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Thread: Thought "volume" during Zazen

  1. #1

    Thought "volume" during Zazen

    I've only recently begun to practice Zazen in the last 2 - 3 weeks, and one thing I have noticed is that I have varying thought "volume" (like decibels not measurement). Some thoughts are akin to a stream: not very loud and they seem to come and go without much notice. Other thoughts, though, are a lot like the blender metaphor that Jundo uses in his first beginner talk: they're very loud, come on quickly, and it is difficult for me to resume concentration on my breathing. My question, I suppose, is will these thoughts become more quiet as I continue my practice or will it become easier to divert these thoughts and resume concentration on the breath through practice? Maybe both? Just thought I'd ask!

    Gassho,
    Steven

  2. #2
    Hi Steven

    Personally I find that some days my thoughts are loud, others days quieter, some kinds of thoughts are loud, some quiet. I would say that over time I worry less about whether they are loud or quiet and judge myself less at getting distracted when i get caught up in thought cycles.

    It sounds like you are practising some kind of breath mindfulness which is different to the Shikantaza ("just sitting") form of zazen done here in which the breath is not the primary focus.

    Jack Kornfield once told his teacher proudly that he had managed to stop his thoughts. His teacher responded 'what is wrong with thoughts?'. Over time they may seem more like leaves in the wind and less substantial than they do now but not necessarily. Don't worry about what will happen with more practice, just practice and see what is happening now. The future will take care of itself.

    Gassho
    Andy

  3. #3
    Thanks for your post Steven. Andy has also made a point on this - whether the thoughts are load or soft, just be with them and let them come in the form the come. Let them go in the form they are in as well.

    Will they get softer in time, yes and no ... they may be load but you are not so focused on them, so they are what they are - load and soft are no longer, they are all mute.

    Gassho
    Shingen
    倫道 真現

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

  4. #4
    Hi Steven,

    No volume, low volume, heavy volume; we just sit.

    Gassho,

    Lu

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Karasu View Post
    It sounds like you are practising some kind of breath mindfulness which is different to the Shikantaza ("just sitting") form of zazen done here in which the breath is not the primary focus.
    I merely based this practice on what Shunryu Suzuki said about practicing Zazen in "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" and John Daido Lorri in "Finding the Still Point." I am completely open to any suggestions from the sangha about Shikantanza as I have seemed to not completely grasp that concept. Thank you everyone for your input!

    Gassho,
    Steven

  6. #6
    Hi Steven,

    Do look at our Beginners Videos (We are Always Beginners). I tend to move folks away from counting or following the breath once they develop some basic calm and balance in their sitting.

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/forum...-FOR-NEW-FOLKS

    Different teachers of Shikantaza will emphasize various approaches. Here, I try to move folks to "open, spacious awareness of everything and nothing in particular" for reasons I discuss in the videos.

    As to the thoughts, the stillness and relative quiet of Zazen can make thinking louder or more hectic for a time, because people are not used to the quiet. I can compare it to a story I just heard about people trying a special "quiet room" at a university, quieter than any place on earth. People suddenly hear their heart beat very loudly, and often become mentally disoriented for a time.

    http://www.hindustantimes.com/HTNext...e1-835428.aspx

    They are not used to it. If you sit with this Practice for a time, this will settle down. The folks above in this thread have all given good advice.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  7. #7
    Hi Steven,
    Welcome to Treeleaf! It has taken me years of practise to realise I don't need to control my thoughts in Zazen, or to strive for any kind of special mental state at all. Now I just sit with whatever happens, whether my head is spinning with thoughts, it's very quiet & peaceful or (like yesterday) I have the latest Katy Perry song on repeat for half an hour!

    _/\_
    Ade

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by adrianbkelly View Post
    Hi Steven,
    Welcome to Treeleaf! It has taken me years of practise to realise I don't need to control my thoughts in Zazen, or to strive for any kind of special mental state at all. Now I just sit with whatever happens, whether my head is spinning with thoughts, it's very quiet & peaceful or (like yesterday) I have the latest Katy Perry song on repeat for half an hour!

