fruit at the beginning of winter.  We're used to going into a store and seeing all the fruits and vegetables—all the food we want from any location around the world—at all times of the year.  And yet, we should appreciate this fact.  It is nothing short of miraculous.  Modern technology allows us here in our first world abundance to eat fresh food from around the world. 
In Zen, many people teach the concept of interconnectedness.  The lemon is a good example.  Someone planted the seeds that grew into lemon trees.  The sun and rain and soil nourished the plant which allowed it to grow.  Someone probably sprayed pesticides on the trees which made them resistant to bugs and gave them a longer shelf life.  Someone picked the lemons; someone inspected them; someone crated them; someone loaded them on semis; someone drove that semi from California to Minnesota; someone unpacked the lemons and placed them in the bin at the store; someone rang up my purchase and took my money and placed the lemon in the grocery bag.  The interconnectedness is infinite.  Consider, for example, the people who built the lemon and semi factories, the lumber, steel, and concrete for these factories, the people who refined the oil for the gasoline that transported everything, the people who built the roads and the roads themselves traveled for all of these natural resources.  The lemon became mine because of the interconnectedness of many people and many natural elements and events. 
Finished with my moment of reflection, I start part three: taking apart the wedges.  As I do, the juice from the lemon gathers on my fingers and releases its aromatic sourness.  There's a slurping, sucking sound each time I take a wedge apart.
When I'm done taking apart the wedges, it's time for the finale: eating the lemon.  I bite into a wedge. It's sourness squirts into mouth.  It's a startling and exhilarating sensation.  The tartness makes me smile.  I put the second half of the wedge in my mouth.  A similar sensation.  I put the next wedge, whole, into my mouth.  Biting into it releases a gush, a geyser of citrus and lemony sourness. 
I slowly continue eating the wedges, and as I do, I realize their sourness isn't as sharp and as particular as when I first started.  I've gotten used to the sourness.  I've appreciated the sourness. 
It's a good reminder that life is often like this: it takes us a while to get used to that which is sour but even the sourness can have a good taste.  When we slow down we can become mindful.  When we become mindful we can appreciate life more—even the sour parts. 
My students were right:  eating a lemon is an amazing experience.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Coming Out to My Students

I did something momentous today. Something I’ve wanted to do since I first started teaching middle school ten years ago.  I told a group of my students (20 sixth graders in my advisory group) that I am gay.  I was ready and the time was right.  Our entire middle school (6th through 8th grade) had watched a documentary called “Bully” about Jamie Nabozny, a gay man who was bullied for being gay, starting in the sixth grade and continuing throughout high school.

After the movie, all teachers at our school led a discussion about the documentary and bullying.  At one point I asked, “What was this movie really about?”

A boy said, “About a gay boy who was bullied and beaten and how we need to accept gay people.” 

“Right,” I said.  “You may not think you know any gay people but there are kids in your class who are gay. They might not have told anyone, but they know. And when you go into the high school, or college, or the workplace when you’re an adult, you will know gay people.  They are everywhere. There are millions and millions of gay people in the world.” 

Then I realized I was talking about these “gay people” as if I wasn’t one of them, and I decided, in a split second, that the time was now, and I was going to tell them.  Now is the time, I thought. Here is your opportunity. 

“You may not know this,” I said, “but I’m gay.”

 Pure silence.  All eyes on me. 

“I was teased in middle school and high school. Not because I was gay, but because I was different. Because I grew up in a small town and I didn’t hunt or fish or play football, and instead was smart and liked theater and speech.” (I should have added and had impeccable taste in shoes.) I continued: “Kids pushed me and shoved me and called me faggot and queer and gay, and for that reason middle school and high school was really awful.  But when I got to college I realized there were other gay people and I wasn’t alone and I came out. I told my family and friends and they all accept it. All of the teachers here at school know I’m gay.  I’ve been out as a gay for twenty years.  I’ve never told my students because I was scared, scared of what your parents might think, scared of what you might think.  But today, watching the movie about Jamie, I realized that if an eleven year old boy in a small town in Wisconsin can come out, then I as a forty three year old man can come out to my students at the school where I teach.” 

