Octopus and Zen Mind



     Or, Octopi, or whatever. You know what I mean. A beautiful creature and if the people who study them are correct they are super smart. Their intelligence scale ranges from dog smart to people smart. I have been fascinated by them for a long time. A very ancient animal they have adopted in more than a few ways to various environments and environmental changes.

     My favorite example of smarts is one that I saw on YouTube. It appears this pet store owner was frustrated because he was unable to keep a certain fish in stock. It was an expensive fish and they seemed to just disappear after a shipment came in. This occurred on Sunday evenings after the shop was closed. The owner was suspicious and set up a hidden camera in the hopes of catching an employee stealing fish.  Instead the camera caught the pet store octopus leaving it’s tank and making the journey into the occupied fish tank. Eating the fish and then returning to it’s tank. A thinker that octopus. And a thief! (And hungry.)

     Octopuses have human like vision and eyes that are close to our own. The newest research indicates that the brain is probably controlling each tentacle with a separate discrete section. The octopus can actually multitask instead of switching rapidly in the way humans multitask. Films have been made of an Octopus doing totally unrelated tasks simultaneously with different tentacles. Amazing creatures.

OCTO’S and I 

     Like the Octopus our minds are really curious and inquisitive. I believe that part of this is a genetic and  survival mechanism. The mind doesn’t feel safe unless it’s exploring the  territory and the things that are within our sense reality. Some traditions use meditation to focus on a single item or thought structure. What I find is that this works for a limited amount of time and the mind will return to wandering. Wandering and pulsing appear to be an organic states that occur as a default. (A friend of mine who is a marine sniper reports that this tendency drives many of them nuts because they spend a lot of time trying to remain focused on a single scene. The mind keeps wandering off.)

     In the distant past this scanning helped our survival rate and  we probably stayed in proximity more than we do now. We were constantly scanning for danger, for food, for others who may help or destroy us. Scanning was a function that was tied to our survival.

     Modern humans have developed an information base that is amazing. We have trained and conditioned ourselves to place a high value on knowing things. We worship people who know a lot of stuff and have television shows that award people for memorizing information. The modern mind has adapted to the idea that the amount of information equals the value of the human.

     Similar to how it explores the environment the conditioned mind also explores and extracts information from the enormous internal database we have developed. It sifts and processes information constantly. A tentacle worms through information and will cling to the most unusual and seemingly useless  thoughts and images. Things will come up under the heading strange. Memories of things forgotten and memories of songs I don’t like, or sitting in my third grade class.  Stuff that makes little sense.

     Lets not forget we have mind tentacles that go into the future and make up scenarios about  what might happen, what should happen, how we want to see it happen. The odds of it happening in any way that we can conceive are worse than in any casino. Not many winners.


     I know a lot of people have the image of being able to focus and be here all the time. And, sometimes this concept results in a lot of suffering, striving, and resistance to what is an organic process.  Should a person get stuck in a belief that having awareness means the ability to focus “now” all the time they will be limiting themselves.  There have been many times a person has come to me disappointed and discouraged because they “Can’t focus and keep drifting.” 

     We pulse. Our tentacles reach out or reach in and that’s what they do. We, during our practice, simply develop the art of noticing them and returning them to the present. After a while we develop skill in doing so, over and over. We never evolved to be here all the time or to have a single dedicated focus that will last any significant amount of time. (We only have the self reported subjective reports from people or electronic information that is wide open to interpretation. to verify length and intensity of focus.)


     There are a few ways that we can use to return to the now. One, and this is really the major tool, is to focus on the breath. This isn’t the technique of counting breaths that seems to be so popular in beginning meditation classes. This is the awareness of the cycle of breathing. We breath using the the lower stomach. We draw the air into our lungs by using the lung and stomach muscles. We notice how quickly we are breathing and keep it slow and steady. This serves to oxygenate the system and keeps the thought structure even and fairly calm. This is an awesome tool and at the end of his life Gautama Buddha was still talking about “following” the breath.

     Another tool that is closely aligned to our life is developing passion. This is a bigger process and unlike breathing takes patience and time. Most everyone I talk to understands that feeling of having passion and being totally engaged with an action. Being passionate about what you do brings you into contact with the here and now. It produces energy and give substance to our lives.

     Sometimes people tell me they lost their ability to experience passion. I ask them if they still have dreams? Those desires and places to go that the imagination is so wonderful in supplying. Do they still see what might be? Are they seeing life with an inclusive mind? You  have passion, you had it as a child and you have it right now. We get lost in life and forget to imagine and dream. Passion is not about wanting or acquiring, it’s about being here totally in love with not only what is but possibility.

     If we are to be complete we need the ability to dream and wander like we need the ability to narrow focus and be exclusive. If we allow ourselves the compassion to see that the middle path allows for all functions and without exclusion we are already enlightened. There is only seeking a balance and avoiding any terminal point of permanence.

     So, we don’t have to do anything with those tentacles other than be aware.  The octopus sees nothing wrong with it’s natural state and neither should we. I love Cheri Huber’s book “There is Nothing Wrong with You.” Know what? I’m sure she’s right!

As always I love to hear from you about your thoughts and experiences. 

Take care of you. 



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