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Thread: A newbie's first steps

  1. #1

    A newbie's first steps

    I'm writing this entry, to receive feedback and thoughts from the Treeleaf Sangha, but also for the newbie who had the good fortune of stumbling onto this site...like me, in search of "something".

    I've gone through a religious identity crisis my entire life. My parents are devout Buddhists (Vietnamese Theravada/Zen), and particularly fond of Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings on mindfulness and kindness. I was never engaged though, except a brief study into Tibetan Buddhism years ago. I attended a Catholic elementary/junior high school where I suffer(ed) the inevitable Catholic Guilt that one hears about; having feelings of overwhelming guilt when questioning or acting in any way against the Faith. This constant friction between two worlds was a problem.

    I found Treeleaf, and began reading Jundo's blog entries and watching his & Taigu's videos. Soto Zen and Shikantaza sounded very interesting. I then experienced a "confused" phase as I began wondering, "Why do I have so many questions when all I read are comments on "stillness" and "it just is"? The confusion was further compounded (completely unintentional!) by the more senior members that had a heavy philosophical bent to their comments. My mind was spinning. I was confused and I wrote Jundo asking for guidance. I hated that I felt "not in control" of this learning process.

    I then began sitting. Twice a day. 20 minutes in the morning before work, and 30 in the evening (the .mp3 Timer is a treasure installed on my blackberry) with an hour on Saturday for Jundo's webcast. At first, it was difficult. Every minute felt like an eternity, thoughts were rushing in and out. Still, I continued to just sit.

    With more practice, I began realizing that there isn't anything "to get". Just sitting is unto itself the practice. My striving for something was the root of my problem. Deep down, my goals of (tongue and cheek) developing a sixth "holy" sense, or an enlightenment of some sort would never be realized. I accepted this and moved beyond it.

    Some days, Zazen is easier then others. I'm able to sit, just be, and it truly is a blissful state. Other days, it's not so easy. But, I continue to just sit and do my best to not walk away judging. Though some days are more difficult, those days are equally as perfect as the great ones, also. The act of sitting, and allowing my mind to just..let...go is truly wonderful (I can't seem to articulate this feeling into words)

    Regarding "everyday" benefits, Zazen has calmed me down tremendously. It's a marked difference. My work and city are stressful, my mind was -always- racing..to this, or that..to the next meeting, to the next bill to pay, to my blackberry. I would develop headaches and not understand why. I've taken sleeping pills for the past 8 years because I was unable to fall asleep with my mind fixated on thoughts and constantly "on".

    I no longer need sleeping pills any longer. My sleep is deeper then ever before. I'm more calm during the day and evening, less prone to emotional mood swings by daily events, and I find that I have greater mind equanimity. I do note that by the evening, my mind has begun to get "wired" and the evening Zazen resets it back into a calming and soothing state.

    Not sure if this will help any other newbies out there, but I've stopped reading Buddhist books outside of the Soto Zen/Shikantaza school...for now. I found that having too much information brought me away from Zazen, and perhaps tantalized me with a "coolness" factor that quite frankly, I don't need. Zazen is boring, it's blissful, it's everything. I'm slowly, but surely, learning this.

    Gassho,

    Lu

  2. #2

    Re: A newbie's first steps

    Quote Originally Posted by sittingzen
    Zazen is boring, it's blissful, it's everything.
    You just said it!
    Sometimes readings sutras or the shobogenzo helps to keep our daily practice of zazen. One day it's easy, one day it's hell.
    But sometimes even those lectures are too much, when we, at least I, intellectualized too much, it is easier to just "sit with the sitting", just let zazen be zazen.
    Sometimes it is a good thing to read teachings from other Buddhist traditions, sometimes it is a "confusing hell" , ideas, thoughts and concepts everywhere and peace nowhere...

    Thank you for this thread!

    gassho,
    jinyu

  3. #3

    Re: A newbie's first steps

    Hello Luis!

    I love to read, and love to over-analyze. A blessing, and a hindrance at times. It is what it is, although at this stage, I'm currently focused on Zazen, and readings to supplement Shikantaza. Anything outside of that scope might confuse me through over-analysis or "am I missing something not practicing it this way?!

  4. #4
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: A newbie's first steps

    Regarding talks and books, there are at least two very different kinds. One kind is the 'inspiring' kind - the kind that get you a little 'psyched up' for practice and the commitment it really is. We'd all like to tink (maybe?) that it's all easy to 'just sit', but sometimes it's a real chore to get to the cushion. Sometimes it even STAYS a chore while sitting. This is not unusual - it's not a sign that you're 'doing it wrong'. So, sometimes we need encouragement..but it should always be 'just enough' encouragement. Otherwise, it sets up expectations that can foster resentment, self-loathing, and a feeling of constant 'remedialism'.

    The other kinds of talks are more functional. I'm a way, they work at odds (but not really at odds) with the encouraging talks. They speak of goal-lessness. They bat away the mind's constant attempt to cling.

    In my experience watching myself and others on this path, I can see how this can feel like a real whiplash. There is sometimes a lot of 'but wait, you (or this other teacher) said THIS before and now you're saying THAT!'. There's an intrinsic desire to reconcile these two different modes - and the dissonance caused can be cacophanous. But, this is what normal minds do with a lot of our life - there's a constant struggle to create order out of the wonderful 'mess of life'. Zen practice may bring the dissonance into stark relief, but it's always there. We love our girl/boy/kid/job/etc., BUT....BUT...

