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Thread: Zazen questions

  1. #1

    Zazen questions

    Some questions about my zazen (shikantaza) practice. I know that experiences in zazen are mostly passing moments, that I donīt have to pay that much attention to them, but I still want to ask about some of them.

    1. Sometimes in periods of sitting Iīve had some minor tension issues (mostly after a period of not sitting regularly) in the neck and top of the head. They usually disappear when I sit regularly. Is that usual?

    2. Often when I sit I get deeply still or relaxed, my breath gets very slow as my body goes to a kind of rest. Is that ok, or am I unintensionally (is that a correct word?) going too deep, getting too relaxed? Still aware, but maybe a bit kind of numb feeling in my body, like my body is resting and Iīm watching it rest. Next question is also related to this.

    3. As I stop engaging in both external and internal noice when sitting, it brings to mind something that John Daido Loori said (if I remember correctly), that when sitting zazen you will hear but not hear, see but not see. We are not engaging in thought, seing or sounds, we are dropping it all, yet being openly aware. Is it correct (in our shikantaza practice) to say that we are aware but not aware, as in giving attention but not engaging in anything?

    Janne

  2. #2

    Re: Zazen questions

    Hi Janne,

    I hope Taigu will comment as he has a way of expressing these things. But let me jump in ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Janne H

    1. Sometimes in periods of sitting Iīve had some minor tension issues (mostly after a period of not sitting regularly) in the neck and top of the head. They usually disappear when I sit regularly. Is that usual?
    It does not sound too serious, and just maybe the muscles are not used to sitting that way if you were not sitting regularly. If it goes away when sitting regularly ... then SIT REGULARLY! 8) As Taigu pointed out in his series of talks on sitting posture, the body is not stagnant during sitting ... and is always settling, sinking, changing. So, no need to hold the head and neck (or other parts of the body) rigidly in one position during the whole sitting, and one can adjust the head and neck slightly during the sitting.

    But in sitting, our bodies are always doing something, feeling something. We sit with all of it. Often, if your mind "starts to notice" something ... you actually create the problem. (In other words, by thinking and focusing on the head and neck, by thinking "my head feels stiff", one actually makes or magnifies the stiffness. When you stop thinking about it, it goes away or is just forgotten. See what happens if you just let it be, don't think about it. For example, if I say to you "think of your itchy tip of the nose" right now, good chance that you will start thinking of a part of the body usually forgotten, and have to scratch in a few seconds of thinking about it! ).

    2. Often when I sit I get deeply still or relaxed, my breath gets very slow as my body goes to a kind of rest. Is that ok, or am I unintensionally (is that a correct word?) going too deep, getting too relaxed? Still aware, but maybe a bit kind of numb feeling in my body, like my body is resting and Iīm watching it rest. Next question is also related to this.
    There is no "too still, too relaxed". That is a very important part of the trip. Sitting with those moments is vital. Sometimes my breath seems to slow to one breath a minute (I have never actually timed it ... but it feels so).

    But (in our way of sitting) neither do we run after that, try to force it, or feel "this is bad Zazen" if we do not feel still and relaxed during a sitting. We sit with "what is" ... which is a kind of "Still & Relaxed" (capitalized) not dependent even on feeling some way including "still and relaxed" during a particular moment.

    3. As I stop engaging in both external and internal noice when sitting, it brings to mind something that John Daido Loori said (if I remember correctly), that when sitting zazen you will hear but not hear, see but not see. We are not engaging in thought, seing or sounds, we are dropping it all, yet being openly aware. Is it correct (in our shikantaza practice) to say that we are aware but not aware, as in giving attention but not engaging in anything?

    Janne
    Yes. I often describe sitting that way too. And when we get tangled in trains of thought (about our stiff neck, breathing or anything else) we return to that 10,000 times and 10,000 times again.

    However, in our strange way of sitting
    , we drop the trains of thought (and return to the "aware but not aware") without thinking "trains of thought are bad Zazen". There is no "bad Zazen" ... even the "bad Zazen". That is very important.

