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Thread: Zen Inertia

  1. #1
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Zen Inertia

    Inertia is the tendency of a body in motion to stay in motion and the tendency of a body at rest to stay at rest. In other words, something moving takes a while to slow down and stop, and something stopped takes a bit to get moving. So I'm going to define zen inertia as when delusions (in motion) tend to stay delusions even though we see through them, and conversely, when we get those glimpses of enlightenment (put zen equivalent of at rest here) it takes a while for us to get moving and acting on that enlightenment. I think a lot of us in zen tend to think that once we let go of something there will be some sort of quick change, but when it doesn't happen we get discouraged. We're conditioned that way. But it seems to me there is not enough talk about this. Shall we?

    This morning I got a pretty big insight into a somewhat dysfunctional behavior in my life. It's specifics are not important here, but what is important is that right afterwards I went right back to my usual delusional behavior. I saw it now as more empty than ever, but inertia kept it going. It will probably stop at some point because I see through it now, but in the mean time it goes on via inertia.

    Zen seems filled with talks of lightning strikes of insight or similar such sudden metaphors, but there is no talk about how long it takes for that train to slow down type metaphors. Or is there? Am I missing it? Maybe it's there but not emphasized because we are so conditioned for the sudden. Maybe we wouldn't practice so hard and often if we knew that any results would be so long in coming (and of course practicing for results is its own delusion). Maybe we need to delude ourselves to the prospect of sudden in order to keep going with the gradual nature of life.

    I think it might be helpful for people to know that sudden changes of thoughts and behaviors are rare, that our mind is more like a giant battleship that takes a while to turn than an agile speedboat that can turn on a dime. Just because you had a sudden kensho doesn't mean that your life is suddenly all better. Just because you get a glimpse behind the curtain doesn't mean you are suddenly a master of all the inner secrets of the universe. Just because you've seen the inner workings of clock does not suddenly mean you are a master of time. If any of these things are to happen at all, it all takes time.

    Back to my morning insight for a bit. At one level nothing has changed at all, because I'm just as dysfunctional as before. But at a deeper level everything has changed because my perspective has changed. Both statements are equally true. So I can see the course my battleship needs to take now, but getting this sucker turned that way will take a while. And that's just one insight! Considering the mess that is the rest of my life makes it seem like a whole fleet of battleships :shock:

    PS: I just thought of one slow metaphor that is common, and that is how we talk about taking a step along the Path.

  2. #2
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    PPS: I just remembered some behavioral psychology that probably applies here. An extinction burst is when you do a behavior a lot because you want that old reinforcement just before stopping it altogether because you no longer get any reinforcement. For example, your reinforcement for flipping a light switch is the light turning on, but when you flip that switch and no light comes on you do an extinction burst of flipping it multiple times as if that will somehow make the light come on.

    Applying that here, if you gain insight into the emptiness of some behavior, thus taking away its delusional reinforcer, you do it a lot hoping for that old reinforcer's return before finally stopping when it no longer happens because you've seen through the delusional process.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Heisoku's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    Hi Al
    I think you are onto something here. I only notice any changes by reflecting back months or years. I think the light flipping analogy describes a lot of stress based reactivity. It@s only in zazen that we can slow reduce and expand across those 'flipping' reactions.
    My own recent experiences have been one of a kind of expansion of relaxation of my mind. I'm finding that I am doing more a lot easier than I was this time last year. It has something to do with the recent book club readings about mind which kind of started just before Christmas but when any change took place I couldn't say.
    I'm just amazed at this new freedom of worry, which was my usual conditioned response to excess or unexpected increases in workload. Now I am in a really calm place where life and me seem to just be and I do things when they arise or I manage to place a relaxed prioritisation on them.
    It's a nice change but as you say it's just
    at a deeper level everything has changed because my perspective has changed.
    I am finding that sitting isn't special or casual either it's a necessary part of my routine even if I can only sit for 10mins in the morning that little window keeps the light shining in and it keeps the penetration alive. As for inertia I think this old boulder of a head of mine will take a few more years yet to still!!! But that's why it's all good practice..or did someone already say that?

    Thanks for sharing that insight Al.

  4. #4

    Re: Zen Inertia

    Drops of rain will eventually wear away a great rock. So will a sudden earthquake which cracks it in two. For a time, the rock resists ... but then it is no more, either gradual or sudden.

    Yes, this practice is something that one realizes by looking back down the path from which we came, at how one would tend to be, tend to react and perceive this life/self/world a year or years ago. Now, I look back at approaching 30 years of this Path. Many lifetimes of walking ahead perhaps, but always arriving in each timeless step by step. Along the way, many great stones have been cracked right in half to make the path open and free.

