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Thread: Does the mind abhor a vacuum?

  1. #1

    Does the mind abhor a vacuum?

    After my sitting last night, I came away with the feeling that zazen (or at least my zazen) has a "silent struggle" quality to it. There seemed to be a resistance to non-thinking or not identifing myself with the thoughts that arose. It was as if the mind or ego constantly wants to impose itself back into the "scenery". It gives my sittings a sense of struggle or a "still activity" to them.

    I'm just interested in what more experienced sitters might have to say.

    Gassho, Tony

  2. #2

    Re: Does the mind abhor a vacuum?

    Hi Tony

    We are up against years of believing blindly in the wise guidance of Mr Ego, and against habits as powerful as any drug ( daydreaming to soothe our insatisfaction, for instance) . No easy foes. That struggle is nothing but a withdrawal syndrome and that's why it is widely recommended to stick to short sitting periods and advance as your intuition (and perhaps the assistance of a teacher) indicate. Techniques such as counting breaths and labeling thoughts have a mild flavor of ego control and can help ease the withdrawal symptoms, and can be useful to transition to shikantaza where there is nothing to hold on to.

    Now go back to a time when you had to learn any new set of skills, let's say in a new job, coping with smoking cessation or whatever equivalent there is in your life. Change causes some degree of suffering, and it seems to me that such suffering is proportional to just how much we believe in our little selves (and here I mean the intimate belief in our heart of hearts, not just the intellectual understanding of the obvious fact that we are tentative, accidental entities).

    So the perception of struggling is pretty normal. But this is no vacuum: the sound of the rain, the dog barking, the random memory that flashes for a second and disappears before you elaborate on it, the changing intensity of the light as it gets late or a cloud passes by, the little hurt in your back are here to tell you who you are if you will only listen to them without filtering everything through the old, trusted mind that has an opinion and a category for everything.

    I'm sure that besides that silent struggle sensation you feel somewhere deep inside that there is something just right about sitting, an ever so vague notion of being where you belong. That's the real you, and to reveal it you don't need to struggle with your struggle. Just let the struggle, like everything else, come and go. Just stay in the moment: there is a crack between one moment and the other where all that is fictitious (thoughts, wants, worries about lunch, anger that you indulged in dumb daydreaming three seconds ago, etc) will fall if you just stop dragging it. Keep it up, man!

    Gassho

  3. #3

    Re: Does the mind abhor a vacuum?

    Thank you for your reply Alberto.

    So the perception of struggling is pretty normal. But this is no vacuum: the sound of the rain, the dog barking, the random memory that flashes for a second and disappears before you elaborate on it, the changing intensity of the light as it gets late or a cloud passes by, the little hurt in your back are here to tell you who you are if you will only listen to them without filtering everything through the old, trusted mind that has an opinion and a category for everything.
    Looking back at my post, I think I chose some words sloppily (vacuum/struggling). I understand that there will always be what Uchiyama calls "scenery" and that there is no blank slate state to attain. External stimula and internal thoughts and moods will always be present in the "what is". And struggle now seems too strong a word for what may be better worded as "attentiveness" or "vigillance" (of course those words too presume an "I" actor) that must be present to keep the habits of Mr. Ego in check. Maybe it's an "open awareness" but it is not quite static or passive. Maybe, that's what Nishijima Roshi may be implying by "zazen is action"? It is active without an "I" actor? It is not intentional but neither is it a passive state. There is a dynamic occuring it seems. Otherwise, the ego habits will insert themselves.

    Well,I seem to be just rambling now, so I'm going to stop and sit before I say something really silly. ops:

    I'm sure that besides that silent struggle sensation you feel somewhere deep inside that there is something just right about sitting, an ever so vague notion of being where you belong. That's the real you, and to reveal it you don't need to struggle with your struggle. Just let the struggle, like everything else, come and go. Just stay in the moment: there is a crack between one moment and the other where all that is fictitious (thoughts, wants, worries about lunch, anger that you indulged in dumb daydreaming three seconds ago, etc) will fall if you just stop dragging it. Keep it up, man!
    Amen!


    Gassho, Tony

  4. #4
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Does the mind abhor a vacuum?

    I think that the fact that your brain is constantly thinking - even when you sleep - shows that your mind is reluctant to stop what it's doing. Even when we get to non-thinking, we're not really not thinking, because the brain doesn't shut down.

    Kirk

  5. #5

    Re: Does the mind abhor a vacuum?

    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc
    I think that the fact that your brain is constantly thinking - even when you sleep - shows that your mind is reluctant to stop what it's doing. Even when we get to non-thinking, we're not really not thinking, because the brain doesn't shut down.

    Kirk
    Hi everybody.

    Does that mean that even stupid people think?

    May the force be with you
    Tb

  6. #6

    Re: Does the mind abhor a vacuum?

    Hi Tony,

    Sorry to be slow to respond to such an important post. I have been tour guiding Hans and Will much of this week, to the Kabuki and such.

    I would just say that what you describe is a normal part of the "process", for want of a better term, which we all have experienced, and all may sometimes still go through some moments. Go easy on yourself. Don't over-intellectualize (or even intellectualize) what you should or should not be doing or experiencing. Sometimes, the way to get the goose out of the bottle is to not try, to have a lighter touch or do nothing at all. In other words, just keep sitting and let what develops develop. The way to quiet the mind is not by thinking more about the right way to quiet the mind ... it is by quieting the mind.

    Most importantly, I would read and reread Alberto's post to you, which is a real treasure and a keeper. Thank you Alberto. That post expresses the gentle tightrope walk so very well, I believe. Truly understand what he is saying there, and you will do well.

    Just let the struggle, like everything else, come and go.
    Gassho, J

  7. #7

    Re: Does the mind abhor a vacuum?

    Thanks Jundo and again Alberto.

    Enough said.

    Gassho, Tony

  8. #8

    Re: Does the mind abhor a vacuum?

    I have a serious and chronic case of monkey mind in zazen. Some days are less simian than others. I just recognize that I'm monkey-like again and go back to focusing on my breath. So, in a nutshell, my practice looks like this: sit, monkey mind, breathe, monkey mind, breathe, etc. I doubt that helps much other than to say, you aren't alone.

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