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Thread: Zazen unconstrictor

  1. #1
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Zazen unconstrictor

    I have been more bummed out by the death of MIchael Jackson than I would have guessed beforehand. I watched his memorial service at work yesterday instead of working, which was no big deal because I planned on just doing that work at home in the evening. But then I spent the evening watching all the coverage of the memorial service. It was all quite emotional -- very sad, so sad that I just went to bed. So now, this morning, I am still sad while also under pressure to get this work done that MUST be done soon. Pressure + sadness = not a very good recipe for zazen. But I do it anyway!

    This morning's zazen was a "cloudy monkey" affair. MInd running away with thoughts of Michael and work, dropping that briefly, more monkey, etc. But towards the end of my half hour I began to realize that there is a bigger world out there than emotions and work pressures, that I had been constricting my mind with these things, and that through zazen I was beginning to see not a way out, not an escape at all, but a way beyond those thoughts that had been constricting me. I'm still sad, still under pressure, but I am also aware of the much bigger picture, and that puts things in their proper place.

    OK, gotta run now and get this work done.

  2. #2

    Re: Zazen unconstrictor

    Thank Alan!
    Similar clouds here. Thank you for the perspctive.

    Gassho, Shohei

  3. #3
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zazen unconstrictor

    All my work is done so I am a little more workable with words now (zazen unconstrictor? what the ...?)

    My point was that I realized I can have feelings without those feelings having hold of me. Or, said another way, I can have feelings without holding on to those feelings. Or, said yet another way, I can have feelings (such as sadness or pressure) while also being open to all those things going on that have nothing to do with those feelings. All those statements seem valid (although still not quite complete) expressions of my experience today, .

    Or maybe I am not more workable with words after all.

  4. #4

    Re: Zazen unconstrictor

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    All my work is done so I am a little more workable with words now (zazen unconstrictor? what the ...?)

    My point was that I realized I can have feelings without those feelings having hold of me. Or, said another way, I can have feelings without holding on to those feelings. Or, said yet another way, I can have feelings (such as sadness or pressure) while also being open to all those things going on that have nothing to do with those feelings. All those statements seem valid (although still not quite complete) expressions of my experience today, .

    Or maybe I am not more workable with words after all.
    Said very well, I believe. We are human, and it is sometimes surprising and unexpected what will set off very human emotional reactions within us.

    There is a difference between feeling sometimes very human emotions such as sadness (fear is another) and adding on resistance to our feeling sad or a bit afraid. Sometimes if we just allow ourselves to feel sad, there is still sadness ... but the resistance is gone, and that makes all the difference. Much of the ugliness is gone from the experience, and we are left with something natural ... even beautiful. To use your words, Al, it is "unconstricted".

    That is one reason I very much appreciate the scenes of a teary eyed Master Dogen in that film ... this practice is not about being "happy" all the time. Instead, I would say it is more about being happy with who/where we are.

    viewtopic.php?p=18242#p18242

    (Me, I was torn up a bit when Charlie's Angel Farah Fawcett died last week ... I mean, she helped get me through puberty. :? )

    Gassho, J

  5. #5
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zazen unconstrictor

    Yeah, I Farrah going was sad, too. But she's a whole other feelings of mortality ball game that does not hold the same emotional punch.

    The experience that day was really quite new for me. So I have a new question, Jundo: Is the experience I described what they mean by equanimity? Because I have been wondering about that concept for a while.

    Since I am here, I would just like to explain "unconstricted" even if it is not necessary (because I know it isn't to you, but it sort of is to me). The image in my head was of feelings as a boa constrictor squeezing me, and zazen was the unconstrictor. There, now i feel released. FWI: No snakes were harmed in this post or any other of my posts on this or any other thread :P

  6. #6

    Re: Zazen unconstrictor

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    The experience that day was really quite new for me. So I have a new question, Jundo: Is the experience I described what they mean by equanimity? Because I have been wondering about that concept for a while.
    I believe so. But you will know as it plays out in your life what it is.

    Old Buddhist Sutta often used the term "unbinding", and we might say "equanimity" "allowing" "letting go" "putting the baggage/mind-body down" ... Much has to do with letting the 'self' go.

    But, ya know, one thing I like to repeat a lot around here is that true "equinimity" does not mean that one needs to feel "equiniomious" (is that the word? :shock: ) all or most of the time.

