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Thread: New to Treeleaf and need help with practice

  1. #1
    Senior Member Bunny's Avatar
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    New to Treeleaf and need help with practice

    I posted a lengthy intro in the new members thread, so I will try to keep this one short.

    I started zen practice at a local zen center about 4 years ago. It was truly transformative. Things were going swimmingly and then they changed (as things do). About 2 1/2 yrs into my practice I got really, really, really sick.

    (The following two paragraphs I copied and pasted from my new member post to save myself some typing as it's hard for me now physically)

    Today my pain is better managed and I have regained many of my abilities, though at a lesser capacity. After coming through (what I hope is) the worst of the sickness I find myself struggling to get back into zen practice. It feels very rigid now. Also, I'm no longer able to sit on the zafu or go to the zendo-so without those tools/supports I am finding it hard to have any discipline. I think there might be some emotional stuff I'm resistant to "being with" too.


    So, currently I'm not doing zazen. I have a spiritual practice now but it's very "loose". Part of that "looseness" is that it feels like that is what is appropriate due to my health and part of it is that I'm really resisting doing anything disciplined. Currently I meditate only whenever I feel like it (though I aspire to do it every day) and I meditate in any style that seems most pleasant at the moment (a lot of guided relaxation type stuff lately).


    I do practice mindfulness throughout the day, but am really struggling to get back onto the cushion (for me the cushion has to be the bed). Really struggling to transition from my current "do whatever I like practice" to doing zazen again. If anyone has any suggestions, support, or anything else to share that might be helpful I would love to hear it!

    Much gratitude-
    Bunny

  2. #2
    Dear Bunny,

    I am sure a lot of truly wise comments will soon appear on this thread that will not simply originate with opinions, but from other Sangha member's life experience. As a first step however, may I suggest you ask yourself first why it is you want to pursue a particular practise in a particular way. I sense tension in your words (and I may be mistaken). Though it is no doubt traditional and beautiful to sit in full lotus on a cushion, there are other approaches to Shikantaza and Zazen that might simply be more "doable" given your individual health situation. Where does the dissatisfaction with your current practise come from? What part of you decides at what point your practise is not loose anymore?

    There are treasures to be found in that murky territory.

    Opening to the practise of Zen is not just forcing oneself to be disciplined (although in the long run that is an important part too), but to serve truthfulness and the way things are for you right now.

    I tend to fall asleep really fast when I ty to sit on my bed, maybe a very comfy chair that supports your back would be a possibility too? (obviously I don't know any details about your current health situation)

    Do not judge yourself too much.


    Gassho,


    Hans Chudo Mongen
    Chudo Mongen, Ordained Novice Priest-in-Training

  3. #3
    Hi Bunny

    I am pretty sick myself and have been for nearly 18 years now. Illness can be a great teacher and transformative as a direct experience of suffering. However, it also constantly means having to adapt expectations and plans. Rigidity and illness are not good bedfellows.

    Some days I can sit zazen, some days I can't. This is okay (although there was a time that it wasn't). You don't have to sit to be a good Zen practitioner or (even more important) a good human being. Mindfulness is good practice but, to be honest, there is only so much any one person can take, and being with pain is tiring. Allow yourself just to be, sit outside, read poetry, watch a film, whatever.

    Good books I have found which talk about the relationship between practice and illness are:

    Full Catastrophe Living - Jon Kabat-Zinn (not Zen but very good at dealing with body sensations and thoughts/emotions, the original book on mindfulness and illness)
    Turning Suffering Inside Out - Darlene Cohen (a Zen practitioners account of living with long-term pain)
    Lotus in the Fire - Jim Bedard (what happens when Zen meets life threatening illness)


    Sitting is good, but letting your body do what it needs is more important. I recently found this advice from a Soto Zen site online:

    "Avoid sitting when you haven't had sufficient sleep or when you are physically exhausted."

    I have found this to be wise and there are many times I sit on the cushion and realise that what I really need is rest or sleep. Letting go of our desire to be the perfect Zen student and meditator is one of the hardest things but trees that sway in the wind tend to break a lot less than those with a rigid trunk.

