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Thread: Itchy nose, achy leg, earthquake ... when to move, when not?

  1. #1

    Itchy nose, achy leg, earthquake ... when to move, when not?

    Hi Guys,

    Here is my perspective on sitting with itchy noses, aching legs and backs, crawly spiders and such ...

    Let me mention first that one day I was sitting at Sojiji (head temple of Soto Zen in Japan) in a 150 year old wooden building, with rafters nibbled by termites and with an overly heavy roof, when a big earthquake hit ... the roof is swaying. Everyone but me was Japanese. I looked around to see if folks would run for the door ... nobody moved from Zazen or even looked around but me! There is a great cultural tendency in Japanese culture to just "bear up" with pain and disturbances, and I have rarely if ever seen an experienced Japanese sitter move, shift legs or scratch during Zazen. In fact, my Japanese dentist tells me that there are two main difference between his Western patients and Japanese patients: (1) Westerners ask a lot more questions about the dental procedure and everything else; (2) Westerners moan and scream much more easily. :shock:

    So, I have to balance my recommendations by taking into consideration what is just "Japanese culture", what is "Zen teachings", and what may be "BOTH"!

    Generally, our Way of Shikantaza Zazen is about "just sitting" with whatever is, just how it is. As in life-in-general, not every moment is peaches and cream, fun and games. So, it is wonderful Practice for us to sit with discomforts, pain, annoyances. We drop all thought of the words "discomfort", "pain", "annoyance", "like" "dislike" "good" "bad" ... and just sit with what is.

    On the other hand, the Buddha's way was never one of masochism or asceticism, complete denial of the body. In fact, ours is the Middle Way, the path of moderation in all things. Furthermore, we do not harm the body.

    Thus, my advice is to just "sit with" the itches, discomforts and spiders (unless a highly poisonous spider!) . Note it, then move back to open, spacious sitting. In fact, you will find that the more your mind fixates on it, and thinks about it, the more of a problem it becomes. By not thinking about it, the so-called "problem" may even fade away on its own, or not be experienced as a problem.

    But if you reach the point that there is truly the risk of harm to the body, then please give a small "Gassho" and discreetly and quietly change position (even do your Zazen standing or do Kinhin walking), or move the giant killer spider away.

    Furthermore, our Way is not about ALWAYS having discomfort, so if your legs or back hurt all the time, you may have to change your sitting position or wait for your legs and back to adjust. We do not sit with leg pain every day or most days.

    But, on the other-other hand, if you have a physical condition that means you ALWAYS have pain and there is absolutely no way to avoid that (for example, if you have arthritis that is always there), you just sit with that. You allow it, not thinking "good" or "bad".

    You have to decide for yourself when is the time to sit with the ache or spider, when is the time not to.

    Oh, and in case of earthquake ... I recommend "duck and cover" Zazen under a table, with one's Zafu placed over one's head! Notice the small prayer of "holding gratitude" at the end too.



    Gassho, Jundo

    PS- Wonderful true story about the Dali Lama and a mosquito, ...

    Last edited by Jundo; 04-13-2013 at 03:17 AM.

  2. #2

    Re: Itchy nose, achy leg, earthquake ... when to move, when not?

    I once heard a monk give a talk about this topic. she said that the reason Zen practice places such a strong emphasis on not moving is because, body and mind are one. If the body isn't still, the mind can't be still. if the mind isn't still the body can't be still. So by stilling the body we can help still the mind.

    But of course all in moderation. If I was doing zazen in the middle of an earthquake, I would very mindfully; just run. no thinking needed there; just fast running and hiding.

    Gassho

    Rafael

    P.S
    here is the video about the Dalai Lama and the Mosquito. =)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W083nSzx1Rc[/video]]

  3. #3

    Re: Itchy nose, achy leg, earthquake ... when to move, when not?

    Thanks for this post, Jundo. I am a chronic itcher (probably from allowing my beard to grow in recently ). I do tend to readjust my posture over a long sit; but i wonder if that's a byproduct of my preferred sitting style (seiza on a buckwheat zafu turned on its end).

    In my mind, part of me being a student is working with the itches and the adjustments the same way I work with thoughts coming into my head and allowing them to move out effortlessly. At least that's why I hope I am to do.

  4. #4

    Re: Itchy nose, achy leg, earthquake ... when to move, when not?