I stopped. I had said what I wanted to say. I had said what I never thought I would say. I had said what I had practiced in my head so many times hoping for the right time and the courage.

 And then a girl clapped her hands.  And then a boy.  And then the whole class. They were all clapping for me. Clapping because I had been courageous with them and told them I was gay.  I felt relieved and scared and exhilarated and proud all at the same time. 

A girl in the back raised her hand.  “So are we the first class you’ve ever told?”

“Yes,” I said. 

“That’s really cool,” she said. 

A boy raised his hand. “Are you going to tell your other classes?” 

I smiled and laughed.  “I’m sure they will all find out.  You’re all going to put it on Facebook, right?” Several laughed.  “I’m sure most kids will know by Monday,” I said.

It’s true.  With news like this and texting and Facebook, they will share the information.

Before I left for the day and the four day Thanksgiving break, I also told several teachers, my principal, assistant principal, and discipline coordinator.  From all of them I got unwavering support. They were happy for me, they were proud of me, and they understood the difficulty of hiding my gay self that I have been doing for ten years with students.  Each of them said the same thing to me, the theme of the anti-bullying campaign at our school: We will stand up for you.  And I know they will.  Any backlash from narrow minded and prejudiced parents who think a gay man who is a middle school teacher shouldn’t tell his students that he is gay will be dealt with in a  twenty-first century way: acceptance and celebration of gay men and women who deserve all the respect and rights of their heterosexual counterparts. 

On this Thanksgiving Eve, I certainly am thankful that I came out to my students. I am thankful that I work in a school environment that has created a culture and community where I can come out.  I am thankful that I know I work with people who will support me and stand up for me.  I am thankful that I am proud enough and courageous enough to come out in this capacity.  It’s been a long road to get here.  But life is a long road.  A long wonderful road that I am thankful I am walking on in my own way. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Just Sitting for Ten Minutes

It's Sunday morning. I'm drinking coffee, sitting by the lit fireplace, reading a book, and enjoying the quietude. I hear the steady humming of the refrigerator and my own breathing, and now, a jet plane passing over in the distance.

I woke up this morning, showered, and meditated for ten minutes. It felt good to meditate right away. A good way to start my Sunday, a good way to stop and sit and not do anything. So often I've got a mental list of things I want or need to do: eat, clean, read a book, get ready for work. I'm not a crazy busy overbooking multitasking person but I like to use my time efficiently and effectively-there are only so minutes in the day and I want to use them wisely-and so I plan what I'm going to do with the minutes.

Meditating-just sitting as I like to call it-is “doing” something, but it represents the bare necessity and the simple essential. Often for myself, and others, just sitting there and “doing nothing” is difficult. We get mentally and physically restless. We have the mental list of things we could or should or would like to do instead of just sitting. We have the mental list of things we could or should or would like to do after we are done sitting. We have the machinations of our minds: the wondering and worrying, the remembering and envisioning. If you're like me, you think a lot. If you're like me, you think you should always be doing something, whatever that is. Just sitting there seems idle and counterproductive to the creative and successful person.

But I did just sit there. I stopped. I just sat. For ten minutes. It may not seem like a long time. It's certainly not the two periods of thirty five minutes every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday or the all day meditation retreat I used to sit ten years ago, but ten minutes is where I'm at right now and wherever I am is where I am.  I accept that.

Ezra Bayda states in his book Saying Yes to Life (Even the Difficult Parts) that “equanimity is being present with whatever is happening without believing our judgments about it.” What this means is that when I'm just sitting I just sit. I don't judge it. I don't say it's good or bad. I don't tell myself I'm distracted and unfocused, or the opposite, I'm concentrating and clear minded. Similarly, when I'm done just sitting, I don't judge the sitting, and I don't judge whatever I'm doing. I just do it: just drinking coffee, just sitting by the lit fire, just reading, and just enjoying the quietude.