    Something like that (going hiking today in the woods)

    Gassho, J

  5. #5
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    Oh Jundo, so much I wanted and expected your words on this. Itís a mountain turns into valleys kind of day. Or such is that path, step-by-step, turn-by-turn, only to fall or arise at the end. I feel like the rain has eroded the rock and the earthquake then set it asunder. Both one and the other. I've been working on this for years, but today it broke free. Honestly, it was troubling, my earth shook, but once I settled, which took a while, I came to see the greater horizon.

    Oh Nigel, you are too generous. I think You are the one on to something. I turn the wheel of this dharma battleship life and it takes some time before I see the results, the change in my lifeís course. But what you made me realize is that my delusions are a fleet of battleships and they have been turning for quite some time.

    Taking the Jukai vows is a turn of the mind battleship wheel and slowly one delusion goes away and then another, but they are not a unified fleet. No, life's battleships are a cacophony of speedboats that go everywhere where we desire, and so we get the ever-distant nirvana and that search becomes samsara, but there is no mountain or river or horizon. If only we can be more aware of how we run around in circles of all that. Oh wait, we can, and it's called zazen.

    Sorry, I feel more but am lost. Just this was hard.

  6. #6

    Re: Zen Inertia

    I like your inertia metaphor, and I can say I have witnessed this myself. I see through many of my foolish behaviors now, but have not reached a point where I can stop. I might be in the middle of such activity and realize, "hey, look at yourself!" But then "the battleship" keeps right on cruising.

    Maybe waiting for an iceberg.

    -Matt

  7. #7

    Re: Zen Inertia

    We are not perfect. We are creatures of habit. This practice is the habit of getting back on the track after being derailed by an earthquake or a smoke alarm in the middle of the night or whatever you think is true. Just when I think I've seen it all, this life totally amazes me. So I'll just keep doing it.

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    Senior Member Heisoku's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    Thank you Al and Jundo for widening the cracks. I quite like slow erosion rather than abrupt openings but that is my natural habit and Rich like you, just keeping doing it is what amazes me! You don't need to wait Matt you already are!

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    Senior Member Heisoku's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    I hope you enjoy the walk in the woods Jundo.

  10. #10

    Re: Zen Inertia

    The results of this practice are definitely best seen in hindsight, because we wholly become what we are becoming as we become it. The difference is easier to see in the distance from where you started. Yes, we often have this 'inertia' of habit that drives us, even though we know the result will be the same as it always is following the same old delusion to it's end. We are attached to that 'sameness' that sense of order that comes from well worn habits. It is jumping off the pole that scares us, facing the Path less traveled.

    Just like sitting is nothing special anymore, that it is a natural part of our lives, it is the same with the rock split by rain or earthquake. Enlightenment might just be "nothing special", just rain slowly dissolving the rock of delusion and attachment. Or, even though the sheer power of and earthquake is extraordinary for those who haven't felt one before, it is still a natural occurrence, a part of the cycle of the earth. One day, as we pass, maybe enlightenment is simply being able to see that the rock is split.

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    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    Allow me to over think this some more by applying chaos theory here. You are going happily (or not) along with your delusion and its resulting dysfunctional behavior, then one day BOOM, you have a crystal clear insight into that delusion and how you can live so much better without its resulting dysfunctional behavior. You get a powerful glimpse of peaceful reality free of that delusion. This is the bifurcation point, the flash of lightning that sets the rock asunder (which may have been weakened from a steady stream of zazen erosion). Chaos ensues, crazy disorganization of the ego (which you can get an example of in the last paragraph of my previous post). Slowly things begin to calm down as you begin to act in accordance with that flash of insight. This is the mind as battleship slowly turning.* Eventually, order is restored and you are now on that new and less dysfunctional course (note how it is not a perfect course free of all delusion, just the one clarification). Then repeat.

    In short, any great (or small) insight is just a step in the process of zen and life's inertia. It is an important step, but that sudden (or gradual) awareness needs to be followed up with action, some sort of behavior in accordance with that insight. Ultimately, insight without action is worthless.

    *(One of these days I will take action about all my mixed metaphors, but I like them, delusional as that liking may be.)

  12. #12

    Re: Zen Inertia

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    Ultimately, insight without action is worthless.
    This I agree with wholeheartedly. Ultimately realization does nothing to benefit all beings unless the one who attained that realization acts from that place. Of course, it can also be said that the insight is itself action, since one who attains insight can not but help to act in concert with it.

