AustinPUG Health

AustinPUG Health

There are many ways to fight disease, maintain good health, and increase happiness, and modern science is revealing more of them to us each day, but the rise of modern medicine doesn’t negate the power of the human mind and, for me and many millions of others, this is where the concept of Zen comes in.

First, let me offer a quick overview of what I mean by “Zen.” This word refers to many things, especially when capitalized, including the general idea of simplicity in thought, feeling, and living that has become popular in the West, and the more strict Zen tradition that has existed for millennia, and continues to exist, in the East.

When I use “Zen” in this column, it’s safe to assume that I mean to refer to everything that comes to your mind when you read it; that is, a middle path of moderation that takes one on a journey in building an honorable, happy, relatively simple life. In my life, this outlook translates into a minimalist approach to every aspect of life, and that’s what I’ll be sharing in this column, walking together with you as we work towards better health and increased happiness with every day that we age.

Please join me each week as we explore together the various aspects of this Zen tradition and how it applies to good physical and mental health, starting this week with a simple overview of how just thinking and working positively can speed us along the road to a better life.

The Power of Positivity

From the sure, steady cut of a surgeon’s blade, to the highly structured, super effective madness that is any big city emergency room, there is a close connection between the idea of Zen and modern healthcare, a point that should not be lost on us.

While I’d love to tell you that pure positivity alone is enough to overcome illness or despair, that just isn’t true. Having powers like those outlined in the popular book The Secret would be fantastic, allowing us to do everything from battle cancer to get filthy rich with nothing more than positive thinking but, unfortunately, reality requires something more to get us where we want to be.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let me tell you this: a good attitude will go a long way towards any goal, including those related to your health, and no amount of silly bestsellers that stretch the truth should convince you otherwise!

The number of examples I could cite here would take thousands of pages, but still the attitude in the medical community towards the idea of positivity helping to improve health is mixed. While doctors have always been known to tell patients to keep their spirits high, even going so far as to hold back potentially troubling results or prognosis in order to keep negativity away in days past, no number of official studies has been able to definitively put its finger on the direct results between a good attitude and health.

Fortunately for our purposes, that isn’t necessary. For example, while research showing that thinking happy thoughts gave patients a far better chance of surviving terminal cancer would be great, there is no question that thinking happy thoughts is a clear path towards feeling better, and that is all of the evidence we need to know that improving our own mental outlook is a worthwhile endeavor, keeping in mind the importance not only of quantity of life, but of quality of life, as well.

Forget that imaginary line that you’ve always seen drawn between mental and physical health; there is only one you, and no area of that oneness can be affected, positively or negatively, without every other part being affected, as well. This oneness of health is a point that we’ll explore further next week.

Acceptance, Always

Being happy only when you’re in a state of pristine health simply isn’t an option; no matter how little we want to think about it, we’re all in a state of declining health as we make slow but steady progress towards death. That may sound like a depressing notion, but that doesn’t make it any less of a reality, and therefore something that we should work to accept graciously, as a matter-of-fact culmination of a life well-lived.

While easier said than done, the key to being happy even when life throws ugly circumstances our way is practicing acceptance of all things, in each moment. This acceptance is usually borne of deep insight in the ways of the world around us, something we’ll touch on in much more detail in a future column, but trust me when I tell you that negative thinking won’t ever change the circumstances that you’re unhappy with, while positive thinking is often a precursor to creative, intuitive ideas that solve problems.

The Practice of Meditation

The most inherent and poignant of the many aspects of the Zen tradition is the practice of meditation. With results that are obvious to both the practitioner and scientific researchers, meditation is also the most accepted form of using Zen as a tool for good health.

Because meditative practice has been a popular part of western life for upwards of 100 years now, having been transplanted from the East, many thousands of peer reviewed studies have been published as researchers have worked to understand whether or not the practice works to improve health on a measurable scale. Unfortunately, most of these studies were conducted long before we had access to modern technology that helps us to better understand the human brain, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), leaving them open to interpretation and offering no solid conclusions.

The past 10 years, however, have rectified those earlier problems, spoiling us with study after study that clearly presents meditation as a highly beneficial activity for both mental and physical health. For example, one study that focused on so-called insight meditation found that practitioners presented with more grey matter in areas of the brain responsible for sensory input and attention, a real and measurable increase that promises to help them retain more brain power as they age, though that has not yet been proven.

Another study, this one focusing its attention on the trademarked form of meditative practice called Transcendental Meditation, showed a wide variety of health benefits to its practitioners, including a reduction in the symptoms of anxiety, a reduction in general negative emotions and their resulting neuroticism, and even a marked improvement in people suffering from heart disease! While I’m no fan of trademarking practices that are beneficial to human health, there is no denying the power of this particular form of meditation.


Whether we’re exploring the concept of Zen in a loose manner, or studying it with the detail of a Buddhist scholar, there is obviously much more to it than simple positive thinking and meditative practice. From the way you sleep and eat, to the way that you move and act, Zen has something to say about every aspect of how we live, helping us to be happier, healthier, and more secure in our own existence.

With so much to explore, I look forward to seeing you again next week! We’ll start things off with an in-depth investigation of how the concept of Zen living relates to how we eat, including what we eat and when we eat, but focusing most importantly on the most poignant question of all in this modern world that is laden with more nourishment than we know what to do with – the question of why we eat.


Leave a Reply