    Take care and write me if you need to talk more.

    Gassho
    Andy

  4. #4
    Hi Bunny,

    So you are losing grasp of the "i'm doing quite well" feeling? GOOD! How can supports or tools be an obstacle to sitting? Surely no one is making any pictures of how you are sitting. I'm glad noone is taking mine! Sitting in the cold, unshaved and crancky wearing an old blanket and a ridiculous bandanna on my head, won't attract any crouds at my place! I can't do full lotus, can't even half lotus! So what? The people we sit with at Treeleaf sure don't care one bit. So, let it go m8!

    Sit straight or croocked, in a chair, on a zafu or even the laying down way Taigu described in his marvelous directions to sitting. Sit with a light heart or a heavy heart. Sit long or just for a short while. JUST SIT! Shikantaza is limitless, timeless and boundless. All cool ideas, props or concepts of whats right and what is wrong zazen, vanish and are without meaning. IT IS ALREADY PERFECT, COMPLETE, WHOLE! Nothing to add and nothing to drop. Showing up and paying attention, is all there is to it. There is no bad sitting, just sitting and no sitting. Try counting breaths when your mind is in tumoil, it will come to rest soon. Like one of our teachers told me a while ago: ENKYO!!!! Drop it all and empty your bowl, NOW!

    However difficult, try to sit. Maybe short periods but more of them during the day. When you sit every day, the resentment disapears and it becomes a natural part of your day. Missing one or two days however, will make it harder and harder to pick things up again. It is strange, but that it is how it works for me anyway.

    Also Zen is sitting but not just the sitting. Our Zen way is in everything we do. Doing dishes, cleaning the floors or even hanging the laundry to dry can be done with zen mind and is as much practice. Having difficulties doing such simple tasks, can be seen as a weird kind of blessing since it no doubt will take all you attention doing it. The pain however difficult this may be, can be an ally in our practice and seeing it in this way we make it part of wholeness and completeness, the sutchness that is life. I for one an a great fan of teacher "broom". Making things propper and clean. Sweeping dirt away, myself away, this wolrd away. Practice teaches us to look at things in that way.

    Please don't look at being sick and living with pain as something that makes it all imposiible. Many of us wrestle with all possible kinds of obstructions and difficulties. Sitting the easyest thing to do? NO WAY m8! NO WAY It is hard and tough as nails! So we do it together. Sit together and discuss it all on this forum. What we should not do is quit and give up. All else makes you and your practice unique and complete. Like all other 120 members here. All unique. Normal in one way, extraordinary in the other.

    Well, that's what I have to say abot this, but I'm just a novice too, so what do I know!

    Gassho

    Enkyo

  5. #5
    Senior Member KellyRok's Avatar
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    Hi Bunny,

    I read your post in the new members forum. There is some wonderful advice here already, so please take my advice with a grain of salt.

    Our practice is about doing all things in life with a sense of mindfulness...a sense of presence. But zazen can be tricky if you are defeating yourself before you start. First, start small. Sit/lay for just 5-10 minutes just focusing on the breath. Sometimes that is all we can do...breathe.
    Drop all reservations or ideas of what your session 'should' be and just let it be what it is.
    Don't make any expectations for yourself
    Yes, do make sleep a first priority, then sit/lay when you are rested.
    If you are in too much pain, it's okay not to sit zazen.

    Be gentle with yourself and only do what you can. I'm sorry to hear that you've had to go through so much to get to this point.
    Take care,
    Kelly/Jinmei

  6. #6
    Hi, Sorry you are having such difficulty. My hope is that you can set aside some time in the morning and evening to let go of all difficulties.
    _/_
    Rich
    MUHYO
    無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

  7. #7
    Senior Member Heishu's Avatar
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    Bunny,

    Give it a try. No matter that you are not able to sit on a cushion, just sit the way you are. You have practiced before and you can get right back with it again. Commit to the sit even if in bed. Take baby steps and commit to a few minutes, then build upon that. I don't know how it is for others but if I only sat when I felt like it I would never sit. There are days at my age when the cushion is not the best method for me, most days it is, and that is when I will sit with the bed as my cushion with my body reclined. It works and that is what matters. I wish you the best and hope you will be encouraged to begin again.

    Gassho,
    Heishu


    “Blessed are the flexible, for they never get bent out of shape." Author Unknown

  8. #8
    Senior Member Shonin's Avatar
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    Bunny, I agree with what others have to say. I wouldn't get so tangled up in how you sit. You can only do what you can do. Having back pain probs, I chair sit. I do own a zafu. Lower back doesn't care for that for any real length of time. So I chair sit. I try to do it nice and straight backed without being rigid. When it gets uncomfortable I just sit in the chair normally and give my back some rest. Just sit however you are able. If you can sit in a chair comfortably do that. If you can sit upright in bed or even if you have to lay down. Just ...sit.

    Dave _/\_

  9. #9
    Bunny,

    Thank you for sharing, and I'm sorry to hear about your struggle. I say, let your bed be your cushion

    Much metta to you.

    Gassho,

    Risho

  10. #10
    Senior Member Joyo's Avatar
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    Hi Bunny, welcome to Treeleaf. I have read the other posts here, so much good advice posted already. I just wanted to add that the resistance may be something perhaps you want to sit with? If you start off slow, say 10 min in the morning and 10 min in the evening, your resistance may fade. Or you may learn to sit with it. I'm speaking from experience here, my mind often resists sitting, but because I've been doing it long enough now to know there are benefits, I sit anyway. And when I say sit, yes, in your case that can mean lying down. I have a bad back and often lie down while doing zazen.


    Treena

  11. #11
    Senior Member Bunny's Avatar
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    Thank you all for the wonderful encouragement and suggestions! I am truly grateful!

    I accept that my bed is my cushion now-no biggie. The issue isn't with having to "sit" lying down so much. Sitting lying down does have the challenge of extra sleepiness, but that's not a huge deal. I think I can best relate the issue I'm having like this...it's kind of like going to a gym to exercise. Sure, you can exercise without a gym, but for some (like me) going to an actual place that is totally dedicated to working out is a tool to help get the job done. You don't drive all the way to the gym to paint or write a novel-you are there to work out and that's it. Without a gym some (like me) find that using the space they normally live in and relax in to do exercise is...well, really really hard. Without a space that is strictly for working out it's very easy to get distracted by the atmosphere or to just blow it off altogether. So, no longer being able to go to my usual zendo or to even sit on a zafu-it's like trying to start an exercise practice without a gym. While one doesn't need a zendo to do zazen or even a cushion...physically going to those places was really helpful for my practice in the way that going to the gym is helpful for exercise. Knowing how important sitting is I know I want/need to do it, but am having a really hard time getting into the groove again.

    As I'm writing this I'm wondering if it might help to have an altar or some little space in my home dedicated to practice in some way (and it would have to be very very little due to the size of my apt) to give me that same effect of driving to the zendo or sitting down to the cushion. Something tangible that is for zazen time only.

    Most of all I think it's like Emmy said-it's a matter of good 'ol fashioned resistance. I think the suggestions of starting with small chunks of time are particularly useful.

    Again thank you!

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Bunny View Post

    As I'm writing this I'm wondering if it might help to have an altar or some little space in my home dedicated to practice in some way (and it would have to be very very little due to the size of my apt) to give me that same effect of driving to the zendo or sitting down to the cushion. Something tangible that is for zazen time only.
    That is a wonderful suggestion! Have a special place to recline on a mat outside of bed. Or, even if in bed, frame a picture such as this and create a little Altar. This is how the historical Buddha "sat" Zazen when he was sick ...





    Gassho, Jundo
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  13. #13
    Senior Member Bunny's Avatar
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    Those pictures of the Buddha while sick are PERFECT! That really gets my wheels turning-thanks!

  14. #14
    Senior Member Clark's Avatar
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    Welcome to Treeleaf Bunny.

