Zazen is about INTERNALIZING one’s focus

Those occasions when you are completely ABSORBED in your work – to the exclusion of the outside world – are often considered as a Zen experience. Something that is a sought after state of mind for Zen seekers. However, this post will try and differentiate between this type of ‘external-facing’ focus and an ‘internal facing’ focus – which is, in the opinion of the author, the sought after state.

Firstly, keep in mind that ANYTHING disturbing the tranquil state of mind is considered antithetical to a Zen state of mind. This includes creative thoughts as well as thoughts related to one’s (absorbing) work. Such thoughts are essential to one’s being lost in work. However, no matter how absorbing and isolating these make one’s mind – they are not truly Zen mind. This is because they rely on external information, external (outward facing) ideas and the outside world in general.

In contrast, Zen mind requires a focus, albeit not on anything external. As an example , a focus on one’s breath is commonly taught. Posture is another frequently used focus tool.   Zen tradition is replete with such examples. However, I have devised some of my own that you are free to use/comment on:

  1. As you feel the flow of time, focus on the interval BETWEEN seconds – the short time period that is not this second or the next.
  2. As you observe a tree, do not see the full tree, focus on the leaves – and just the leaves.
  3. Blank out all vision input – and simply LISTEN to the sounds  around you.


The main point of this post was to clarify the misconception that the ‘fully absorbed in one’s work’ state of mind is a state of mindfulness or a state of Zen. As outlined above, while it a highly FOCUSED state of mind, the focus is on external objects – and hence, contribute to disrupting the mind. A true Zen mind is like the surface of a calm lake – with no disturbing influences. For this kind of focus, one needs to look INWARDS – and follow one’s breath – or use some other techniques outlined in this post.

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