Why McDonalds Is The Most Zen Place In London

Guy Parsons Guy Parsons

McDonalds London

You don’t need to trek into the wilderness to find inner peace, says Anthony Goh. Get zen at Maccy D’s instead.

I’m sitting in a suburban McDonalds just outside London. Not many people know this, but over the past four years I must have spent literally thousands of hours sitting in McDonalds, just contemplating. [Photo: Karen Bryan]

Of all the places I could walk to, I kept ending up here. I would sit for hours at a time, holding an empty coffee cup. I was talking to someone about this recently – how, surprisingly, it’s really the perfect place in the city to meditate on the nature of mind. Let me explain.

Mcdonalds is like a zen monastery
[Photos: @genevievesltr and @feriaza]
Firstly, the thing with environments like McDonalds and Zen monasteries, is that they are really, brutally impersonal.

They’re not like a cute little cafe where you can really feel the influence of the owner.

It’s not like a country pub where all the customers will be chatting to you.

You go in there, and there is no celebration of the individual whatsoever. And the nature of mind, also known as Awareness, or Shiva consciousness, is also like this. It’s actually not concerned with stories about who you are, or how you relate to people.

[Photo: Andy Matthews]
[Photo: Andy Matthews]
Then when you sit in a McDonalds, you’ll notice that whatever happens, the space remains unchanged; it wipes clean, the staff return to their robotic duties and it’s like nothing ever happened.

The nature of mind is just like this. Your head can be full of crazy shit, then the next second, completely different.

And if you sit in McDonalds for a really long time, you really get a feel of the unchanging nature of the raw material of consciousness.

A young couple flirt there.
Businessmen come and go.
Homeless guy looking for coffee stamps.
Someone spills a milkshake, the yellow cone comes out, there’s mopping, the yellow cone goes.
Bored kids bullying a softer kid.
Family with a cute kid totally tripping on Coca-Cola.
Everyone can do what they like in McDonalds. It’s all allowed.

McDonalds can handle it all and still open for breakfast at six the next day. Your mind is the same. It opens for business, a bunch of thoughts about various things come, they do their things, go. Even the thoughts about the state of mind are just more content. The content is always changing, but the vehicle remains simply there.

High chairs at McDonalds
[Photo: Jon Arnold]
Ironically, it’s being in touch with the totally wipe-clean nature of mind that can free us to be very patiently and lovingly engaged with whatever happens in it. If we can have this faith in the indestructible McDonaldsness of our mind, then we are going to be able to bring patience, love and clarity to whatever is going on. And it’s this idea that’s the heart of the Indian yogic and the Buddhistic philosophies, coming to rest in the changeless nature of Awareness, the Self, Rigpa, Pure mind.

A lot of people moan about the impersonality of places like Starbucks and McDonalds, and the isolation experienced in the city. I see it slightly differently, that actually there is a fundamental human desire to fall in love with the total loneliness of existence. Traditionally, people cultivating this side of consciousness seek out the quietness of nature, heading deep into the woods, out into the desert, or high up a mountain. But in the city, these anonymous places are the closest thing to being truly alone.

‘Ugh, I don’t half fancy a McFlurry. ‘

If someone has glimpsed or recognised this truth, they will likely be drawn again and again towards it, toward the sweet scent of the release of transcendence. Interestingly, in the last four years as I have been falling in love with the ‘void’, I have also lost about 10kg. So don’t believe the Supersize Me movie! The evidence shows that if you sit for thousands of hours in Maccy D’s, you can not only lose weight, but free your mind too.

Read more from Anthony at AnthonyGoh.com.

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