Just Sitting Mindfully

I like to think of zazen or meditation as just sitting mindfully. You don't do anything for a while. You slow down. No, more than slow down. You stop.

You plop your butt down on a pillow or meditation cushion, you face a blank wall, you cross your legs in whatever comfortable fashion you can do, you place your hands in a similarly comfortable position, either palms up or down and on your knees or your right hand in your lap and your left hand on top of your right hand with your thumbs lightly touching, you wiggle and adjust until you get comfortable, you get still, you sit still, you keep your eyes open, and you breathe.

You notice your breathe. Maybe you count your breath up to ten and then start over again. Maybe you just keep breathing  and noticing your breath whenever you can. Over and over again.

Your mind will wander. You'll think of things: the past, the present, the future; the mundane, the ordinary, the extraordinary, the profound; the things you need to pick up at the grocery store, the ways you'd like to improve yourself.

And when you realize you've thought all this stuff, just return to your breath. Set aside the thought right now and return to your breath.

Maybe you'll start thinking about that thing again. You'll finish that grocery list in your head because that's what you plan to do right after you meditate. That's okay.

Sometimes you'll spend the entire time thinking. Sometimes you'll return to your breath often. Sometimes your mind will feel clear and spacious. You'll think eureka! This is it! This is meditation! This is enlightenment! This is the blank mind the Zen masters speak of! This is what I want when I meditate! But this thinking is an illusion, because meditation isn't about any of this.

Meditation is about just sitting. Just sitting there and no matter what happens in your mind, sitting for a bit. That is what is important. That is what just sitting is about. You took the time to stop and sit. Whether it's 10 minutes or 15 or 25 or 35 minutes. Whatever you did. Fantastic! You carved out time from your day and you just sat.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Moment of Mindfulness Before Eating

This is what I say before I eat:

As I eat and drink I accept and appreciate the present moment, and acknowledge, awaken to, and act upon what life is teaching me. 

 Most people would call it a prayer.  I like to consider it a moment of mindfulness before I eat. 

My moment of mindfulness is a variation of the chant we recited at the Cedar Rapids Zen Center and which is chanted in most Zen Centers.  I wanted to remove some of the Buddhist words,   I'm interested in “Americanizing” Zen, in particular by changing Sanskrit, Chinese, or Japanese words into their English counterparts. 

Here is what the original meal chant is: 

As we take food and drink I vow with all sentient beings to rejoice in zazen being filled with delight in the Dharma. 

Zazen is the form of sitting meditation in Japanese Zen.  Zen is a Japanese word which means meditation, derived from the Chinese word chan which was derived from the Indian source, the Sanskrit word dyhana, which means meditation.   In its simplest form zen means meditation.  In its complexity, it means taking what we learn in meditation into our everyday life.  The infamous saying “chop wood, carry water” captures this idea of doing what we are doing, whatever it is, even and especially those fundamental activities that sustain us.  Beyond that, there is nothing else.  It is nothing special as American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Bend reminds us. 

To rejoice in zazen means to rejoice in meditation.  The “za” in zazen means “just”.  Zazen is just meditation.  The emphasis means that when we are meditating we are only meditating.  We are  doing nothing else.  We are just sitting there.  If only it were this easy though!  Just sitting can me physically difficult when we feel restless and fidget and adjust and attempt to get comfortable.  Just sitting can also be mentally difficult because we are left alone with our thoughts and our effort to not think   However, we are going to think.  That is our nature as human beings.  Our minds will race to past events.  We will wonder and worry about the future.  We will become increasingly aware of the present moment.  This is good. This is the goal of mediation: to become aware of and appreciate the present moment, the moment right there on the cushion as we are meditating. 

