Cool Zen

May 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

Steve McQueen was not the greatest actor of his generation- but he was the coolest.    Although he starred in many movies that projected this aura of coolness, his role in the movie “Bullitt” is iconic.  If you watch that movie today though, you will notice something unusual.  The movie is nearly devoid of some of the contemporary markers of action flicks.   The McQueen character, Detective Frank Bullitt, does not shoot very many people- only one in fact – and does not blow things up- if you don’t count the gas station that erupts as the bad guys’ car plows into it at the conclusion of the famous car chase scene.

McQueen’s character embodied coolness differently.  He was a man of few words and unhurried movement.  He remained fully present in each situation, in each moment of the movie.  Never distracted, never lost in emotion.   Always ready.  He was strong and he did what needed to be done.  Frank Bullitt was a very cool character.

But what does all this have to do with Zen and the Tao?

Many people see Zen as too passive, as a set of ideas that don’t fit the “real world.”   For them the robed monk with shaven head who resides in a mountain monastery is what Zen is about.   All well and good in theory, they say, but hardly a way to navigate the hectic and relentless path of “real life.”

But I see Zen also in Frank Bullitt and, more meaningfully, in the very best of the businesspersons and lawyers, the teachers, coaches, counselors, and others, whom I’ve known over the years.   Whether they were consciously aware of it or not, these exceptional people embodied the ideas of Zen and the Tao.  Seeking to be fully present in each moment, open to whatever comes, rock strong, possessing a rooted sense of self, these men and women devoted themselves to the tasks at hand with all their will.

To embrace the ideas of Zen and the Tao does not require us to retreat from the world at all.  We do not become passive.  Instead, we operate at the fullest range of our capacities.  To be strong, centered, and present is not just to be Zen.   It is what “being cool” means.

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