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Thread: Request for comments: article about just sitting

  1. #1
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Request for comments: article about just sitting

    Below is a draft of an article I've written, that I'm planning to submit to The Loop Magazine, an iPhone/iPad only magazine run by a fellow tech journalist. I've written a half-dozen articles for the magazine so far, about music, Shakespeare, movies, etc. The editor is open to pretty much anything, so I thought I'd write about just sitting.

    Feel free to comment about anything you want; all criticism is welcome. Thanks!

    -----


    Just Sitting

    Twice a day, I sit facing a wall in my office. I just sit. I sit for twenty minutes, a half-hour, sometimes more. But I just sit. I sit and think not thinking; I do that by non-thinking.

    This is the Zen practice of shikantaza, or ďjust sitting.Ē You sit, cross-legged if you can, and let your mind alone. When you stop thinking, you reach a point of non-thinking. Itís one of the typical paradoxes of Zen that makes your brain try and twist around those words, ďnot,Ē ďnon-Ē and ďthinkingĒ to figure out what they mean.

    Unlike in other forms of meditation, shikantaza doesnít involve concentrating on an object, a mantra, or on your breath. It is ďobjectless meditation,Ē where you focus on everything you experience - thoughts, sounds, feelings - without attaching to any of them. But when you get there, you know what it is.

    ďOnce you have adjusted your posture, take a deep breath, inhale and exhale, rock your body right and left and settle into a steady, immobile sitting position. Think not-thinking. How do you think not-thinking? Non-thinking. This in itself is the essential art of zazen.Ē[1]

    Iíve been practicing meditation off and on for about 25 years. After following the Tibetan tradition for a while, I drifted among other forms of practice, notably Theravadan insight meditation, before settling on Zen. There are many different schools of meditation, and even in Zen, there are two main currents: Rinzai and Sōtō. It is this latter, Sōtō Zen, founded by Eihei Dōgen in the 13th century, that feels right to me. Itís the one whose main practice is just sitting.

    But you donít need to follow any school to meditate, or sit, as we say in Zen lingo. In the past few decades, mindfulness, or a secular form of sitting meditation, has become mainstream, notably as a tool to reduce stress. Many studies have shown that meditation of any kind is good for the brain, but thatís not the best reason to sit. The best reason is that just sitting reboots your brain.

    Even if you donít want to follow a path of meditation, or a particular tradition, just sitting for a few minutes every day can be a wonderful way to get back in touch with reality and recharge your brain. You can use just sitting to simply ground yourself, to take a few minutes away from the vortex of the world around you.

    You already know how to do this

    Youíve certainly done this many times. Perhaps you were on a hike in the mountains, and came across an especially nice view. You sat on some rocks, and just sat. At first, you looked at the view, but then your mind went on pause as you appreciated the silence, and the simplicity of just being in the moment. Or it may have been a lazy summer day, sitting on the deck, listening to bees buzzing around you. For a few minutes, you felt apart from the worries of the world, and your mind felt clear. This happens to all of us, from time to time, but you can cultivate it, practicing regularly.

    You can do this anywhere, almost any time. Start at home; itís easiest to start in a quiet place with no distractions. Turn off the TV, the radio, the computer, and put your cell phone away. Find a quiet place to sit: you donít have to sit cross-legged on a meditation cushion; a chair is fine. All you should do is try and keep your back relatively straight (in other words, donít slouch in a recliner).

    Place your hands on your thighs, close your eyes, and feel your breathing. Concentrate on the fact that you are breathing. Feel your in-breaths; feel your out-breaths. Youíll probably notice that your mind starts showing you all sorts of pretty pictures, and you leap toward them like a puppy running after a new toy. Let those thoughts go. Donít try and stop them; they will just get stronger. Just let them go; go back to the breath.

    In shikantaza, we try and go even further, to non-thinking, to objectless meditation. Donít worry about that. Just sit, let the thoughts come and go, and, when you get lost, come back to your breath, again. Donít worry about how long youíre sitting, donít worry about what you need to do in 15 minutes or an hour or a day. Just be with yourself, allow yourself to have that time to just sit.

    When youíve had enough, get up slowly, and donít rush into whatever you have to do next. Try and let the relaxed feeling you felt when sitting last a bit before you turn on the world again. If you can do this for a few minutes every day, youíll start realizing that your body needs to put itself on pause every now and then.

    Sitting here, sitting there

    The thing about just sitting is that you can do it anywhere. I do it in trains, planes and busses; in doctorsí offices, dentistsí chairs, and Iíve even done it in MRIs. I do it outside on the patio, or on a couch. You can do it anywhere; all it takes is the intention of just sitting. Donít worry about the noise around you; youíll get used to letting that just fade away too.