I like to think of zazen or meditation as just sitting mindfully.  You don't do anything for a while.  You slow down.  No, more than slow down.  You stop.   You get very still.  Whether it's 10 minutes or 15 or 25 or 35 minutes, you carved out time from your day and you just stopped and sat still and developed mindfulness.  You mindfully sat. 

This is where Zen kicks in.  We take that awareness and appreciation of the present moment we gained in meditation into every moment of our lives.  This is our practice over and again with each new moment. 

“Rejoicing in zazen” always surprised me because “rejoice” is not a word I ever encountered in the dozens of books I've read by Japanese or American Zen teachers.  Rejoice reminds me of songs sung in Lutheran churches and Christmas carols.  It sounds so pentecostal and exuberant.  My idea of Japanese Zen was one of quiet contentment and at times austerity and stoicism. Perhaps this is the lesson of spiritual surprise and dissonance.  So instead of “I rejoice in zazen” I played with the words and after several attempts landed on and like “I accept and appreciate the present moment”.  It's something I know I need to remind myself of daily and so including it in my before meal thought strengthens me.  It is, I believe, the essence of Zen. 

The next part of the traditional chant is “delight in the Dharma.”  Dharma is the teaching of Buddhism.  It is the books, the teachers, the tradition, the rituals.  Dharma is also life itself as our teacher when we realize that if we are willing to learn life itself is the greatest teacher on how to live a good life.  Therefore in my prayer I substituted “what life is teaching me” for Dharma.  I like the implication that life is an active teacher and that it is teaching me.  I might not always know this.  I might not always like what it is teaching me.  I might feel like it's teaching me the same things over and over again in different ways because I haven't learned it yet.  But, as I say in my prayer, if I acknowledge, awaken to, and act up on what life is teaching me, then I will learn.

Again, the word “delight” in the original Zen prayer surprised me.  Similar to “rejoice” I didn't read or hear “delight” used often by Zen teachers.  It conjures up chocolate desserts and close friends who tell you they're going to visit you. What a delight!  “The Dharma: what a delight!” doesn't ring a Zen bell for me.  “Acknowledging, awakening to, and acting upon” does.  Again, I played with the words over several months and settled into this.  It asks me to act upon what I have acknowledged and awakened to.  Life is acting upon what we intuit we must do.  Life is doing it.  I like the reminder. 

So there it is.  My moment of mindfulness before eating:  As I eat and drink I accept and appreciate the present moment, and acknowledge, awaken to, and act upon what life is teaching me. 

But why have a moment of mindfulness before I eat? 

I have a moment of mindfulness, because it's a mental reminder three or more times a day to practice the essence of my spirituality:  accept and appreciate the present moment and acknowledge, awaken to, and act upon what life is teaching me.  I have a moment of mindfulness, because I want to take a few seconds before I eat and offer thanks for this moment of eating.  I have a moment of mindfulness because I want to be grateful for a meal I prepared for myself or someone prepared for me, and that I could afford this meal.  I have a moment of mindfulness because I want to be aware of the interconnectedness of existence that placed this food on my plate.  I have a moment of mindfulness because I want to mindfully engage my six senses  when I eat—mindful tasting, mindful seeing, mindful touching, mindful hearing, mindful smelling, and mindful thinking-feeling. 

And what is a moment of mindfulness?

A moment of mindfulness is that which we think or say over and over again.  A moment of mindfulness thought or said before we eat meals reminds us to take heed of the moment: we are about to eat.  Be thankful.  Food and liquid sustain us.  Not all people in the world are so fortunate to have it so easily and in such amble abundance. A moment of mindfulness said at other times, such as before we go to bed, is typically a triage of thankfulness for the day, bequest for the best, and compassionate extension of well being to people we love and ideally even those we don't.

At this time I don't have a moment of mindfulness at the end of the day.  Perhaps it will emerge.   

I do, however, have my moment of mindfulness before meals and I think or say it at virtually every meal now.  If I'm in public or eating with friends I can usually just sit there for a few seconds and most of them don't know I've even thought it.  A few observant people have and have simply asked if I just prayed.  I usually say, “I'm just having a moment of mindfulness.   My moment of mindfulness grounds me.  It places me firmly and yet tenderly in the moment. 

