Zen and the art of campus

The best campus walking path may just be the way to Zen.

The U has a big campus and for every year I spend on it, my internal map of its sidewalks and streets becomes more developed. But instead of this knowledge making daily navigation easier, quite the opposite is true. When IâÄôm walking, especially during this time of year when my body isnâÄôt in winter survival mode, deciding the path to take can turn into an excruciatingly difficult decision. The end point is always clear âÄî Coffman Union, Folwell or Wiley Hall for example âÄî but plotting the space in between here and there often involves working through a complex chain of decisions that can often come down to some deep soul searching. Choosing which side of the Washington Avenue bridge to walk on, which intersection to cross over the mall, going over the train tracks on 14th or under on 15th to get to Como, if and when the East River Parkway should be used instead of Washington or whether to enter Walter from the front or back are all some of these difficult options. Who knows what will be missed if I choose to walk the ScholarâÄôs Walk instead of Washington Avenue on my way to Stadium Village from Tate? Washington is more exciting and makes me feel like a city kitty but perhaps I would be missing some valuable reflective time spent looking at the wall of achievement down the ScholarâÄôs Walk. It could be in that moment that I finally realize what the Tin Man is all about. Could it be that this decision is a metaphor for my academic and social life and do I have to make the representative choice right now?! Perhaps cutting through the Electrical Engineering/ Computer Science Building would get me the best of both worlds. There are two certainties about choosing paths: There exists an unlimited number of ways to walk between two locations and no two walks are ever the same. The paths are unlimited because within the finite number of turns there are much smaller choices like speed, style, what youâÄôre looking at and whatâÄôs happening that day that make each distinct. And just as Heraclitus never stepped in the same river twice, even the same path through campus is ever changing in personal meaning and significance. Another important concept is that the best path isnâÄôt always the shortest because the best path is not always the same. In fact, thinking about which path is âÄúthe bestâÄù is a distracting way to address the problem. The practice of Zen involves the complete removal of the self from the task at hand. In the practice of Zen through an art, such as rock gardening or floral arrangement, the practitionerâÄôs goal is to have the art naturally expressed with as little conscience exertion. In 1948, a German professor of philosophy, Eugen Herrigel, published his account of the study of Zen through the Japanese art of archery called kyÅ«dÅç . Through the years of repetitive practice in kyÅ«dÅç, Herrigel was able to approach, one piece at a time, the way to Zen. As he did, the motion of the bow became second nature and he agonized less about the shots which improved in accuracy. This removal of self should also be the goal when studying Zen through walking or any other craft. At least thatâÄôs my understanding. Some may call this internal struggle obsessive compulsive, and well, they might be right to a degree. A walk to class isnâÄôt some kind of epic battle or life-changing vision quest, but I think that within the little things in life can be found a legitimate spiritual existence. The Zen-like study of walking campus paths for me comes from the fact that it is what I am most familiar with and what I am forced to deal with every day. Other folks may find their zen in other forms such as washing the dishes, arranging books or picking out clothes; great opportunities to bring your spirit into greater harmony can come through the simplest of tasks. Thomas Q. Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected]