What strikes me about Buddhism in general, and specifically Zen, is - to the Western mind - it seems to contradict itself. This is because we in the West tend to view the words as we view most things, as immutable. That is not the case. What the Zen beginner often struggles with, among other things, is a paradigm-shift in thinking hitherto stifled by Western mores; that words are insufficient to convey the ideas, but those are the best tools we have. As example, I give you two quotes below, seemingly contradictory, but in fact both statements are correct in the Zen view:
The willow is green; the flowers are red.
The flower is not red; nor is the willow green.
Have I lost you? These statements illustrate the fluidity of thought necessary to take the first steps in Buddhist thinking: While the first statement, verifying color of the objects, is obviously true - on a conventional level - the second statement reminds us that without the mind to interpret, compartmentalize, and aggregate concepts, neither the objects (the willow and the flower) nor their properties (their respective colors) can exist.
Why bother to differentiate this? Because the knowledge of mind as a necessary and inseparable factor in viewing our world leads to the understanding of how important it is for us to try to temper our minds. Adding the mind into our empirical equations reminds us that a calm mind produces better results than a turbulent mind; that our very perceptions can shift dramatically as our mental state changes. It is therefore our first priority to understand the workings of our minds.
How is this done? Sitting in meditation, without distractions, allows one to gain focus on how the mind's discourse can lead us, instead of us leading our mind. The results can be fascinating, but it takes perseverence - and a touch of courage.