And like I take what I've learned while meditating--mindfully sitting—into the other moments throughout my day, so too I take what I've learned while mindfully eating into the other moment of my day.  My goal is to become more mindful in all of them.  .   

May you also.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

When Opportunity Knocks at the Zen Door of Awakening

Opportunity happens when it happens.  Sometimes it's when we want it to happen and the timing seems perfect.  Other times, although we sense it is a great opportunity, the timing seems wrong.  We doubt the opportunity and whether we should take it. 

But we should take it, despite the obstacles that might appear to be in our way.  Most of those imaginary impediments are own mental machinations, our monkey mind.  We expect things to be perfect and when they aren't we get angry at or anxious with the moment.  We question the validity of and verisimilitude of now.   However, we need to set aside all of our attachments and expectations for what the opportunity should be and let it emerge naturally, with all of its inherent chaos, complications, and complexity.  

Because of this messiness, we may not realize that the opportunity is the perfect thing to happen in our lives.  But opportunity always happens at the right time.  Like every moment, opportunity is the interconnected present moment created by our  past and shaping our future.  It always happens because, whether we realize it or not, opportunity is teaching us something we need to learn in life.    

Ezra Bayda, head teacher at the Zen Center of San Diego states in his book, Saying Yes to Life (Even the Difficult Parts), “The Zen mind speaks with strength, saying 'Just do it!'  The Zen heart speaks softly, saying 'Just let it be.'”

So we must balance “just do it!” and “just let it be” to reside and abide in the moment.  The two pop culture axioms are the twenty first century yang and yin of awareness.  Our postmodern koan.  If we can move forward in the moment with this equilibrium then we can accept and appreciate the present moment, awaking to and acting upon what life—this opportunity—is teaching us. As Ezra Bayda also states in his book, “Everything that happens offers an opportunity to awaken.”  So we take the opportunity because we know that by doing it and going through with it, we will awaken to the moment and to our lives.  This is the practice, the process, and the product of Zen. 

Loneliness: A Jewel of Discontent

I wrote this reflection in June of 2012. I hesitated to share this because I feared people would judge me. They would think I'm pathetically lonely. They would feel sorry for me. And yet, as I pondered it, I realized that my unease and dissatisfaction with the present moment is not specific to me. Loneliness, if that is what I am experiencing when I have these overwhelming moments of existential dissatisfaction, is universal. Maybe you're not experiencing loneliness but you're experiencing some other form of suffering—depression, anger, fear, betrayal, rejection. And so, by writing this and sharing it with you, I hope I can help you as I have helped myself. That is the essence of a community of people seeking to help each other.    

Things are better now in October 2012 when I post this.  I've worked through a lot of emotions-thoughts-attachments-expecations I had surrounding being alone.  I've enjoyed my solitude for almost two months.  Two weeks in Utah taught me a lot about myself and life.

So here it is:
It's never happened before.  It happens when I least expect it.  And yet, now that it's happened three times within the last month, I've realized when I should expect it.  It happens when I have a chunk of time and nothing to do and I'm alone. 
I'm alone a lot since I'm single and live by myself.  I'm use to the solitude.  In fact, for the majority of the time, I want the solitude.  I enjoy the solitude.  So that this feeling/thought has happened surprises me, and in a subtle way, scares me. 

What is it I'm feeling?  I feel lonely.  I feel alone.  I feel unhappy with my life.  I feel bleak.  It's what Ezra Bayda, head teacher at Zen Center San Diego describes as “the anxious quiver of being.”  It's not  a panic attack.  I've never had a panic attack but from what people who have one have described it as I know it's not a panic attack.  It's an uneasiness, an unpleasantness, a desperate want to change the current situation and the life I'm living that produces this moment. 

