When Then Zen

Published on , 1041 words, 4 minutes to read

Meditation is something that is very easy to experience but very difficult to explain in any way that is understandable. Historically, things that man could not explain on his own get attributed to gods. As such, religious texts that describe meditation can be very difficult to understand without context in the religion in question.

I would like to change this and make meditation more accessible. As such, I have created the When Then Zen project. This project aims to divorce meditation methods from the context of their spirituality and distill them down into what the steps to the process are.

A better way to teach meditation

At a high level, meditation is the act of practicing the separation of action and reaction and then coming back when you get distracted. A lot of the meditation methods that people have been publishing over the years are the equivalent of what works for them on their PC (tm), and as such things are generally described using whatever comparators the author of the meditation guide is comfortable with. This can lead to confusion.

The way I am teaching meditation is simple: teach the method and have people do it and see what happens. I've decided to teach methods using Gherkin. Gherkin can be kind of strange to read if you are not used to it, so consider the game of baseball, specifically the act of the batter hitting a home run.

Feature: home run
  Scenario: home run
    As a batter
    In order to hit a home run
    Given the pitcher has thrown the ball
    When I swing
    Then I hit the ball out of the park

As shown above, a Gherkin scenario clearly identifies who the feature is affecting, what actions they take and what things should happen to them as a result of them taking those actions. This translates very well when trying to explain some of the finer points of meditation, EG:

  # from when then zen's metta feature
  Scenario: Nature Walking
    # this is optional
    # but it helps when you're starting
    # physical fitness
    As a meditator
    In order to help me connect with the environment
    Given a short route to walk on
    When I walk down the route
    Then I should relax and enjoy the scenery
    And feel the sensations of the world around me


At a high level, I want to not only have the When then Zen project be an approachable introduction to meditation and other similar kinds of topics. I want there to be a more "normal person" friendly way to get into topics that I feel are vital for people to have at their disposal. I understand that terminology can make things more confusing than it can clarify things.

So I remove a lot of the terminology except for the terms that help clarify things, or are incredibly googleable. Any terms that are left over are used in one of a few ways:

  1. Not leaving that term in would result in awkward back-references to the concept
  2. The term is similarly pronounced in English
  3. The term is very googleable, and things you find in searching will "make sense"

Some concepts are pulled in from various documents and ideas in a slightly kasmakfa manner, but overall the most "confusing" thing to new readers is going to be related to this comment in the anapana feature:

Note: "the body" means the sack of meat and bone that you are currently living inside. For the purposes of explanation of this technique, please consider what makes you yourself separate from the body you live in.

You are not your thoughts. Your thoughts are something you can witness. You are not required to give your thoughts any attention they don't need. Try not immediately associating yourself with a few "negative" thoughts when they come up next. Try digging through the chains of meaning to understand why they are "negative" and if that end result is actually truly what you want to align yourself with.

If you don't want to associate yourself with those thoughts, ideas or whatever you don't have to.


At some level, I realize that by doing this I am violating some of the finer points behind the ultimate higher level reasons why meditation has been taught this way for so long. Things are explained they way they are as a result of the refinement of thousands of years of confused students and sub-par teachers. A lot of it got so ingrained in the cuture that the actions themselves can be confused with the culture.

I do not plan to set too many expectations for what people will experience. When possible, I tell people to avoid having "spiritual experiences". The only point in the project where I could be interpreted as telling people how to have a "spiritual experience" is probably the paracosm immersion feature. But even then, paracosms are a well-known psychological phenomenon.

Other Topics I Want to Cover

The following is an unordered and unsorted brain-dump of the topics I want to cover in the future:

I also want to create a website and eventually some kind of eBook for these articles. I feel these articles are important and that having some kind of collected reference for them would be convenient as heck.

As always, I'm open to feedback and suggestions about this project. See its associated GitHub repo for more information.

Thank you for reading and be well. I can only hope that this information will be useful.

Facts and circumstances may have changed since publication. Please contact me before jumping to conclusions if something seems wrong or unclear.

Tags: meditation