    In other words ... if feeling "equanimity" means that we need to feel "equanimity" toward life ... then that is only a limitied equanimity that vanishes as soon as the equanimity sensation disappears. However, if one can feel profound "Equanimity" with the fact that sometimes in life we feel "equanimity", sometimes human beings do not and feel that we have hit a crap-storm ... then that is True Equanimity ... and "equanimity" so "equinimious" that it cares not a lick about needing to feel equanimity all the time! :shock:

    I think one of the most misleading aspects of Eastern practice was the development of a need to ALWAYS feel joy, peace, calm as the sign of "success" in this practice. Yet True Joy, Peace, Beauty and Calm can be joyful, peaceful and calm even with the fact that life has hit a tear-filled, turbulent typhoon at some point in time ... it is still Beautiful! (one reason I think Zen practice brought the Buddha's teachings back down to earth).

    I described this recently elsewhere in discussing ordinary human fear ...

    I fear death. "Fear of death" is programmed into the most primitive lizard parts of the brain. I doubt that there has ever been a living creature with a medulla oblongata and other parts of our early brain who does not sometimes fear death at a very primal level. Death is scary! Ask a gazelle being chased by a tiger.

    One thing, though, that can be attained from all this Zen Practice ... almost as a combination of tasting, to the marrow, all the perspectives mentioned above ... is something that I might term "fear without fear" ....

    ... which is kind of life feeling "fear" and "no fear/fearlessness" all at once ... and is sometimes also experiencing "no fear" whatsoever when other people might be experiencing "fear" ... and is also sometimes "not fearing that sometimes we fear, because it is the natural human condition".

    I believe that it is the above tastes which are the unique fruits of Buddhist practice.
    So, sometimes we feel equanimity in life ... sometimes we feel equanimity and no equanimity at once ... sometimes we feel equanimity when other folks might really be upset about a situation ... and sometimes we feel equanimity about the fact that sometimes we might feel no equanimity at all, because such is the human condition to be worked up and tangled up sometimes ...

    And knowing equanimity about all that ... True Equanimity! 8)

    Something like that.

    Gassho, J

  7. #7
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zazen unconstrictor

    The dictionary definition of equanimity is mental calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation. I have seen videos of zen monks (or heard stories, or some such thing) say their (goalless) goal was to be like a rock in a zen garden. Neither of these sound like a particularly good way to live life. My experience of equanimity as it has evolved with my zen practice was that it took the edge off feelings, and I thought this was the good and proper Path, but the result was being sad but not too sad, happy but not too happy, etc., and that seemed more like stoicism than equanimity. Also, seeing that feelings were essentially empty made them seem pointless thought delusions, and that didn't seem right either. So I began to doubt this was the way to go and wonder what was the Equanimous Path. So Jundo, if I understand your post above correctly, and if I may borrow a concept/phrase from a recent dharma talk, it seems that you are saying that to be equanimous is to dance with life. When times are sad, do the sad dance. When times are happy, do the happy dance. Move from one dance to the other, not lingering or wanting any particular dance. Don't attach to one particular feelings dance, but rather learn them all and live them all fully and completely, and then move on. And to reconcile this version with the dictionary's, that mental calmness is our internal zazen off the cushion still point.

    Right? May I have this dance?

  8. #8

    Re: Zazen unconstrictor

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    ... My experience of equanimity as it has evolved with my zen practice was that it took the edge off feelings, and I thought this was the good and proper Path, but the result was being sad but not too sad, happy but not too happy, etc., and that seemed more like stoicism than equanimity. ....

    Also, seeing that feelings were essentially empty made them seem pointless thought delusions, and that didn't seem right either. So I began to doubt this was the way to go and wonder what was the Equanimous Path....

    So Jundo, if I understand your post above correctly, and if I may borrow a concept/phrase from a recent dharma talk, it seems that you are saying that to be equanimous is to dance with life. When times are sad, do the sad dance. When times are happy, do the happy dance. Move from one dance to the other, not lingering or wanting any particular dance. Don't attach to one particular feelings dance, but rather learn them all and live them all fully and completely, and then move on.
    I think so.

    I do believe that it is important to keep balance in our dancing, and not get lost or imprisoned by wild thoughts and excess emotions. I think we can do that, however, without necessarily turning life into a "valium" trip, with the "edge off our feelings", as you describe. So, in other words, when joyous ... be truly JOYOUS. When in grief for the death of someone you love, let the tears roll and allow the grief. Yes, dance those "joy dances" and "natural grief dances" with all your heart.

    But I do think we can do so without become chained up in those emotions, lost in a whirlpool without escape, swept away by our thoughts. There is a point where running after happiness, and being buried in sadness, destroys us ... much as over watering a plant, or giving too much sunlight, will eventually kill what should be nurtured. There is a point where the thoughts and emotions run wild, and just take control.

    In other words, we can dance the Joy dance, and the Sad dance ... without getting so lost that we fall right off the edge of the stage!

    Everything in moderation, balance. Experience human emotions, but do not get trapped in them.