    _/\_
    Ade
    Yet, we do not grab on or wallow in any of that. I know that is what you mean.

    If Katy Perry comes, we do not just sit there humming away. We walk out of the theatre, and let her get on her way.

    It is sometimes a fine line between "letting thoughts just come and be" and "not grabbing onto thoughts and letting them drift bye bye".

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Yet, we do not grab on or wallow in any of that. I know that is what you mean.

    If Katy Perry comes, we do not just sit there humming away. We walk out of the theatre, and let her get on her way.

    It is sometimes a fine line between "letting thoughts just come and be" and "not grabbing onto thoughts and letting them drift bye bye".

    Gassho, J
    Yes, Jundo, that is what I meant; thanks for helping to clarify (online communication is an art I'm not too versed in!!)

    I arrived here from a vipassana practice, which was all about trying to quiet the mind & achieve access concentration. I found that when I started just sitting I still had the desire to do the same & produce a quiet state & it took a long time to let that go. I don't mean that I just sit there indulging in whatever comes along (or in the case of the Katy Perry song, trying to push it away as hard as possible ), but that I try to just be aware of whatever state my mind is in & let the thoughts come & go.

    Even recently, I've found myself trying to reach some idealised state of mind, separate from what is actually happening & it can be quite difficult to see that that is just another thought say bye bye to.

    I'll stop now before I dig myself in deeper!!!!

    _/\_
    Ade

  10. #10
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  11. #11
    Hi Steven,

    As others have said, thoughts are not a bad thing. They are the scenery of your Zazen, just as the world is the scenery of your life. Neither are they something we indulge in when they say hello. Whenever they appear during sitting, try to let them go rather then pushing them out (Kosho Uchiyama Roshi uses the analogy of opening the hand of thought). The beginner videos are really good so I'd recommend having a look.

    Gassho,

    Simon.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by simon View Post
    Hi Steven,

    As others have said, thoughts are not a bad thing. They are the scenery of your Zazen, just as the world is the scenery of your life. Neither are they something we indulge in when they say hello. Whenever they appear during sitting, try to let them go rather then pushing them out (Kosho Uchiyama Roshi uses the analogy of opening the hand of thought). The beginner videos are really good so I'd recommend having a look.

    Gassho,

    Simon.
    I've started them but I'm not through yet. I've been doing one each night before my evening Zazen.

  13. #13
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Hi Steven! Welcome home!

    Like all the wise friends said, we just sit. Thoughts come and go. Sometimes the come loud and fast like a speeding train. Sometimes they are pleasant and soothing.

    And sometimes they don't come at all.

    In any case, we sit so we can watch and let go. The key is to actually keep on sitting.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Shuso and Ango leader for September 2014.

    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

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Yet, we do not grab on or wallow in any of that. I know that is what you mean.

    If Katy Perry comes, we do not just sit there humming away. We walk out of the theatre, and let her get on her way.

    It is sometimes a fine line between "letting thoughts just come and be" and "not grabbing onto thoughts and letting them drift bye bye".

    Gassho, J
    Hi Jundo,

    That is an interesting line (the one in bold). I have been thinking what the difference is between the below two in practice.

    Is it better to "just leave the mind to do whatever it needs to do" or is it better to "try not to get caught up in thought"?

