Zen, And The Art of Trading
Zen & The Art of
Zen is not a religion. It’s not mystical. It’s not that mysterious.
The mystery of Zen is a veil, it’s part of the joke and playfulness of Zen.
Without the purposeful mystery around it, everyone would understand Zen, and then the secret is spoiled, and it’s no fun for those who take on the role of masters and teachers, and the student is robbed of the fun of unveiling the “mystery”.
The concept of Zen is so obvious to those who have discovered its power that the air of mystery that surrounds it is humorous to them, and part of the fun and playful nature of the exciting journey to “satori” – that first experience of liberation from the trappings of the self.
Zen masters are renowned for being practical jokers.
I had a friend who was studying Zen in Japan, and he got pretty desperate to produce the answer of who he really is.
And on his way to an interview with the Master to give an answer to the problem he noticed a very common sight in Japan, a big bullfrog sitting around in the garden, and he swooped this bullfrog up in his hand and dropped it in the sleeve of his.
And then he went into the Master. And to give the answer of who he was, he suddenly produced the bullfrog. And the Master said, “M-m, too intellectual.”
In other words, this answer is too contrived. It’s too much like Zen. You’ve been reading too many books. It’s not the genuine thing.
And so, the method of teaching used by these great Eastern teachers is to make fools persist in their folly, but very rigorously, and very consistently and very hard.Alan Watts
Many of them will put their students through hell chasing an answer to their esoteric questions about life and Zen through countless ridiculous tasks and challenges both physical and mental, only to eventually discover that the question was the problem in the first place.
If you go to a Zen teacher, he’ll say, “well I have nothing to teach. There is no problem, everything is perfectly clear.”
And you think that one over. And you think, “he’s probably being cagey.”
But the teacher says quite honestly, “I haven’t anything to tell you. I don’t teach anything, I have no doctrine.”
But the student thinks, “my, this is very deep.”Alan Watts
Zen is not an institution, or a practice, or anything tangible.
To even attempt to define it breaks it.
So essentially, the words I’m writing today are meaningless, but so is everything, so I’ll try anyway.
Symbols bear the same relation to the real world that money bears to wealth. You cannot quench anybody’s thirst with the word ‘water’, just as you cannot eat a dollar bill and derive nutrition from it.
We confuse the world as it is with the world as it is thought about, talked about, and figured about – that is to say, with the world as it is described. And the difference between these two is vast.
And when we are not aware of ourselves except in a symbolic way, we are not related to ourselves at all. We are like people eating menus instead of dinners. And that’s why we all feel psychologically frustrated.Alan Watts
To me, I feel that Zen is simply an attitude of not being stuck. On anything.
It’s an art of living, of existing gracefully, despite the madness of life.
It’s not a prescription or a cure, but simply a philosophy of acceptance.
It’s a way of life.
Meditating for decades on a snowy mountain peak is Zen. Doing the dishes in your kitchen sink is Zen.
The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.Alan Watts
I suffered from depression, anxiety, chronic pain and addiction for most of my early life.
From the age of around 15 to the age of around 25, I was a lost soul and a damaged human being.
The irony of my journey towards feeling free and content again was not in finding a solution to the depression, or the self-destructive behavior, or even the mysterious and stubborn pain in my neck and arm that still plagues me to this day (and makes my work more difficult than it should be).
Rather, the solution to my problem was accepting it.
Accepting that I had problems. Accepting that I felt bad. That I was lost, that I was miserable, that I was self-destructive, that I was my own worst enemy and holding myself back from being more like the person I wanted to be.
Through accepting my situation, without judgment, without fear, without shame, without anything other than pure awareness and curiosity, I suddenly felt free. Free to feel bad.
There is no reason why I should feel good all the time. And there is no reason why I should feel bad all the time.
There are just feelings, and they come and go. The desire to feel good all the time made me feel worse when I didn’t, until eventually I just felt bad all the time.
But over time I found a way out of my own suffering through studying the art of Zen, through philosophers and artists like Alan Watts, John Frusciante, Eckhart Tolle, Bruce Lee, and dozens of others who know how to truly live despite their own suffering and the suffering of the world around them.
I learned to let go of my attachment to feeling good all the time, and in doing so also let go of my negative thoughts and self-limiting beliefs.
And over the course of many years, I grew to develop a positive mental attitude and found a way to enjoy life again without being a slave to all of my previous bad habits and negative thought loops – even though I still suffer, and life is still not easy, and pain still exists.
Zen is about acceptance.
Accepting the good and the bad in life, without objective judgment, and STRIDING forwards anyway – whatever that means to you – in spite of the great suffering of life.
Some people might interpret that as “settling”.
Some might say that accepting the present moment without judgment is the same as surrendering to your circumstances and “accepting” your lot in life.
Some might even say it’s counter-ambitious. These were some of the thoughts I had when I first discovered Zen.
But Zen is not about “settling” for whatever is in front of you. Zen is not about complacency. It’s not about accepting without growing.
It’s about being present, and about acceptance of the present moment, whatever that means to you, including acceptance of your own responsibility for the results of your past actions.