    Something like that. I hope the images are clear.

    Gassho, Jundo

  9. #9
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zazen unconstrictor

    Very helpful.
    Many bows.

  10. #10

    Re: Zazen unconstrictor

    "Everything in moderation, balance."

    That's what my grandfather told me. (the above)
    We can experience fully our emotions and feelings and then let them go and return to a state of balance. I'm going to practice that

  11. #11

    Re: Zazen unconstrictor

    Quote Originally Posted by Rich
    We can experience fully our emotions and feelings and then let them go and return to a state of balance. I'm going to practice that

    Thanks, Rich, for saying in 25 words what I did not say as clearly in 100. Gassho, Jundo

  12. #12
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zazen unconstrictor

    Quote Originally Posted by Rich
    "Everything in moderation, balance."

    That's what my grandfather told me. (the above)
    We can experience fully our emotions and feelings and then let them go and return to a state of balance. I'm going to practice that
    OK, a bit confused again. To me, moderation means no big highs or lows, which to me contradicts fully experiencing emotions and feelings. Return to balance, I think I get that part, and I think I get being in balance as you experience fully and completely. So maybe I need to rethink what moderation means in this case.

  13. #13

    Re: Zazen unconstrictor

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    Quote Originally Posted by Rich
    "Everything in moderation, balance."

    That's what my grandfather told me. (the above)
    We can experience fully our emotions and feelings and then let them go and return to a state of balance. I'm going to practice that
    OK, a bit confused again. To me, moderation means no big highs or lows, which to me contradicts fully experiencing emotions and feelings. Return to balance, I think I get that part, and I think I get being in balance as you experience fully and completely. So maybe I need to rethink what moderation means in this case.
    Oh, well, we'd better be careful ... or we risk getting into wordy analysis of a skill we just must learn. Like talking about "how to ride a bike" ... instead of just getting on and riding.

    But I would offer this perspective on "moderation" while still "fully experiencing" emotions:

    1- Learn what I always talk about here, namely "stillness in the motion". In other words, learn to taste and become intimate with the still, calm, silent, open, boundless, peaceful perspective which is simultaneously true even as we may be experiencing emotions of happiness, sadness, love and passion, ups or downs ... tasting both 'channels' at once, not two.

    Then, even as we may be experiencing great joy, great fear, great grief, etc. in any one moment ... we also know that 'place' without attachment, without fear, without loss ... both at once, not two. The taste which results is thus a kind of Peace and Stillness [Capitalized] beyond peace or disturbance, stillness or motion.

    It is a skill that we are "practicing" in our "Just Sitting" Shikantaza ... dropping all thought of peace or disturbance, stillness or motion, etc.

    2- Know the difference between good, wholesome thoughts and emotions ... and those that bind us, imprison us, run amok and are soon destructive.

    Thus, no harm in fully celebrating a joyous moment (YIPPEE! Where's the cake!?!), nor feeling deep natural sadness at a poignant moment (when we cry, just cry) ... yet do not then become a "joy addict" (one who clings to, and needs, "highs" like a drug addict) or lose oneself in the hole of grief, depression and sadness. In other words, there is a difference between richly feeling sadness, for example, and losing oneself in a pit of despair.

    3- As Rich's grandfather sad, learn how to switch back and forth between emotions and "balance" when the emotions get "out of balance". Learn also to "turn off the thoughts" when your thoughts start to run away with you. (Again, in our practice here, we learn to be sensitive to when our thoughts and emotions are starting to "run away".) How do you tell the difference? Well, I think our practice here lets us be more sensitive to when our thoughts and emotions have started to lead us by the nose, or off the cliff.

    But to the extent we do not fall off the cliff ... thoughts and emotions are human life itself. Celebrate that!

    It is this that we are "practicing" in our "Just Sitting" Shikantaza too.

    By the way, I decided to dance this today. Please join me for a little roller coaster ride

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/treeleafzen/2 ... aster.html

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - [If I may add a historical note] in-though-as-transcending-balancing[/i] the thoughts and emotions ... as opposed to early Buddhism, which tended to emphasize more fully extinguishing or quashing the thoughts and emotions as the best way to be free of them.]

  14. #14

    Re: Zazen unconstrictor

    I fully experience the emotions and feelings (some are habitual) but I don't spend as much time with the negative ones. That would be my moderation, so its kind of the result of a choice.

  15. #15
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zazen unconstrictor

    Thank you for the long and short answers, Jundo and Rich. All these words, yet I think I just need to go back to the experience that I shared at the start of this thread; it's more workable than all these words. Well, there is one word that works: Practice. I have been trying some practice that is beyond words: zazen, drawing, painting, and of course, dancing.

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