    Even if you donít want to ďmeditate,Ē you can try just sitting as a way of unplugging your mind from the myriad distractions we face during the day. It only takes a few minutes, it doesnít cost anything, and you really can do it anywhere. The great thing about just sitting is that you can do it no matter what your beliefs are. Whether youíre a Buddhist, Christian, Muslim or atheist, just sitting can fit in your worldview.[2] Even if you donít want to meditate, you may find that just sitting for a few minutes every day - free of distraction - will clear your mind.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Myosha's Avatar
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    Hello,

    Well said.


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

  3. #3
    Senior Member Koshin's Avatar
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    I am no expert, but I found it very enjoyable .... thank you for sharing

    Gassho
    ______________________________
    Kōshin / Leo



    P.S. Yup, I know, my English sucks

  4. #4
    Nicely done Kirk, thank you. =)

    Gassho
    Shingen
    真 眼

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

  5. #5
    Hi kirkmc.


    It reads as a straightforward description of zazen as a benign mental health tool.

    This impression is solidified when you say this.....

    The best reason is that just sitting reboots your brain.
    I'm not saying zazen doesn't reboot , and improve the quality of life, but the matter at hand has been different for me.

    Also, I would question the assertion that zazen ..just sitting.... can fit any worldview. In my experience it cuts to the root of all views, revealing some as useful and skillful, and some as not. It shifts the ground under views, and undermines certainties.

    Those are the two points that come to mind.

    Hope that is helpful. Gassho Daizan
    Last edited by Daizan; 04-05-2014 at 03:24 AM.
    大山

  6. #6
    Good job mate.

    Gassho, Jishin

  7. #7
    Lovely, Kirk. You have a nice writing style.

    I see what Daizan noted and he has a good point, but also think that what you wrote, Kirk, is a very good basic introduction to sitting for people new to what it is. People can dive in deeper from there.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  8. #8
    Well done!

    I especially enjoy the imagery you use of going on a long hike and coming across a beautiful view!

    Gassho, H
    Smile, breathe, and go slowly.

  9. #9
    It's very well-written.

    Gassho
    Lucy

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc View Post
    Youíve certainly done this many times. Perhaps you were on a hike in the mountains, and came across an especially nice view. You sat on some rocks, and just sat. At first, you looked at the view, but then your mind went on pause as you appreciated the silence, and the simplicity of just being in the moment. Or it may have been a lazy summer day, sitting on the deck, listening to bees buzzing around you. For a few minutes, you felt apart from the worries of the world, and your mind felt clear. This happens to all of us, from time to time, but you can cultivate it, practicing regularly.
    Actually, the above description is rather misleading perhaps, although it may be needed to "entice" newcomers to practice as a kind of "expedient means" (what the Buddha used to call "white lies" to keep people practicing ... like the story in the Lotus Sutra of the dad who got his kids out of a burning house by promising them imaginary toys). If one tells folks how one truly experiences the mountains in Shikantaza, it may scare the people away who are merely looking for the postcard peaceful weekend mini-vacation experience.

    I usually say that In Shikantaza Zazen, the whole path is sacred and pristine ... all the changing scenery ... much like a mountain hike in which the "goal" is not some waterfall at the end of the trail, nor some "especially nice view" as the essay says, that one is trying to reach, but instead every stone and blade of grass, left turn and right turn, rain drop, bloody battle field, strip mine, lovely forest, smokey factory or overflowing trash can encountered on the whole trek ... the "destination" in each step by step. Each and all Sacred, and a "Total Arrival" in each step when one finally learns to appreciate things as such. When one comes across the strip mine, one just sits there allowing the ugly scars to be the ugly scars ... beyond all human judgement of "beautiful" or "ugly". Every battle field is just what it is, precisely battle field bloody. **

    The True Piece of Shikantaza is a Peace so Peaceful, a Beauty so Beautiful, that it sweeps in and out the peaceful moments and the sharp pieces of life, the beautiful and ugly to the human eye. The Silence is so Silent, that it hold the chirps of the birds, breeze in the branches, cannons and bulldozers.

    On this Shikantaza walk down the Pathless Path, every step is a Total Arrival, and the Whole Hike is the Finish Line. Every inch of changing scenery is also a Priceless Treasure, a Diamond in its own way. The noisy asphalt parking lot at the start of the hike, the beautiful and ugly, the exciting and dull, and those moments when we experience the Mountain and the Mountaineer as One ... all Precious. One keeps moving forward though no place to go ... and the scenery keeps changing though the Mountain is Timeless.

    From time to time, the trees may allow one to see in all directlons, the sky a cloudless blue. But that is only one changing scene on the whole way. On the trek, the climber may encounter all kinds of fears and dangers (is there is tiger around the next bend?), regrets, pain from sprains and falls ... all sacred and "just what it is". Pain is just pain (also scenery), past fully past and future whatever, a fall is just a fall (and, anyway, on this Buddha Mountain, there is ultimately no place to get to, no place to fall).