    The former sounds to me more like shikantaza. I feel trying not to grab onto thoughts creates a goal oriented attitude. doesn't it? but again letting the mind to whatever it needs to do (i.e., letting thoughts come, grab if that's what happening, and let them go when they want to; of course not purposefully/intentionally thinking something) might lead to more getting caught up.

    can you elaborate more on the fine line aspect please? i sit the former way (leaving the mind) but yesterday there was a disturbing thought that kept returning (due to an argument i had with someone) and i tried to specifically stay with the emotion and it was gone.

    gassho,
    sam

  15. #15
    Senior Member JeffreyB's Avatar
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    One thing I can say is do not fight them. When you push, they push back harder. Try to take a step back like you are watching a film, just observing, not adding, not subtracting. We all struggle with these kind of "power thoughts" from time to time, especially when new to practice but once you let them go on their merry way, you always return to your seat, the here and now.

    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

  16. #16
    I have just started back with a sitting practice as well. I also think at the beginning there is much more of the "monkey mind" process going on. My first few sessions had quite a bit of "thought volume" and frequency. I spent a few minutes doing some breath mindfulness, but as stated above that is not shikantaza. I think part of the initial struggle will be breaking the habit of immersing oneself into the thought and learning to just sit and watch.

    I have been using the Beginner's videos as a daily refresher for right now.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Joyo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dsaly1969 View Post
    I have just started back with a sitting practice as well. I also think at the beginning there is much more of the "monkey mind" process going on. My first few sessions had quite a bit of "thought volume" and frequency. I spent a few minutes doing some breath mindfulness, but as stated above that is not shikantaza. I think part of the initial struggle will be breaking the habit of immersing oneself into the thought and learning to just sit and watch.

    I have been using the Beginner's videos as a daily refresher for right now.
    Hi Steven, welcome to Treeleaf. If you just focus on being still, in time, you will see that there really wasn't a habit to break. Thoughts come, and they go, sometimes they are stubborn and they stay awhile. It's all good. I'm pretty new to all of this as well. I think the biggest thing I've learned, so far, is to not judge my shikantaza, just let it go, and be with whatever it is.


    Treena

  18. #18
    Senior Member Nameless's Avatar
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    Hey Steven,

    Welcome to the Sangha. It's such a welcoming and helpful community. In practice sometimes the thoughts are quiet, like they're distant music, at other times it's like being at a metal concert. At other times they grow silent all together. I'd practiced a few different types of meditation before Shikantaza, but none felt as natural as it does. In the beginning, counting breaths can be beneficial. Then there's just focusing on breathing without the counting, and then even that is no longer the object of focus. As it's said, grasping and pushing thoughts is like fighting the flow. Attachment and aversion are both the building blocks of dukkha. If you find yourself pushing or grasping thoughts, don't beat yourself up about it, just smile and dive back into the flowing.

    Gassho, John

  19. #19
    So wonderful to find so many folks of this thread "non-getting" the point of Shikantaza.

    Lovely.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  20. #20
    This is also a good place to repost Suzuki Roshi's little talk, near the end of his life, on "sound" vs. "noise" from a Zen perspective.

    The bluejays he hears seem to be a bothersome "noise" to him, but I welcome the bird calls during our Zazenkai each week, even the cawing crows. The birds sing a Sound (Bit "S") transcending beautiful and ugly, sound and noise, subjective or objective, inside and outside.



    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-27-2013 at 02:41 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  21. #21
    Senior Member Joyo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    So wonderful to find so many folks of this thread "non-getting" the point of Shikantaza.

    Lovely.

    Gassho, J
    Jundo, that's because we have so many good teachers


    Treena

  22. #22
    Senior Member Myosha's Avatar
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    Thank you.


    Gassho,
    Edward
    Practice with humility, respect all beings, avoid attachments, give rise to prajña from your own awareness, put an end to delusions - Hui-neng

  23. #23
    Junior Member gwz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by adrianbkelly View Post
    Yes, Jundo, that is what I meant; thanks for helping to clarify (online communication is an art I'm not too versed in!!)

