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Posts Tagged ‘zazen’

A certain person came to te Friend’s door

and knocked.

“Who is there?”

“It’s me”

The Friend answered, “Go away. There’s no place

for raw meat at this table.”

The individual went wandering for a year.

Nothing but the fire of separation

can change hypocisy and ego. The person returned

completely cooked,

walked up and down in front of the Friend’s house,

gently knocked.

“Who is it?”

“You.”

“Please come in, my self,

there’s no place in this house for two.

The doubled end of the thread is not what goes through

the eye of the needle…”

Rumi, from The Essential Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks


Nathan’s post on fear of abandonment inspired me to revisit that old companion of mine since childhood. According to psychologists the two main fears that shape our reactions in childhood are fear of abandonment and fear of being overwhelmed by the large world. Already as children we develop defence mechanisms such as withdrawal, pleasing others and others in order to deal with them the best way we can. We have to. We are entirely dependent on our caregivers and have to make it in this world. Interestingly, most of us use the same mechanisms even in adulthood and do not take some time to reflect on how those reactions to the old fears shape our (unconscious) decisions and influence our relationships today.

Pretty much early in life it became clear to me that people and relationships were not there to stay and that nobody could ever truly get me. People were there to teach me something and our time together, however fleeting, was valuable. Some would teach me read in English, others taught me generosity, and others – what mattered to me when I felt those values were violated.  As a child, I was terrified to get lost, that my parents would forget me somewhere. When the waiting became unbearable, I’d convince myself that they did forget me and would start looking for them myself and – of course – got lost, wherever it was they had left me to play. I would finally make it home with the help of strangers, thankful for this opportunity to return and enriched by the experience.

I made my worst fears come true. I guess somehow it was preferable to the waiting to be abandoned. Now it seems funny and sad but I see how through those experiences I’ve learnt the art of getting lost and found and that I would not always need my parents or people I thought I depended upon. Those were pretty useful lessons to learn as a child. I did not become better with directions and often times I get lost in the fields and forest not far from my new home but now I look forward to those brief moments. And never for a second do I feel lost and lonely in a forest full of trees. Getting lost makes me more aware of the potential to be at home wherever I am and to establish connections with others.

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During one of the sittings Reb told us, “Samadhi (mental one-pointedness, concentration) can only be achieved by patiently bearing and quietly observing the discomfort of the body.” It is when the mind is no longer trying to fix what is but is quietly observing it. The physical discomfort in the body indeed provided plenty of material to sit with during the sesshin. I could feel the tensions, contractions and pain in different parts of the body and saw how the mind wanted to escape from them by focusing on something else and not feeling. “This pattern on the wall looks exactly like the lamb from “Little prince”. If I connect the marks on the wood I can trace it! ”

When one particular area in the body was shouting for attention, I’d choose to breathe into it until it became more bearable and then include another one. And after a while yet another one. I would be then holding all of them in awareness at least for a while until something else hijacked the attention and I’d start the process again as if collecting the beads from a broken necklace back on the thread. This kept me quite busy most of the time.

In one of the chapters of “Touching Enlightenment” Reggie Ray describes how “we” comes to be as we encounter discomfort and deal with it by tensing, freezing our body against what we are feeling. He contends that the discomfort we experience in the body work can also be seen as a sign of our progress on the path. “We begin to understand that distress itself is an expression of the “wisdom of the body”. It is the body’s way of letting us know there is work to be done and life that needs to be lived – and our discomfort shows us the way in. Discomfort is always a message – that we are holding on too tightly to our sense of self – and an invitation for us to relax, open, and surrender to the fire of larger experience.” (Reggie Ray, “Touching Enlightenment”, p. 82-83)

Again and again I got reminded why I was actually sitting zazen, that looks so peaceful and relaxed on the outside yet the most radical and the most courage demanding activity that I have engaged in, so far with varying level of commitment. Why? Because in zazen I am asked to stop doing the one thing I am so good at – making conceptual maps of reality and instead practice and experience life .

Reb mentioned again and again the tenderising effect of zazen on body and mind. When this happens, when “meat” softens, some people can break out crying and as those tensions get released. Myself, I am amazed how this has to do with the opening up to whatever shows up at the doorstep, how at the point when I can no longer resist it, the body gets settled and I am left with nothing and… everything. The whole works.

Waiting at the highest point of tension not only became so tiring that the tension relaxed, but so agonising that I was constantly wrenched out of my self-immersion and had to direct my attention to discharging the shot. “Stop thinking about the shot!” the Master called out. “This way it is bound to fail.” “I can’t help it”, I answered, “the tension gets too painful”.

“You only feel it because you haven’t really let go of yourself. It is so simple. You can learn from an ordinary bamboo leaf what ought to happen. It bends lower under the weight of snow. Suddenly the snow slips to the ground without the leaf having stirred. Stay like that at the point of highest tension until the shot falls from you. So, indeed, it is when the tension is fulfilled, the shot must fall, it must fall from the archer like snow from a bamboo leaf, before he even thinks it.”

E. Herrigel. “Zen in the art of archery”


In what ways do you deal with bodily discomfort in life? What discoveries have you made on your journey?



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Do not be absent minded in your activities, nor so absorbed in one aspect of a matter that you fail to see its other aspects.

From Dogon’s “Instructions for the Zen Cook”

Many of us know from the kitchen experience that if we focus on one side of the meal we are preparing (for example, its aroma or color) and even temporarily forget the others, our checking out from the world into our heads can ruin the whole meal. It’s easy to get carried away and forget to add salt and spices or miss the critical point when we should remove it from the stove.

Burnt oats (not happy): Read my lips, “Eat this!”

I find the same to be true of  life: if I choose to focus only on one aspect of it, for example work, I can get signals from inside that something is missing, something is out of balance, that I left home. Still, this is what most of us have to deal with at different points in our lives when one side of it temporarily takes over. In the best case we are aware of what’s happening and can even tell others who might be affected that we will catch up with them once the project is done, the book is finished or we have solved the issue of poverty in the world. In the best case we can come back to the center in time before some damage is done (in yoga, on the physical level, the price of not being aligned is that we either collapse with our bodyweight on one particular part of the body and can get injured or have to resort to great muscular effort to sustain balance.) But even as we let our life on the everyday level come slightly off-balance, we don’t have to be out of balance with the experience of life, do we?  We don’t have to go to exotic places or eat exclusive meals in posh restaurants to experience the gift of life, to feel alive.

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Since I started doing sitting meditation one of my legs (or both) would inevitably fall asleep and for the most part the sitting would evolve around staying with those sensations in the body. I know it is not harmful for my health and would probably pass with time so I just accepted it as something I could sit with and even learnt to appreciate as those sensations in the body helped me stay connected to it and the breath.  With time those sensations built a background for my sitting, something I sort of knew would be there and I guess I started identify the sittings  with.

Doing some yoga practice right before the sitting has proved to be very successful in helping me get grounded in the body and those sensations in the legs suddenly disappeared altogether. Now the body feels alert yet relaxed and pleasantly warmed up. However, I soon discovered that when the body is more comfortable the mind is more likely to wonder away and engage in daydreaming and I have to apply more effort to sustain concentration.

I find myself wishing one condition away in preference of the other only to find out that the latter is not at all as I imagined it to be.

Friend, please tell me what I can do about this world
I hold to, and keep spinning out!


I gave up sewn clothes, and wore a robe,
but I noticed one day the cloth was well woven.


So I bought some burlup, but I still
throw it elegantly over my left shoulder.


I pulled back my sexual longings,
and now I discovere that I’m angry a lot.


I gave up rage, and now I notice
that I am greedy all day.


I worked har at dissolving the greed,
and now I am proud of myself.


When the mind wants to break its link with the world
it still holds on to one thing.


Kabir says: Listen my friend,
there are very few that find the path!


From Ecstatic poems by Kabir, versions by Robert Bly

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Does sit happen?

Since my sitting practice recently has been somewhat rusty (understatement of the year) the  Trycycle Magazine 90-day Zen challenge comes at the right time.  I like that the”package” aside from sitting the actual sitting includes listening to the Dharma talks,  study Dogen’s Genjokoan and practising with other sitters.  The sitting itself is 20 min long (very reasonable to start with) and I see that a bunch of TreeLeafers have already signed up.

Since I bailed out on the Jukai ceremony, this would be a great way to recommit both to the practice of daily sitting and to the study of the precepts. I am in and begin February 21.  Anyone else? Tony?



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Living with the Buddhas

I have realsied I am surrounded by Buddhas even at home. They do not seem to be bothered about the meaning of life or obsess aboout the future but seem to be very much at peace with themselves and the world around. I have a lot to learn in this department.

Valuable and unexpected lessions I’ve learnt from the cats that have been kind enough to stay with me for over a decade:

There’s no need to answer the phone just because it’s ringing.

Stretch! It feels great and it does you good!


lisa_liten










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They certainly got my attention there: what IS the modern Zen perspective anyway? The other day I listened to the first episode of  Life Zero – a new podcast that discusses Lifestyle Design and aspires to “follow the modern Zen perspective”. The more I listened to it the clearer it became that the word Zen was used rather freely with little if any anchoring in Zen practice and teachings. Still listening to this show triggered some personal response and made me think of how the practice reflects on my lifestyle design.

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