    Time for me to dig this up again ... if you have not read it, please do ...

    viewtopic.php?p=22966#p22966

    Gassho, J

  3. #3
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Zazen questions

    Not much to add to Jundo's great answer.

    I know that experiences in zazen are mostly passing moments, that I donīt have to pay that much attention to them, but I still want to ask about some of them.


    just this : who in Janne still wants to ask about them?


    Tension? Who is creating tensions? Is it the Sitting and living Buddha or the collection of habits that we all think we are?

    Relaxed or not, not the point.

    Just do the thing, and do it again. Trust the process( gradual) and the actual realisation (you are already it).

    These things will pop up regularly. Let them pop and burst. Bubbles. It is fun but as soon as you tag or name and collect and check...The guy is back at it. Who?

    Who?... that was my first question.

    Gassho

    and thank you for your patience


    Taigu

  4. #4

    Re: Zazen questions

    Hi Janne!
    Jundo and Taigu just answered wonderfuly to your questions but I just wanted to add a little thought.
    One day when I was in a sesshin I asked exactly the same questions...
    And the teacher of the sesshin told me about an analogy... he said sometimes zazen is like watching tv, or more exactly watching your own tv show made by your ego!
    You don't have to judge what is happening on "the screen", just noticing it, being aware, being one with it... of course, I can't tell you exactly how he said it and my words aren't as correct as his words... but the whole idea was that "the screen" in zazen is everything your thoughts, feelings, sensations,... and nothing is permanent on that show... your whole body and mind is like that show ... there is no need to turn off the tv... just being aware of it in a very open way...

    Well, I'm probably out of the subject and I can't really transcribe what he said to me so in a way my reply is totally irrelevant ... but well... I tried ops:

    gassho,

    Luis/Jinyu
    ps: about the tension on your neck, I add the very same thing for month... but that was "my" fault... I just tried to imitate the posture as some elders showed it to me... and the whole thing about my neck issues was that I pulled my chin too much in... (is it correct?)

  5. #5
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Zazen questions

    Ah yes, the content of your mind is relatively unimportant. IMHO.

    Chet

  6. #6

    Re: Zazen questions

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Ah yes, the content of your mind is relatively unimportant.
    :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

  7. #7
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Zazen questions

    Indeed...

    By the way, in my limited experience, the pain in the neck is often a result of too much will and lack of fluidity in the spine. When the head is gently balanced on the torso, it will just sit with no extra tension in the neck muscles. The chin might give the impression it is tucked in, but trying to tuck the chin in first is to end gain. Kodo Sawaki suffered dreadfuly from the neck in the least years in Antaiji, and he had to receive massages...
    You are right, Luis, when we try to imitate the way people sit, it often happens. Our body is not theirs. And our understanding of what takes place is very subjective and we often neglect to understand what kind of dynamic generates the movement.

    gassho


    Taigu

  8. #8

    Re: Zazen questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Often, if your mind "starts to notice" something ... you actually create the problem. (In other words, by thinking and focusing on the head and neck, by thinking "my head feels stiff", one actually makes or magnifies the stiffness. When you stop thinking about it, it goes away or is just forgotten. See what happens if you just let it be, don't think about it. For example, if I say to you "think of your itchy tip of the nose" right now, good chance that you will start thinking of a part of the body usually forgotten, and have to scratch in a few seconds of thinking about it! ).
    Yes, I think I can agree with this, it is usually what I experience, the tension getting more intense when staying with it, so when it pops up Iīll just let it be. Noticing it and letting it go.

    But, then again, should there be any contemplation involved, I mean, like looking deeply into matters that are there, that we might be facing in our lives perhaps? Acknowledging the tension, holding it, embrasing it? Or are we already doing that, in an sense, when letting everything just be in our field of our attention, not redjecting nor holding on to it? Are we already contemplating it all, the big questions, life, death, suffering, emptiness, wholeness, whatsoeverness..., just by sitting?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    There is no "too still, too relaxed". That is a very important part of the trip. Sitting with those moments is vital. Sometimes my breath seems to slow to one breath a minute (I have never actually timed it ... but it feels so).
    Well, just checking, because it (the practice) often goes in that direction, the relaxing kind of thingy.