    I arrived here from a vipassana practice, which was all about trying to quiet the mind & achieve access concentration. I found that when I started just sitting I still had the desire to do the same & produce a quiet state & it took a long time to let that go. I don't mean that I just sit there indulging in whatever comes along (or in the case of the Katy Perry song, trying to push it away as hard as possible ), but that I try to just be aware of whatever state my mind is in & let the thoughts come & go.
    Hmm. I'm not an expert on vipassana, but I'm pretty sure that "access concentration" is a result of shamatha; AFAIK, vipassana is much more about awareness letting go then quieting. BTW, Sheng Yen seems to pretty much define "silent illumination" AKA shikantaza as 'simultaneous shamatha and vippasana', which jibes with my experience. Certainly, as Jundo notes, a certain amount of mental stillness is necessary if one is to be aware of anything other than one's "blender full of thinking".

  24. #24
    Senior Member Clark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Emmy View Post
    Hi Steven, welcome to Treeleaf. If you just focus on being still, in time, you will see that there really wasn't a habit to break. Thoughts come, and they go, sometimes they are stubborn and they stay awhile. It's all good. I'm pretty new to all of this as well. I think the biggest thing I've learned, so far, is to not judge my shikantaza, just let it go, and be with whatever it is.


    Treena
    Welcome Steven

    Took the words out of my mouth. This is all in the instructional videos, but NOT thinking about how good your shikantaza is while doing shikantaza is a tricky path to walk. I save analysis for times when I am studying Zazen, and when sitting I sit with what I know to be "correct". When thoughts come up, big , little, loud, annoying or when outside distractions occur, cat, kids, car horn I just try to see them as leaves on a tree falling. They come into my awareness and they pass. I try not to judge them or give them much attention. They just are allowed to fall away. There is no need to evaluate them. Unless of course it is a Katy Perry song. In that case you might need to do some chanting, walking meditation or self reflection


  25. #25
    Senior Member Clark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Emmy View Post
    Jundo, that's because we have so many good teachers


    Treena
    Tooooo Funny not funny

    We can all get on a bicycle but it takes some work and dedication to make it to the Tour de France.

    Gassho
    C

  26. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by Clark View Post
    Welcome Steven

    Took the words out of my mouth. This is all in the instructional videos, but NOT thinking about how good your shikantaza is while doing shikantaza is a tricky path to walk. I save analysis for times when I am studying Zazen, and when sitting I sit with what I know to be "correct". When thoughts come up, big , little, loud, annoying or when outside distractions occur, cat, kids, car horn I just try to see them as leaves on a tree falling. They come into my awareness and they pass. I try not to judge them or give them much attention. They just are allowed to fall away. There is no need to evaluate them. Unless of course it is a Katy Perry song. In that case you might need to do some chanting, walking meditation or self reflection

    This has all been very helpful! I dropped the concentration on the breath and just sit now, without judging my thoughts or feeling self-conscious about my sitting. I think it would have taken me much longer to figure this out on my own. I still have trouble not entertaining my own thoughts at times, but it is not as prevalent as when I began sitting, nor am I beating myself up about it when I realize that I've been on some train of thought for a short period of time. I try to let it just fade out without feeding the fire more when I realize that I have been actively engaged in my thinking. It's a hard habit to break!

  27. #27
    Welcome to the Sangha. My thoughts too have different "volume" and "sticking-ness" in my mind, when doing Zazen I just let them appear and disappear naturally, without clinging to any of them, without judging, without "going out of my here and now with them"

    Gassho.

    kb
    Dancing between stillness and motion I find peace.

  28. #28
    Thanks for this post. I have been feeling like a failure because I seemed not being able to make my mind still. I guess that the idea is to let my thokughts just be. The same happens with my body. I knew that I was always stressed out and, being hyper as I am, this made things worst. But, since I have been sitting and practicing Zazen, I have been feeling all the stress in the muscled in my sholders and back, that has also been distressing. And, again, thanks to this conversation, I believe that what I need to do is to just sit and let my muscles be. I pray that, in the long run, I will be able to accept my thoughts and my back muscles may learn to relax. Thanks for everything!

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