    How is it that these differing views can both be true? But they are. And they aren't, since any view is constructed. Shikantaza is at least partly about dropping the need to create a cohesive view or construction. When you do this, you may find that it's all really quite simple, that all these views only compete when clung to - when related to a self thy suspiciously can never really be pinned down. For a lot of people, just the realization that reality doesn't NEED to be pinned down is the first 'ah-ha!' moment of Zen.

    So keep sitting. The ground is so vast, you can't fall off.

    Chet

  5. #5

    Re: A newbie's first steps

    Quote Originally Posted by sittingzen
    With more practice, I began realizing that there isn't anything "to get". Just sitting is unto itself the practice. My striving for something was the root of my problem. Deep down, my goals of (tongue and cheek) developing a sixth "holy" sense, or an enlightenment of some sort would never be realized. I accepted this and moved beyond it.

    Some days, Zazen is easier then others. I'm able to sit, just be, and it truly is a blissful state. Other days, it's not so easy. But, I continue to just sit and do my best to not walk away judging. Though some days are more difficult, those days are equally as perfect as the great ones, also. The act of sitting, and allowing my mind to just..let...go is truly wonderful (I can't seem to articulate this feeling into words)

    Sounds like a sixth "holy" sense to me!



    Gassho, J

    PS - It is a good time to recall that it is human to be sometimes "frazzled" ... even if you have been sat by Zazen for 50 years. There is no "bad Zazen" ... even the bad Zazen ... (a philosophy that is just all of life, all Shikantaza) ...

    Time to repost this ... please have a look ...

    SPECIAL REPOST: "Right" Zazen and "Wrong" Zazen

    viewtopic.php?p=22966#p22966

    PPS - Please do learn from Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings. He brings so much gentleness, loving kindness and grandmotherly heart into this practice, which can counterbalance the hard "Samurai" sometimes found in Japanese Zen.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Silva's Avatar
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    Re: A newbie's first steps

    So keep sitting. The ground is so vast, you can't fall off.
    Excellent!

  7. #7
    Senior Member Silva's Avatar
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    Re: A newbie's first steps

    Finding this Sangha has been like finding the right pair of shoes to go on a long difficult hike.
    As Iv'e been practicing on my own Iv'e wasted a lot of time and unneccessary pain in "uncomfortable shoes".
    Just to sit and my everyday life as a practice and maybe a little haiku.
    Books have to be practical, useful , inspiring, I agree, visual, I'm an artist so I need to visualize to understand.
    I'm not intellectual so thinking clogs up my brain and I get stuck. I have to test what I read in everyday life in order either to assimilate, reject or put aside for later.
    Just sitting is the best though,
    it's opens the door to immediate experience

    gassho

    Silva

  8. #8

    Re: A newbie's first steps

    Hello all,

    I have very little to add other than to remind myself how enthusiastic I'd been about many practices I discovered way back when. All I am trying to say is that I am truly glad that people find Treeleaf and wish to stay around for longer.

    Just a word of advice, do not be alarmed when the first wave of enthusiasm slowly turns into a boring chore. Give it a couple of years and taste the sweet dew of Zazen again and again, though there are days and weeks when the sweetness seems gone and all you can find is a stale aftertase in your mouth. The original sweetness is intimately present even in the bile and vomit.

    Putting single malt whiskey into an old sherry barrel must be an exciting feeling. Drinking a mature whiskey is exciting as well (some like 10, 12 or 25 year old ones...Highland Park reminds me of my honeymoon...Laphroaig of gunpowder and turf in my throat). Waiting for the whiskey to mature can be terribly boring however, other times it will be wonderful. It's not "just" maturing, however. The whole universe lets it ripen. Every step a complete step. Not alone, not hindered.

    Maybe this is your barrel, maybe it won't be in a few years time. Who knows? WHO knows. You are welcome to sip the produce of this Zen distillery again and again and again.
    I am glad you are all here.

    Gassho,

    Hans

  9. #9
    Senior Member bayamo's Avatar
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    Re: A newbie's first steps

    Quote Originally Posted by sittingzen
    Hello Luis!

    I love to read, and love to over-analyze. A blessing, and a hindrance at times. It is what it is, although at this stage, I'm currently focused on Zazen, and readings to supplement Shikantaza. Anything outside of that scope might confuse me through over-analysis or "am I missing something not practicing it this way?!
    my twin brother from a different mother...

    if you search the posts i made, i am guilty of the same thing!! i just made a similar comment on this thread:
    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2519

    Which I called "Fighting the 'am I doing this correctly' feeling"
    there is a phrase: paralysis by analysis which applies to you and i...
    gassho, best of luck

  10. #10

    Re: A newbie's first steps

    Quote Originally Posted by Hans
    Just a word of advice, do not be alarmed when the first wave of enthusiasm slowly turns into a boring chore. Give it a couple of years and taste the sweet dew of Zazen again and again, though there are days and weeks when the sweetness seems gone and all you can find is a stale aftertase in your mouth. The original sweetness is intimately present even in the bile and vomit.
    Well, that may be a bit much. Boring sometimes, sure. Losing the honeymoon glow and, with time, turning into a more profound relationship ... like a marriage of many years. Sure.

    But, to my recollection, ZAZEN HAS YET TO CAUSE ME TO THROW UP! :shock:

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