    You mentioned there may be some emotional resistance, aside from your pain I sense there is some emotional pain too. Sometimes I think we resist settling down because then we have to stop and BE with that emotional pain too. There are many great instructional videos here about sitting Zazen by Taigu and Jundo. Some of these deal with these issues you describe I would highly suggest going through them. I intend to go through all of them at least another round.

    There is something I think inspiring about being/ not being here with all these wonderful people that has inspired me to make sitting part of my daily routine. I hope you find that your involvement here does that for you as well.

    Metta and Gassho

    C

  15. #15
    As I'm writing this I'm wondering if it might help to have an altar or some little space in my home dedicated to practice in some way (and it would have to be very very little due to the size of my apt) to give me that same effect of driving to the zendo or sitting down to the cushion. Something tangible that is for zazen time only.
    Yes, this is a very good idea. I have a smaller shrine in my bedroom for days that 'sitting' take place in bed. Lighting a candle or some incense can also indicate a change from normal routine and signal to your mind that it is Zazen time!

    Gassho
    Andy

  16. #16
    Senior Member Bunny's Avatar
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    Thanks to all! This thread has been very helpful! I did a mini sitting this morning. I think lighting candle is a good idea, and maybe ringing a bell. And as Clark said...I think my involvement here will help.
    Metta- Bunny

  17. #17
    Senior Member JeffreyB's Avatar
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    I know that sometimes when we are ill, we can feel as if we are helpless and trapped by our own physical form. But it helps to remember that we are all ill in some way, either inner or outer and that dharma practice unites us and brings us to THIS moment. I wish you the best Bunny and mucho metta to you!

    Gassho, Jeffrey
    "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
    Henry David Thoreau, Walden

  18. #18
    I have no great words of wisdom on this.....but I wanted you to know you are not alone. I am pretty much flat down trying to recover from a serious accident and 15 years of surgeries and medications. I'm trying to re-start my practice too, and I've hit a stone wall. I can read, I can surf, but I can't sit. Physically yes, but there seems to be a big mental block. In my case I think it's "ok, when I'm better, I'll re-start my practice" and if I go ahead an sit with where I am NOW maybe that means I'll never get any better! Maybe I'll hold the defunct practice 'out there' as something to look forward to.

    I think creating an altar or tiny zendo is a great idea. I did have a spot in my bedroom with a small altar, but when the seasons changed, that got covered with a pile of winter clothes that I am too weak to put away. I will try to resurrect it.

    Let me know if you find anything that works for you. I've learned that sometimes the thing that we will not do for ourselves, we will rise to the occaision and do for somebody else, and wind up doing for ourselves in the end.

    Do you use a mala? I find that helps me when lying down, since most tradional mudras don't work.

    Gassho,

    Fugu

  19. #19
    Senior Member Bunny's Avatar
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    Fugu-Sorry to hear you have yoru own struggles with being unwell. How wonderful to have each other's support! I will definitely let you know what helps for me and please let me know what helps you. I actually just ordered a mala online a week ago.

    I'm slowly working on getting my mini-alter/zen space together. I'm really looking forward to participating in the group sittings (though I don't yet know how to do the google + thing...any help?)

    Okay time for sitting!
    Metta-
    Bunny

  20. #20
    Senior Member Heishu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bunny View Post
    Fugu-Sorry to hear you have yoru own struggles with being unwell. How wonderful to have each other's support! I will definitely let you know what helps for me and please let me know what helps you. I actually just ordered a mala online a week ago.

    I'm slowly working on getting my mini-alter/zen space together. I'm really looking forward to participating in the group sittings (though I don't yet know how to do the google + thing...any help?)

    Okay time for sitting!
    Metta-
    Bunny
    Here is a link to help guide you in joining Google + http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...E-for-Zazenkai

    Gassho,
    Heishu


    “Blessed are the flexible, for they never get bent out of shape." Author Unknown

  21. #21
    Senior Member Bunny's Avatar
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    Thanks! I sent the request.

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