It's what in Buddhism we understand as suffering although suffering is a word we've translated from the word dukkha and suffering doesn't really capture what dukkha means.  Yongey Mingpur Rinpoche states in his book Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom, states that dukkha means “the pervasive feeling that something isn't quite right: that life could be better if circumstances were different; that we'd be happier if...”    

My anxiety starts out small: I wish I had something to do or someone to spend time with right now and it spirals into something big, something out of control: I'm too much of an introvert, I dislike my life, I dislike the choices I made that led me to this moment, I want another reality. I'll never get that reality, I'm stuck, it's going to be like this for the rest of my life.  When I have this loneliness, this anxious quiver of being, this existential awareness of self, I dislike the moment.  I want the moment to stop.  I want another moment, a moment where I'm happy and content and with people or with myself and at ease. 

That's when I tell myself to stop.  Stop telling myself the story that isn't true.  That's when I tell myself to breathe.  That's when I tell myself to just be here with this, to stay at home, and live through this. 

Robert Frost said, “The best way out is always through.”:  So I become mindful. I become aware.  I notice what I'm feeling and thinking..  I tune it to what I'm experiencing.  I befriend the uneasiness.  Not always easy to do.  In fact, I think these thought and feelings are anything but a friend.  They are the enemy.  I think I shouldn't be feeling/thinking this.  Where did this negative thought come from?  I want to get rid of it as soon as a I can. 

And yet, I remind myself that even though I consider myself a Zen Buddhist that doesn't mean I will only and always be content, peaceful, or happy.  In fact, after almost fifteen years of considering myself a Zen Buddhist I am only now understanding that being a Zen Buddhist doesn't mean that you are always in a state of equanimity and equilibrium.  I am first and foremost a human being and I will, even as a Zen Buddhist, experience the full spectrum of emotions and thoughts.  All Buddhists do. Being a Zen Buddhist is not like being a Star Trek Vulcan who suppresses all emotions and uses logic in all situations. 

Enlightenment isn't living in a constant state of bliss and serenity, as I first assumed when I began studying and practicing Buddhism.  Rather, enlightenment means to be constantly mindful of what I am thinking, feeling, doing, and saying at all times.  It doesn't mean that I will always think, feel, do, or say the “right” or “positive” thing but it does mean I bring awareness to those four realms and return to what I know is “right” or “positive.”  Enlightenment is a constant reminder to be compassionate with myself and with others. 

That's when I ask myself: what can this moment, this dukkha teach me about myself and about life? That's when, in addition to being mindful, and living through this unease, and asking myself what I can learn from this anxiety, I also change my situation.  I do something to quell the discontent.  I call a friend or family member.  I spend some time with someone.   I connect with people. By doing this, I remind myself that I am not alone.  I reach out and connect with someone I knew.  Or I leave the house and get groceries.  I take a walk.  I get out of my head and get into the physical world. I remind myself that I have things I can do and I did them.  

Perhaps most importantly, I stop the story going on in my head.  In his book End Your Story, Begin Your Life: Wake Up, Let Go, Live Free Jim Dreaver states that “suffering is when you don't like what you're feeling or what is happening and that makes you unhappy.”  He goes on to say that “all forms of discontent and unhappiness are always the result of resisting what is.  Resistance is causes by holding onto  beliefs, judgments, and expectations and pictures about the way things are or should be.  It comes from fabricating in your mind some story about what is happening.”
So what do we do?  What do I do to quell this anxious quiver of being?  As Dreaver's story suggests, we end the stories about our past, present, and future that don't contribute positively or realistically to our lives right now as they are.  We wake up.  We live fully and mindfully in the present moment, in our lives as they are without the story.  We let go of our expectations of what our lives should have been in the past, should be in the present, and should be in the future.  As Jim Dreaver says, “We let go  of the thoughts that are the source of the resistance, the story, and simply be present with what is.”  Not always easy but that is our practice.  We approach it wholeheartedly, knowing that when we do, we will receive gifts of the dharma—joyful wisdom and ease of mind.