    Hi!
    Quote Originally Posted by unofficialsamurai
    So by stilling the body we can help still the mind.
    Quote Originally Posted by mcurtiss
    working with the itches and the adjustments the same way I work with thoughts coming into my head and allowing them to move out effortlessly
    You lovely said it all! ;o)
    Stillness can be important, sometimes being aware of our stillness, silence and open-awareness is a great help during zazen. But it can also be a trick, something we use or play with instead of "doing (or non doing) the real thing".
    Remaining in open-awareness is, as we all know, fascinating and boring at the same time (what a blend!) but this effortless practice is our practice. And to say the truth, I'm a kind of master for "playing during zazen". I can do this with everything my breath, body sensations, thoughts, .... and than suddenly I realize what I'm doing... And in these cases returning gently to this open-awareness is not so easy...
    When it is not possible I just practice anapanasati (breath following meditation). Bu it isn't a panacea!
    We can see toys everywhere, it is not about the practice, it is about what we do with it!

    Sorry, I'm way out of the subject again...
    humble gassho,
    Jinyu

  5. #5

    Re: Itchy nose, achy leg, earthquake ... when to move, when not?

    Sometimes my legs fall asleep, but I usually don't notice it before I end Zazen.
    If I itch somewhere, it's always in the beginning, when I haven't calmed my mind yet after taking the position. If I have a lot of distracting sensations, I sometimes start by focusing on my breath and after a short while these sensations disappear.
    I get some discomfort in my legs and hips from the lotus position. At first it's from the stretched muscles. This discomfort usually goes away when I get that feeling of wearing a heavy armor and the body relaxes. After that I can sit for a while before I get a new feeling of discomfort, this time from the knees (no zabuton) or from the pressure from one shin against the other or from the ankle of my bottom leg. If the sky is clear of clouds and no thought arise, I sometimes sit a little too long and the pain can get a little too intense when I get up from sitting. If the sky is full of clouds, I notice this pain earlier and end Zazen.
    I don't think voluntarily toughing it out is very constructive. It might give you some discipline, and maybe a few injuries, but it's hardly Shikantaza. Personally I don't like moving during Zazen. After moving it feels like I have to start all over again, so I usually just end Zazen instead and get up. If I feel like sitting more I instead try to find another time during the day. Sometimes I sit 20 minutes, sometimes 40 minutes.

  6. #6

    Re: Itchy nose, achy leg, earthquake ... when to move, when not?

    Quote Originally Posted by Omoi Otoshi
    After moving it feels like I have to start all over again, so I usually just end Zazen instead and get up.
    Shikantaza is always beginning anew, always starting over. So, where do you get up to go?

    Gassho, J

  7. #7

    Re: Itchy nose, achy leg, earthquake ... when to move, when not?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Shikantaza is always beginning anew, always starting over. So, where do you get up to go?
    Yes, very true! Thank you for your answer.
    The last sentences were written in a hurry, because my wife wanted the computer!

    What I meant to say is that I prefer not to move during Zazen, since most discomforts and sensations go away by themselves when you let them go, just like thoughts. So I don't see the point of moving if you have no reason to. I try to notice the sensation and then return my focus to nothing and everything again, beginning anew, always starting over as you say.

    Lets say it's warm where we sit. If I move when I notice a discomfort in my legs, then might I not keep a glass of water beside me and take a sip when I feel too thirsty?

    What I mean is that we may need to decide whether the discomfort we're feeling is just a cloud of the mind, or an important signal from the body that we need to address. The reason why I get up is that by the time I get what I call the real warning signals, I have already sat for at least 20 minutes, usually 30 minutes, and I don't find it important to switch my legs to sit 5 minutes longer. I see for myself a small risk that moving during Zazen could develop into a bad habit if I'm not careful. When the mind gets restless, the body gets restless and I feel discomfort. I move and when I do, my mind loses its focus and gets restless. And I may get into a bad circle of moving and causing more distraction.

    If I get intensive pain early, I must have screwed up my Zazen position badly and then I need to make major adjustments and not just switch legs. Others may have arthritis, back pains, knee injuries or whatever and in that case, moving could be crucial to avoid injury. But so far I'm in one piece and the discomfort I experience is mostly my mind looking for something more interesting to do than staring into a wall...

    Oh, and I get up to go continue the dance show, surround myself with illusions once again and try to let life manifest life in my ordinary life!

  8. #8
    Thanks for this Jundo ... the funny thing that happens to me is I can sit without any problems, but after 30 mins my right leg always goes to sleep. Then I practice the one foot kinhin.



    If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?
    ~ Dogen Zenji

  9. #9
    Senior Member murasaki's Avatar
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    I have been extremely fidgety in my zazen recently. I know if I try to stop it, or ignore it,I will give up. So I have been indulging in scratching most of my itches and letting myself fidget and resettle so I at least don't have to abandon the sitting altogether. It wasn't always this bad, just a few itches here and there. I'm a bit of a mess lately...

    Gassho
    Julia
    "The Girl Dragon Demon", the random Buddhist name generator calls me....you have been warned.

    Feed your good wolf.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Joyo's Avatar
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    Thank you, for this, Jundo. Exactly what I needed to hear, and what I need to practice today.

    Gassho,
    Joyo

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