It seems to me that the essence of Zen Buddhism is learning the art of controlling the mind through noncontrol. This skill can be learned through the practice of mindfulness meditation, which is usually performed by sitting upright and either closing your eyes or staring at a wall without narratizing in thought. Mindfulness meditation thus involves learning how to inhibit the neural triggers which initiate explicitly narratized thought routines; an art most of us are not adept at. Take a moment to test this yourself. Quiet yourself and focus purely on an intentional object, such as the wall in front of you, the objects making sound around you, or the rhythms of your own breathing. See how long you can go before a thought intrudes into your mindspace in the form of narrative commentary. Often, a meditator’s thoughts are metajudgements on hus progress, infinitely regressing:
meditative experience (bare intuition) <– [thought about success conditions of meditation] <– [thought about [thought about success conditions of meditation]], etc.
As you can see, there is no way to mentally “check” if you are succeeding at meditation without breaking the thoughtless flow of meditative experience itself. Mindfulness meditation is something you either do or do not do. There is no in between. The instant you narratize about yourself meditating, you cease to meditate. This curious failure condition of meditation is central to the skill of controlling the mind through noncontrol. It is impossible to mentally force the success conditions of meditation through sheer willpower. No amount of brute thinking power will get you to the state of Zen mindfulness because the success conditions are constituted by a lack of narratized thought control. Curiously then, Zen is one of the few skills that cannot be mastered by force of will. The only way to successfully meditate is to learn how to turn off your narratizing mind. Obviously, if you try to do this through the power of thought, you will fail. One must master the art of control through noncontrol and inhibit the commentary of thought at the root source. Noncontrolling control or action by nonaction is difficult to describe in words precisely because it isn’t structured in terms of narrative control. The best I can say is that mindfulness is learned just like any other skill: through practice; the more you do it, the more automatic it becomes.