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu
    just this : who in Janne still wants to ask about them?
    No clever answers to this, I guess all answers can be thrown out the window.

    But of course, I am asking, the question is doing itīs thing, the universe is moving... no time, no space, coming from nowhere...

    ...donīt know, do you?

    Quote Originally Posted by Luis
    You don't have to judge what is happening on "the screen", just noticing it, being aware, being one with it... of course, I can't tell you exactly how he said it and my words aren't as correct as his words... but the whole idea was that "the screen" in zazen is everything your thoughts, feelings, sensations,... and nothing is permanent on that show... your whole body and mind is like that show ... there is no need to turn off the tv... just being aware of it in a very open way...
    Yes, thatīs how I kind of experience my sitting, sitting with whatever is there. But the thing with my tv is that there often are two characters taking up a lot of screen time, and that is mr tension and mrs relaxation. So, just checking if they are up to no good...

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Ah yes, the content of your mind is relatively unimportant. IMHO.
    Unimportant or not, probably not the point... or are you making one?

  9. #9
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Zazen questions

    Janne H,

    You answer is very eloquent...

    Yes, I think I can agree with this
    and the whole post is playing the same tune , a tune I know too well...


    As a good old ancestor used to say:

    The great way is nor difficult,
    just avoid picking up and choosing

    and please, don't dismiss mister Mouse so promptly, his point might be at the tip of your nose...Who knows? Who's nose? :lol: :wink: ...


    gassho


    Taigu

  10. #10

    Re: Zazen questions

    I didnīt mean to dismiss the comment, but I donīt get why throwing oneliners (no idea what it meant) at new folks here does any good.

    And about the eloguenty (?), Iīm not at all used to writing in english, maybe I give the wrong impression, I donīt know.

  11. #11
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Zazen questions

    There are turning words in Chet's one-liners. He's laying the whole thing out in front of you.

  12. #12

    Re: Zazen questions

    Don't take it wrong Janne...
    Words are sometimes misunderstood... but our path is beyond words!
    As Stephanie just said, I think Chet is pointing at an important thing... just drop it... There is no mr relaxation or mr tension... there is no tv and there is no ego... is there even a "Janne"?
    Hope you don't take me wrongly... :roll:

    Just keep sitting... I can't tell anything else...

    Gassho,
    Luis/Jinyu

  13. #13
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Zazen questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Janne H
    I didnīt mean to dismiss the comment, but I donīt get why throwing oneliners (no idea what it meant) at new folks here does any good.

    And about the eloguenty (?), Iīm not at all used to writing in english, maybe I give the wrong impression, I donīt know.
    I was actually commenting on Taigu's 'bubble's comment. The size, shape, color, etc of the 'bubbles' is unimportant.

    Chet

  14. #14

    Re: Zazen questions

    Ok, sorry about that.

    Now that I understand, point taken, Iīll just keep on sitting then (with whatever turns up).

    Gassho

  15. #15

    Re: Zazen questions

    This is a good post. Thank you for it. In fact, it goes right to a question that's come up for me in my practice lately too.

    I think there is this idea out there that you should notice your thoughts during zazen - that you should simply notice them and then let them pass. This is difficult though because I think it can mean different things to different people. For a beginner like me, it sometimes seems a little unhelpful to "notice" my thoughts while sitting. After all, I am already having the thought, so I must already be aware that I am having it. Stopping to notice it seems to add an extra step. Maybe this works better once you've practiced longer, but I find it more distracting than the thoughts themselves.

    I am more comfortable with Jundo's example of thoughts being like clouds. We don't stop to notice each cloud in the sky; they are just there.

    I am currently reading Charlotte Joko Beck's book Everyday Zen and in it she recommends actually describing each thought in detail (not just, "I am having a thought" and letting it go, but "I am having a thought about how great my dinner was yesterday"). I think her point is that you will get to know yourself and your thoughts better this way. That may be true, but I gave it a try and it made for a very busy sitting. It was like a running commentary on my thoughts with short breaks of quiet in between rather than a mostly quiet sitting with the occasional thought popping up.