    We discover not only that the mountaineer is climbing the mountain to witness the scenery, but that the mountain is climbing the mountaineer, and the scenery is climbing all of it. There is only mountain-mountaining-mountain.

    Yet, if one says that to folks coming to Buddhism hoping to see some postcard scenery and quiet moments of peace ... it may scare them away.

    On the otherhand, if one wants to encounter True Peace and Beauty, one must eventually come to experience this life-world-self so.

    Gassho, Jundo

    ** By the way, that does not mean that we need leave the ugly strip mines stripped, the trashcans overflowing, the battles battling. Rising from the cushion ... even while tasting that all is a jewel even "just as it is" ... one can simultaneously protect the trees, pick up the trash, stop the war. Our way is not an "either/or" proposition.
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-06-2014 at 08:09 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  11. #11
    Senior Member Myosha's Avatar
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    There is only mountain-mountaining-mountain.

    Thank you.


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

  12. #12
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the comments. I'm just trying to give a taste, and, to highlight what Jundo said, I don't want to scare people away. It's hard to be thorough in 1000 words.


    (Posted from my iPhone; please excuse any typos or brevity.)
    -----

    I know nothing.

  13. #13
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    To clarify: I'm not suggesting that shikantaza is a "nice view," but rather the feeling one has when absorbed by a nice view is similar to the quietude one finds when letting body and mind drop away.

    Gassho,

    Kirk


    (Posted from my iPhone; please excuse any typos or brevity.)
    -----

    I know nothing.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Clark's Avatar
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    The phrase "Mountains Walk" now makes sense to me. Kirk, we must turn off our computers?!
    Thanks for your article and everyone's comments.

    Gassho
    C

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc View Post
    To clarify: I'm not suggesting that shikantaza is a "nice view," but rather the feeling one has when absorbed by a nice view is similar to the quietude one finds when letting body and mind drop away.

    Gassho,

    Kirk
    Hey Kirk,

    I think it fine to let folks know about that absorbed and peaceful experience that comes from Zazen and looking at the sunset. Yes, that is what one finds in letting body and mind drop away.

    Later, however, when people get sitting for awhile, they may come to expect that their Zazen is only "going well and right" when they feel such way, or ask what they need to do to feel such way all the time. They may feel disappointed or unhappy in their practice cause they are not feeling as "peaceful all the time" as they anticipated. It is then that I find myself having to break the news to them that this crazy-sane way of sitting we have is not about feeling like that the time. It is not about feeling peaceful quietude, but about feeling Peaceful Quietude (Big PQ) that sometimes feels peaceful and quiet ... but sometimes not.

    It is a bit like people wanting clear skies and sunny weather all the time (or the mental equivalent). Instead, we teach them how to be at home on sunny days, but also how to be right at home when it snows or rains and one gets soaking wet. Yippee!

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  16. #16
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Jundo,

    I know. In 1000 words, there's only so much I can say. :-)

    My goal here is to present the idea; if people are interested, they'll look further. If the magazine in question takes the article, I'll certainly include a link to Treeleaf so people can find out more.

    Gassho,

    Kirk

  17. #17
    Hi Kirk,

    I understand. I feel it is a well written article, and you have a lovely writing style.

    I think it hard to write these articles for new folks who just want peace and happiness, while around here we only offer Peace and Happiness!

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-07-2014 at 12:43 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  18. #18
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Hi Kirk,

    I understand. I feel it is a well written article, and you have a lovely writing style.

    I think it hard to write these articles for new folks who just want peace and happiness, while around hear we only offer Peace and Happiness!

    Gassho, J
    It's a tough balance to explain what we do. On the one hand, it shouldn't sound like McMindfulness (I love that term!), but, on the other, it shouldn't sound too hard and esoteric.

    Gassho,

    Kirk

  19. #19
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Hi Kirk,

    I understand. I feel it is a well written article, and you have a lovely writing style.
    Oh, and thanks. (I looked for a blushing smiley, but I don't see one.)

    Gassho,

    Kirk

  20. #20
    Treeleaf Unsui Myozan Kodo's Avatar
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    Hi,
    Good piece, Kirk. To the point. I feel complexity can wait for later. The whole symphony comes in its own time. But the opening bars have to be a catchy work of art.
    Gassho
    Myozan


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    Myozan Kodo
    Ordained Soto Zen Priest in Training
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    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.
    "Here the way unfolds."

  21. #21
    Senior Member Entai's Avatar
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    I think I would have appreciated reading this when I first approached Zen. I certainly do now.

    Gassho, Entai

  22. #22
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Great piece, Kirk!

    Thank you for sharing it. I really enjoy your style (I follow your blog too).

    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

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