That includes acceptance of your desires to move forward and grow as a human being and achieve the goals you set for yourself – and acceptance of the times when you fall short of your ambition.
It’s about not being stuck – not stuck on your successes and the past, and not stuck on your failures and your fear of the future.
It’s about empowerment – not over material or even metaphysical things, but empowerment through developing your ability to face life head-on, head-up, in the present, and without undue fear or hesitation.
Feel anxious? Fine! Feel it, but don’t let it stop you from pursuing your goals.
Continue forward in anxiousness, accept that you’re anxious, don’t hold it against yourself or feel shame about it, don’t get stuck on it. The feeling of anxiety will dissipate if you don’t pay it the attention it craves.
I still feel anxious sometimes about my trading and my business and my future and even just in regular social situations. I’m human after all, and I’ve always been introverted and overly self-conscious.
But so what?
I let the feeling come and go, I try to laugh at myself and remind myself that no one really cares about the things I’m concerned they’re concerned about. I try not to take myself too seriously or get too stuck on myself. I try to be present without over-thinking, and I try to be of service to others and to be humble and to have a relaxed sense of humor about myself, and to get out of my own way.
Now in spite of feeling anxious and fearful from time to time (and being a depressed and broke university drop-out just a few years ago), I’m managing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the financial markets, I run a blog and YouTube channel and podcast and several courses with thousands of subscribers who enjoy my work.
And it’s a pleasure to teach what I’ve learned and to share the journey with these strangers who share my passion for trading and personal evolution. Yeah, sometimes it’s scary and I get anxious – but I don’t let it stop me from moving forward, and I don’t get hung up on the feeling. And the more I experience and accept it, the less I feel it.
Sometimes we get caught in feedback loops, and we’re just worried about being worried. Sometimes accepting the worry makes it go away.
Feel fear? That’s normal, we all feel fear when confronted with challenge. Move forward anyway
Feel excited? Good! Move forward in excitement.
There are going to be great times in your life when you feel on top of the world, and that’s fantastic. That’s the yang to the yin of life. Savor those moments, as it will provide fuel and motivation for when things aren’t going quite so well.
There are also going to be tragedies and catastrophes in your life, times when you feel at rock bottom, after the loss of loved ones or the failure to attain something that means a lot to you.
The point is not to ignore these feelings or to become so stoic that you never feel pain or you become immune to pleasure, but instead to fully accept those feelings, both the good and the bad; to truly feel them, to be present and to let them come and go like your breath.
If you hold on to your breath, you suffocate; and if you hold on to your thoughts and feelings too tightly, you stagnate and develop anxiety and fear.
Zen is about being REALLY present, not hiding or withdrawing from the ups and downs of life, the heavens and hells, but going through them with your head held high and an unforced smile on your face – welcoming the unique experience and the challenge of existence, the chance to feel and to be alive.
“This is the real secret of life ― to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”Alan Watts
In trading this manifests itself as not being stuck on your trades, losers OR winners, and always striving to improve your results through improving your skill and your strategies and your awareness – of yourself, and the markets.
A losing trade is nothing to fear. It’s the cost of doing business in trading, just as pain and suffering is the cost of doing business in life.
Acceptance of pain, of loss, of impermenance, of transcience, of change… that’s the secret to a good trading psychology, and a brilliant psychology in general.
Acceptance doesn’t mean you need to like or enjoy it. No one enjoys loss or pain. But struggling against it, fighting against the infinite stream of changing situations and conditions, is pointless – both in trading and in life.
The acceptance of loss and change also means giving up your attachment to gain and improvement.
In trading, this means don’t get hung up and dwell too much on losing trades, losing streaks and drawdowns – and likewise, don’t get hung up and too over-confident about your winning trades, winning streaks and overall returns. Maintain balance. Stay on the middle path.
You can ALWAYS do better – and you are always heading towards worse experiences than your previous worst.
It’s the yin and yang of life and trading.
Winners will come and go, losers will come and go, but you and your experience of them is eternally present.
If you can find a way to sustain your calm and emotional balance through the ups and downs of your trading (and life), you will be like a rock mountain being battered by the waves of the sea.
Whatever hits you will not move you, and won’t stick to you for long.
“Technical knowledge is not enough. One must transcend techniques so that the art becomes an artless art, growing out of the unconscious.”Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki
Zen is not about feeling no pain or suffering, and it’s not about desensitizing yourself to fun or pleasure.
It’s simply about living gracefully, and being present, being truly alive and not just going through the motions.
As the Serenity Prayer attributed to the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr goes – “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
The irony of true Zen is that it can’t be described in words, only experienced.
But this prayer is as close as you can get to Zen without your eyes getting wet.
The idea of Zen is to catch life as it flows.
There is nothing extraordinary or mysterious about Zen. I raise my hand; I take a book from the other side of the desk; I hear the boys playing ball outside my window; I see the clouds blown away beyond the neighbouring wood: — in all these I am practising Zen, I am living Zen.
No wordy discussions is necessary, nor any explanation. I do not know why — and there is no need of explaining, but when the sun rises the whole world dances with joy and everybody’s heart is filled with bliss.
If Zen is at all conceivable, it must be taken hold of here.Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki