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Thread: Struggles with Shikantaza

  1. #1

    Struggles with Shikantaza

    Treeleaf Sangha, the atmosphere here has been so supportive as I attempt to wrap my mind around buddhist practice, that I feel comfortable sharing some struggles that I have been having.


    Perhaps this is a common part of the practice, but Shikantaza has been very difficult for me. I am not sure if it comes from my background in doing different types of meditation, if it is just a stressful time for me, or if "just sitting" is just plain difficult for someone used to the frantic bustle of everyday life and everday thoughts. Either way, I am finding it harder and harder to hit the cushion. It is building up to almost a feeling of dread. As I sit, my mind races, my aches and pains are amplified. I feel tense. I feel stressed. I feel like I am doing it wrong even though I have an intellectual grasp on the fact that I CANT really be doing it wrong. Recent posts and discussions describing shikantaza here on the forums have been inspiring to me, but yet these feelings of almost-panic remain.

    Could this be part of the transition from meditating strictly with the clear purpose of stress reduction to meditating without any real purpose?

    As a beginner, should I be using a focus point as a form of training wheels? Building up samahdi before I graduate to Shikantaza?

    I'm reading a book on Buddhist history by Carl Olsen, and he describes different stages of mindfulness (e.g. awareness of body and breath, awareness of feelings, etc.). I really like the idea of stages through which one can progress. But then again, I think that attachment to systematic improvement is probably one of my sticking points.

    Anyway, to end this rant, I would just like to thank the Sangha for being there for me and to ask anyone who has had a similar experience to share whatever wisdom you feel would be helpful.

    Strange to think that a grown man can't figure out how to JUST BE, but I suppose this is the way of things.

    -Ben

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by lordbd View Post
    Treeleaf Sangha, the atmosphere here has been so supportive as I attempt to wrap my mind around buddhist practice, that I feel comfortable sharing some struggles that I have been having.


    Perhaps this is a common part of the practice, but Shikantaza has been very difficult for me. I am not sure if it comes from my background in doing different types of meditation, if it is just a stressful time for me, or if "just sitting" is just plain difficult for someone used to the frantic bustle of everyday life and everday thoughts. Either way, I am finding it harder and harder to hit the cushion. It is building up to almost a feeling of dread. As I sit, my mind races, my aches and pains are amplified. I feel tense. I feel stressed. I feel like I am doing it wrong even though I have an intellectual grasp on the fact that I CANT really be doing it wrong. Recent posts and discussions describing shikantaza here on the forums have been inspiring to me, but yet these feelings of almost-panic remain.

    Could this be part of the transition from meditating strictly with the clear purpose of stress reduction to meditating without any real purpose?

    As a beginner, should I be using a focus point as a form of training wheels? Building up samahdi before I graduate to Shikantaza?

    I'm reading a book on Buddhist history by Carl Olsen, and he describes different stages of mindfulness (e.g. awareness of body and breath, awareness of feelings, etc.). I really like the idea of stages through which one can progress. But then again, I think that attachment to systematic improvement is probably one of my sticking points.

    Anyway, to end this rant, I would just like to thank the Sangha for being there for me and to ask anyone who has had a similar experience to share whatever wisdom you feel would be helpful.

    Strange to think that a grown man can't figure out how to JUST BE, but I suppose this is the way of things.

    -Ben
    Hi Ben,

    It seems like you've thought this through. What I mean is, it seems like you know what the "problem" is. You're not doing anything wrong. It can be a little difficult transitioning - many of us have gone through that. My advice would this: if you're panicked and stressed out, you need to go through that. If you sit and you are stressed and your mind is racing, just try to sit with that and accept that. In other words, don't stress out about the fact that you're stressed out. Don't stress out about the fact that you have monkey mind - it's okay! Just accept, wow, my mind is going nuts here, let me let it go, and see what happens. Maybe what you'll find is that you're just sitting there and all these thoughts are racing around; let them race around; don't fight them; just be aware that you're sitting.

    I think Jundo suggests, for a particularly busy mind, counting breaths for a couple minutes at the beginning of sitting. But then just let go of the counting and just sit as above, I'd say.

    I think I would also add this, though: if you feel like it's too much and that this is causing you harm, take a break from shikantaza for a couple days. Talk a walk, listening to the bugs chirping at night, drink a cup of tea. No need to push too hard.

    Gassho and good luck (though you don't need it)
    Shōmon

  3. #3
    Thank you Alan, what you say makes a lot of sense to me.

  4. #4
    Hi Ben

    Alan's advice is good. When I sit I often get an increase in pain and mental activity first off too but can ride through that knowing it will usually build to a peak and then fall away again. Once you have done this a few times the anxiety tends to decrease and the waves of mental activity lessen too. It is a bit like one of those snow globes that sitting can shake up all the snow but after a while it all settles back down. The transition from object meditation to objectless can be a difficult one to make so give yourself time to get used to it..

    If things are really too much to sit with, taking a break like Alan says or doing shorter sessions is no bad idea. I don't know if it is valid shikantaza advice but I find that dropping my centre of awareness to my hara/dan tien makes it easier to sit with emotional and physical material than being 'in the head'.

    Gassho
    Andy

  5. #5
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Hello, Ben!

    Just sit.

    You will see that a lot around here, but it's true.

    Just sit. I began with only a few minutes a day. I had a lot of questions and the noise/mental images wouldn't go away.

    It was pretty hard at first because I was actively looking for answers and methods, for better ways to do it.

    Until I surrendered and dropped everything. I stopped looking and sat there, staring at the wall.

    Watch your thoughts come and go. When you hold onto one, just let it go. Your mind will catch the next one and ride it, but let it go.

    Next thing you'll know, you'll be staring at a blue sky where thoughts drift away.

    But then again...

    Drop expectations, comparisons and questions.

    And just sit.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Please remember I am only a priest in training. I could be wrong in everything I say. Slap me if needed.

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Mr. Spock

  6. #6
    Karasu and Kyonin,

    Thank you for your thoughtful replies. A part of me knew that this is part of the process, neither good nor bad, and that continuing to sit is probably really the only answer. Having those thoughts confirmed by a supportive community of fellow practioners does mean a lot to me. After this encouragement, I am actually sort of looking forward to facing the cushion this evening, just to see what arrises and how I react to it.

    Thanks again!

    -Ben

  7. #7
    Treeleaf Unsui Yugen's Avatar
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    I find in my own experience that when I get swept away in the flow of daily frenetic activity I am pulled in many different directions at once and do nothing singlemindedly, with attention or mindfulness. This is usually accompanied by an attitude of irritation and impatience.

    When it comes time to sit it is almost impossible to sit still. The ego will do its best to fight stillness. Its like the volume has been turned up and it's deafening. The ego will generate all sorts of noise and restlessness, and definitely manifest as fidgetiness and even rapid breathing.

    Being aware of this ego activity is important. Instead of forcing yourself to sit, maybe as has been suggested try short sessions - two minutes, then five, then ..... Just let the stream of thoughts go by and notice no matter how loud the volume is. It is just noise.... Two minutes of real stillness is something substantial.

    You can do it!

    Gassho
    Yugen
    Last edited by Yugen; 07-30-2013 at 09:20 PM.
    Please take all my comments with a grain of salt - I am a novice priest and anything I say is to be taken with a good dose of skepticism - Shodo Yugen

  8. #8
    When I first flirted with meditation I used to expect that I was sitting to try and achieve a perfect mindset. Being far from perfect myself I was bound to fail. Now i try to accept what comes and if I can't, that is ok too. That is what practice is for. I try to sit even if the mind doesn't want to. I find it helps to reinforce the idea that zazen exists beyond my likes or dislikes.
    gassho,

    simon

  9. #9
    10-minute zazen tonight (using the treeleaf meditation timer!). All of the same issues arose, anxiety, racing thoughts, aches and pains, almost panic!

    However, I did feel a little different, in terms of not punishing myself for having those experiences. I tried to just sit and sort of nod to them as has been suggested above, and after 10 minutes I got up and moved on to some other things. No incredible feeling of peace, wisdom, or concentration. I do feel like perhaps I'm at the beginning of an important life lesson :-).

    Thanks again to everyone for their thoughtful support.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by lordbd View Post
    10-minute zazen tonight (using the treeleaf meditation timer!). All of the same issues arose, anxiety, racing thoughts, aches and pains, almost panic!

    However, I did feel a little different, in terms of not punishing myself for having those experiences. I tried to just sit and sort of nod to them as has been suggested above, and after 10 minutes I got up and moved on to some other things. No incredible feeling of peace, wisdom, or concentration. I do feel like perhaps I'm at the beginning of an important life lesson :-).

    Thanks again to everyone for their thoughtful support.

    Hey there Ben,

    Thanks for the post ... I see my fellow treeleafer's have provided some amazing advice.

    First off, try to not look to gain anything, ie: a state of incredible peace, wisdom, or joy. Just sit, just be the experience, with the experience through and through ... even if the experience is uncomfortable, this too is Shinkantaza.

    For me, when struggles or discomfort comes, I just sit with the knowing that all life is impermanent, even the sore back, anxiety, racing thoughts, and panic are impermanent. The more you practice, the more confidence you have on knowing that you will be OK, regardless of what the mind might be telling you.

    Be well, be patient, we are here if you need support.

    Gassho
    Shingen
    真 眼

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Nameless's Avatar
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    Ben,

    Don't worry buddy this kind of thing is natural. All the advice that the others have given is superb. Just sit with it, Sit with the anxiety, the pain, the panic. You said in the original post, "I am not sure if it comes from my background in doing different types of meditation, if it is just a stressful time for me, or if "just sitting" is just plain difficult for someone used to the frantic bustle of everyday life and everyday thoughts," it's probably a mixture of all of these things and more.

    Shikantaza has a way about it, that it can bring forth all of the darkness, all of the little things that you've hidden from yourself at first. This too is natural, and it can dissuade many from practice. This is because at first you are sitting with you. After a time you are sitting with you and the universe, and then the two come together because you were never apart. Then, there is just sitting and when you sit, everything is sitting with you. When these distressing thoughts and feelings arise, accept them and then let them go. Don't push them away, let them wash over you and then let them wash away. Just breathe and be and the raging ocean of your mind will grow placid. It is inevitable. Much Metta to you my friend.

    Gassho, John

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by lordbd View Post
    1 No incredible feeling of peace, wisdom, or concentration.
    That's it!

    Remember, that is it (whatever it is: life/existence/whatever) too!
    Shōmon

  13. #13
    The cool thing about Shikantaza is that if we stick through it long enough we learn that although our thoughts may be swirling about, and causing us great distress, we don't have to listen to them, we can watch them... not push them away, or grab on and add fuel to the fire but just watch them. And in doing so we just sit there and accept who we are, what we are. This is how we learn who we are.

    Most importantly, I have learned that I don't have to act on this chaos, and that most times I create it... truthfully all times I create what I'm thinking... just reactions to me. When I have a chaotic day, or when I am chaos, my practice is a swirl of thoughts as well.

    Sometimes when I sit, I wonder why do my legs hurt, or why do I have to keep sitting up, why can't I do it right? hahahaha just more of my funny thoughts. What a dumb perfectionist I am, as if Shikantaza could be boxed up and I could get a ribbon for doing it "right".

    Gassho,

    Risho

  14. #14
    Senior Member Nameless's Avatar
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    Ben,

    I'm reading Zen Mind Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (highly recommended) and here's a passage that made me think of your plight: "If you want to obtain perfect calmness in your zazen, you should not be bothered by the various images you find in your mind. Let them come, and let them go. Then they will be under control. But this policy is not so easy. It sounds easy, but it requires some special effort. How to make this kind of effort is the secret of practice. Suppose you are sitting under some extraordinary circumstances. If you try to calm your mind you will be unable to sit, and if you try not to be disturbed, your effort will not be the right effort. The only effort that will help you is to count your breathing, or to concentrate on your inhaling and exhaling. We say concentration, but to concentrate your mind on something is not the true purpose of Zen. The true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes. This is to put everything under control in its widest sense. Zen practice is to open up our small mind. So concentrating is just an aid to help you realize 'big mind,' or the mind that is everything.

    Gassho, John

  15. #15
    Senior Member Oheso's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nameless View Post

    to concentrate your mind on something is not the true purpose of Zen. The true purpose is to see things as they are
    something tells me: not "purpose" not "by-product", not "consequence" -as in roof tile ≠ mirror sense
    samadhi prerequisite to kensho? I thought so.

    Rob, and

    isn't sitting, physically, as an incarnate, sentient being in an empirically perceived space, a metaphor or re-enactment of the Something/ Nothing dichotomy? the world playing its part and shikantaza as Nothing?
    Last edited by Oheso; 08-01-2013 at 06:10 PM.
    only saps buy vowels

  16. #16
    Senior Member Joyo's Avatar
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    As others have said, just continue to sit, with no expectations put on yourself. It will get better, I promise. I have a very difficult mind to try and stop racing. I've been meditating for other a year, but only doing shikantaza for a few months. At first, it was a complete disaster each time (sorry, no labels, no wrong way to do zazen, Jundo, but just telling the truth here, keeping it real ) I just kept focusing on that clear blue sky picture in my mind. Now, it's as if my mind has become the clear blue sky, and as I sit, and my mind continues to race, that quiet spot in my brain is always there. Anyway, I hope that makes sense. Just continue to sit, don't rate your time sitting, listen to the videos by Jundo and Taigu, and it will become easier in time

  17. #17
    No struggle with shikantaza, just struggle with oneself. Practice is designed to exhaust resistance and let go of fear and hope.

    Well, we have a great bunch of wonderful teachers here. And there is no need to add anything.

    Gassho


    Taigu
    Last edited by Taigu; 08-02-2013 at 09:20 AM.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Oheso's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu View Post
    Practice is designed to exhaust resistance and let go of fear and hope.
    to me, this is one of the clearest statements of teaching I have ever encountered. deep bow of gratitude.

    Rob
    only saps buy vowels

  19. #19
    Ben, you say how strange is for a grown man not to be able to "just sit" Strange indeed.

    I suggest two things.

    Start sitting with counting the breath. This is not shikantaza but it will calm the mind . I'd go to ten on the exhalation and make sure you stay with it. You won't, but don't despair, go back to one.
    Or count to ONE only, with each breath. That's actually better for me since going on to ten can keep thing from rising.

    The Beginner's mind book suggested above is a great piece of advise. Read it. I got the Cd's narrated by Peter Coyote and long time practitioner himself. For years now I been listening and reading Suzuki rohi's advice.

    Finally sit! Even if you cut down the minutes temporarily. Do it. Just don't stay with a tight mind....loosen it up, find a place to from which to watch the turmoil. Exhaust it like Taigu says abaove. Not easy but quite real. Maybe your experience in meditation obstructs your zazen. Rmember zazen is NOT meditation. Zazen is presence with what is, namely you and what you are interconnected with, the whole enchilada in and out, not two.

    Thanks for practicing,

    Ed

    ps I am not a teacher, just a practitioner like yourself.
    Last edited by Ed; 08-02-2013 at 12:53 PM. Reason: edit
    "Know that the practice of zazen is the complete path of buddha-dharma and nothing can be compared to it....it is not the practice of one or two buddhas but all the buddha ancestors practice this way."
    Dogen zenji in Bendowa






  20. #20
    No need to add anything...

    Gassho

    Taigu
    Taigu, teacher at Treeleaf Sangha, was born in 1964, started Zazen early and received Shukke Tokudo in 1983 at age 18 from Rev. Mokusho Zeisler of the Deshimaru Lineage. Received Dharma Transmission from Chodo Cross in 2002. Now resides in Osaka, Japan.

  21. #21
    Ben,

    You read my mind. I actually clicked the forum today for the sole purpose of starting this type of thread. I've been having trouble, and I had a particularly hard (in my mind, or small mind?) time last night. It drudged up all these things. "This isn't helpful, why can't I do this? My foot is asleep, if I adjust myself I'll ruin it. My back is aching and I slumped a bit and now I've ruined it again. This is unbearable." That sort of stuff. It was even weirdly emotional for me.

    But I think that exposed something worthwhile. I spent that whole day never thinking about any of that, but when I confronted the moment (or just tried to sit in/with it) suddenly I was full of these feelings I'd been avoiding. I wasn't letting go, I was avoiding. Things like worth, and all this other intense stuff about who I should be, or what I should be able to do. They were like emotional flashbangs thrown into the room one after another.

    And all these responses have been extremely helpful. I think everyone's right. I mean, in a purely practical sense, how can you let go of these things that make you suffer unless you encounter them and see what they are? Know what I mean?

    You're not alone!

    Gassho
    Mc.

  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu View Post
    No struggle with shikantaza, just struggle with oneself.
    So true, thank you Taigu.

    Gassho
    Shingen
    真 眼

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  23. #23
    No need to add anything...




    Gassho

    Taigu
    Taigu, teacher at Treeleaf Sangha, was born in 1964, started Zazen early and received Shukke Tokudo in 1983 at age 18 from Rev. Mokusho Zeisler of the Deshimaru Lineage. Received Dharma Transmission from Chodo Cross in 2002. Now resides in Osaka, Japan.

  24. #24
    Senior Member Joyo's Avatar
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    Thank you, Taigu, that is very helpful!!

    Gassho,
    Treena

  25. #25
    And Emmy, no need to add anything,


    gassho

    taigu
    Taigu, teacher at Treeleaf Sangha, was born in 1964, started Zazen early and received Shukke Tokudo in 1983 at age 18 from Rev. Mokusho Zeisler of the Deshimaru Lineage. Received Dharma Transmission from Chodo Cross in 2002. Now resides in Osaka, Japan.

  26. #26
    Senior Member Joyo's Avatar
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    yes, you are so right

  27. #27
    And...

    T.
    Taigu, teacher at Treeleaf Sangha, was born in 1964, started Zazen early and received Shukke Tokudo in 1983 at age 18 from Rev. Mokusho Zeisler of the Deshimaru Lineage. Received Dharma Transmission from Chodo Cross in 2002. Now resides in Osaka, Japan.

  28. #28
    No need to add anything. Just need to sit! This thread has probably been the most significant religious discussion I've had in my adult life. I truly thank the treeleaf community for sitting with me through my sitting. I suppose thats part of what Sangha means.
    I took an art class once in high school. I just could NOT draw that damn bicycle. Teacher told me, "Stop looking at the page. Look at the damn bicycle."

  29. #29
    Hi Ben,

    Thank you for sharing with us. We all go through periods of the "dread", as you so call it. It often times feels like a chore, doesn't it? If that's how you feel, that's OK. There is nothing wrong with your feelings. As many have already clearly stated, do your best to sit and just be. Don't have any expectations. In my personal experience, when you set levels of expectations of what sitting "should be" is, issues arise. We are conditioned early on to have benchmarks and indicators as markers of success. We develop preconceived or conceptual notions that are illusory of what everything "should be".

    Deep Gassho, friend;

    Lu

  30. #30
    Hi Ben. Sometimes when sitting down on the cushion I'll quietly say... "It is like this, it feels like this". Whether feeling up or feeling down, feeling restful or agitated, inspired or flat. Just sitting, the present state of being as is, alone . It is like putting down a heavy bag.

    Just two more cents

    Gassho, Richard.
    大山

  31. #31
    Good one Daizan. Very clever. No need to add anything though. Sometimes two more cents is far too much.

    Gassho

    T.
    Last edited by Taigu; 08-04-2013 at 02:13 PM.
    Taigu, teacher at Treeleaf Sangha, was born in 1964, started Zazen early and received Shukke Tokudo in 1983 at age 18 from Rev. Mokusho Zeisler of the Deshimaru Lineage. Received Dharma Transmission from Chodo Cross in 2002. Now resides in Osaka, Japan.

  32. #32
    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu View Post
    Good one Daizan. Very clever. No need to add anything though. Sometimes two more cents is far too much.

    Gassho

    T.
    Hi Taigu. Thank you.

    Gassho Daizan.
    大山

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