I have been sitting in Burmese position throughout my Shikantaza practice (last three years or so). Only in the last two-three weeks have I been able to get both knees to the mat. I had done quite a bit of stretching (and yes forcing) to get to the point where I did not have to support my knees and thighs with cushions. As I have been a track cyclist for years, my thigh muscles are notoriously tight. After every workout on a bike the muscles that had stretched out on the mat would tighten right back up. I probably forced myself into this position a bit too quickly - after a morning sitting last Friday (2x30 minutes) with remarkably little fidgeting/adjusting, I noticed after some time that the inside of my knee was very painful. After some examination, it turns out my interior (or tibial) cruciate ligament has been strained. As a result, I have started sitting in Seiza - a position I could sit in without any cushions for years. This time around, I am using my zafu between my legs to provide a supporting platform.
I wanted to share a few observations regarding this change in position -
1) I realize how much pain I had been filtering out while sitting in Burmese. In Seiza, I am so comfortable I have noticed myself falling asleep multiple times. Pain had been an effective focal point for concentration! (kidding). As a result I do much less fidgeting and can settle my mind, and breathing down much more quickly.
2) The resulting mind traffic that I am witnessing is very interesting - as I had progressed in Burmese position I developed the notion that I had progressed in my practice - that it had become more authentic - and as a result of working on the posture felt in some way more connected to those who had gone before me.... a false mental construction I agree, but one that is pinging on me nonetheless.
3) Resulting from this is a feeling of weakness or lack of authenticity - by sitting in seiza (and with a zafu between my legs) I feel like a wimp - I have been used to training with pain in a number of sports for years but I am at a point where I feel I have to recognize the ravages of the years upon my joints. I am not used to being kind to my body (or myself) and it is hard to go easy and accept the new position.
4) I notice in becoming drowsy that I sway, and approach toppling over in this position - almost did a face plant last night (very amusing I must admit - these used to be the subject of bragadoccio in the pub after a day on the slopes - ah how times have changed) - I miss the stability of burmese position.... obviously I do not want to sleep through my zazen, so this is an opportunity to develop skills in awareness and presence - whether by counting breaths, or reciting lines from koans/sutras to focus myself. I had formerly used all the physical fidgeting to break the streams of thought that I would chase before recognition dawned...
I just wanted to share this development with you. My practice continues to change and evolve. Perhaps I had become attached to the posture as an object of practice and furthered my illusion of having attained some form of progress - when there is indeed nothing to be attained and the body is a transient phenomenon. Joints age and we change. I have a hard time with that.
If you have made it this far, thank you for your patience (no face plants on the keyboard please).