    I think the way Jundo describes it makes more sense for me. It takes a little more patience maybe. I need to accept that I will likely have thoughts during zazen and that that's ok, but at least I am not engaging with them and worrying about what kind of thoughts they are (this goes to what Chet and Tiagu have said).

  16. #16

    Re: Zazen questions

    Hi Janne,

    Quote Originally Posted by Janne H

    But, then again, should there be any contemplation involved, I mean, like looking deeply into matters that are there, that we might be facing in our lives perhaps? Acknowledging the tension, holding it, embrasing it? Or are we already doing that, in an sense, when letting everything just be in our field of our attention, not redjecting nor holding on to it? Are we already contemplating it all, the big questions, life, death, suffering, emptiness, wholeness, whatsoeverness..., just by sitting?
    Do not think about or focus on particular matters and engage in contemplation of life problems during Zazen. In that way, some of those matters and problems may actually resolve themselves (or certainly come to be experienced in very different ways even if still there later).

    Just let thoughts and emotions pass, go. Let relaxation be relaxation, tension be tension ... and you may discover something beyond either of those.

    Yes, by "Just Sitting" we are very much dealing with the "big questions" of "life, death, suffering, emptiness, wholeness, whatsoeverness". Sometimes, the "way to deal" is not by a frontal attack!

    Quote Originally Posted by jgreerw
    For a beginner like me, it sometimes seems a little unhelpful to "notice" my thoughts while sitting. After all, I am already having the thought, so I must already be aware that I am having it. Stopping to notice it seems to add an extra step. Maybe this works better once you've practiced longer, but I find it more distracting than the thoughts themselves.

    I am more comfortable with Jundo's example of thoughts being like clouds. We don't stop to notice each cloud in the sky; they are just there.
    Yes, I would not use the word "notice" ... It is more just letting the clouds of thought and emotions go, letting them drift from mind. Try not to get tangled in trains of thought, stir up the thoughts (which means you may from time to time "notice" that you are daydreaming, lost in a train of thought or the like ... and then let that go). However, do not intentionally try to notice, seek out, label or the like. Just let go, "open the hand of thought" (as Uchiyama Roshi says) and let them naturally fall away.

    I am currently reading Charlotte Joko Beck's book Everyday Zen and in it she recommends actually describing each thought in detail (not just, "I am having a thought" and letting it go, but "I am having a thought about how great my dinner was yesterday"). I think her point is that you will get to know yourself and your thoughts better this way. That may be true, but I gave it a try and it made for a very busy sitting.
    This suggestion from Beck Roshi has come up as a subject from time to time. The best explanation I heard from someone in her lineage was that she has mixed a little Vipassana practice into here Shikantaza. It is not "standard Shikantaza", but something she came up with. NO LABELING PLEASE!

    Actually, when off the cushion ... in daily activities ... labeling IS a good practice. It brings insight into the theatre going on in our heads (now, I am momentarily feeling angry ... now, I am feeling jealousy ... etc.) BUT NOT DURING SHIKANTAZA PLEASE! Trying to do something like that "defeats" the purposeless purpose of Shikantaza Zazen.

    (The rest of that book is SUPERB, by the way, other than those one or two unusual points.)

    I need to accept that I will likely have thoughts during zazen and that that's ok, but at least I am not engaging with them and worrying about what kind of thoughts they are
    You got it, baby! Nothing "wrong" with the thoughts and emotions ... but let them go. Let the clouds of thought and emotion go, find the clear, open, spacious, boundless, illuminated blue sky behind them ... 10,000 times and 10,000 times again. No bad Zazen, whether blue clear skies or cloudy days.

    Gassho, Jundo

  17. #17

    Re: Zazen questions

    Thank you, Jundo. That suggestion from Everyday Zen seemed like it did not quite fit with what I have learned about shikantaza so far. Good to have it cleared up.

    Also, "open the hand of thought," that is a wonderful expression!

    Gassho,

    Jamie

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