    I was thinking of this along with the metaphor of the rock split by rain, earthquake, or lightning, and the concept of "enlightenment" or realization or insight or however we term it. I think that perhaps once we have come to realize the true dharma, we can look at a rock so split and marvel at how long it took to create that rock, what great and mystifying forces must have been at work on it to split it so suddenly, or perhaps so gently that the eye couldn't even tell what was happening. To see a split rock as a thing containing and embodying great beauty and power, while at the same time seeing it as "just a split rock", and at the same time realizing that the rock and you are not separate, that the split between the two halves is not a division, but a place where something else has come to fill the "void". Such is the Middle Way.

    So perhaps the inertia is really just a gradual "wearing away" of the stone itself.

  13. #13
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    Being prisoner of bad habits and trying to break them is one of the hardest part of being a Buddhist. With thinking and sitting you realize what's wrong, we are willing to change, but when real life comes like a steam roller, all the good intentions fall.

    I think the secret to make good habits or destroying old ones is by being conscious of what we do. After a long way of trying I am starting to being mindful of a lot of stuff in my own life and that's thanks to zazen.

    Zen gives us a "sit and be still" approach to problems and bad habits. But it also creates a space in our minds where this realizations get processed and after a while, like the rock against a drops of water, we begin to change. It's a slow process, but a beautiful one.

    What a great thread. Thanks all.

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    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    To see a split rock as a thing containing and embodying great beauty and power, while at the same time seeing it as "just a split rock", and at the same time realizing that the rock and you are not separate, that the split between the two halves is not a division, but a place where something else has come to fill the "void". Such is the Middle Way.
    Yes, exactly. I would only add that it takes time to fill that "void," and those efforts to fill it are our practice off the cushion as we try to live up to what we discover on the cushion.

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    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    There is a small slip of paper on the shelf by the clock which ticks while I sit zazen. To be truthful, I have no recollection of how it got there but, somehow this thread has drawn attention to it.
    It reads;

    "As long as you are subject
    To a life bound by force of habit,
    You are not free from the
    Burden of the body."
    - Kuei-Shan (771-854)

  16. #16

    Re: Zen Inertia

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    Yes, exactly. I would only add that it takes time to fill that "void," and those efforts to fill it are our practice off the cushion as we try to live up to what we discover on the cushion.

    Perhaps, then, the inertia is necessary. Maybe we need the gradual alignment in order to fully experience it. It seems to me, especially after this thread, that maybe the idea of a sudden "kensho" experience would leave out the multitude of degrees of experience that this gradual 'inertia' or 'mind as battleship turning' would give us.

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    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    I received a sudden jolt forty-two years ago, under a build up of stress. Back then it was explained as an unusual altered state that could hold one in good stead if and when you returned. The jolt was a sudden letting go followed by a night of dreams that took me back over every experience up to that moment; a fascinating and scary night. I returned to "normal" after a few days and the inertia kicked back in. It's taken at least this forty years for the pieces to begin to fall into place and I don't ever expect for it to end. If that had happened today i think the psychiatric response would be much different, as I believe we have learned tremendous amount of how the brain operates since then.

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    Senior Member Heisoku's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    It seems to me, especially after this thread, that maybe the idea of a sudden "kensho" experience would leave out the multitude of degrees of experience that this gradual 'inertia' or 'mind as battleship turning' would give us.
    Sudden and gradual are temporal....perhaps that which is beyond sudden and gradual is the frictionless, inertia free-dom. And since all reactions to either are just phenomena, where does the battleship turn or turn in to?

    Come on Al mix some more metaphors into this!!! :twisted:

  19. #19
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    I will take up Nigel's mixed metaphor challenge.

    As the dharma wheel turns it picks up speed, but do our other gears ever grind to a halt? Or do we become One Body?
    Yes :mrgreen:

    (It's a serious Q/A that I admit to having fun with :wink: )

  20. #20

    Re: Zen Inertia

    The Wheel of the Dharma turns as it turns, the hem of my robe merely caught on a spoke.

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    Senior Member Heisoku's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    Good one Al and Heitetsu...here's my effort..

    The Dharma Wheel turns, freewheeling into a freewheeling universe, but who moves?

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    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    It appears this thread has created its own metaphorical inertia :lol:
    Oh, where will it end?

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    Senior Member Heisoku's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia


  24. #24
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    MIxed metaphors seem right at home in zen, don't they? Very zennie, they are.

    But seriously,
    As the dharma wheel turns it picks up speed, but do our other gears ever grind to a halt? Or do we become One Body?
    I feel there are two inertial processes going on in us zennists. First, as we progress along the Way the dharma wheel picks up speed. We gather momentum, the inertia of a "non-self" body in motion wanting to stay in motion. But, second, we also have a "self" that has probably been around a lot longer than our dharma wheel and thus has lots more momentum and inertial desire to stay in motion. To try and make things clearer, let's call this inertial self "samsara" and give him gears instead of a dharma wheel. So, at some point, if you practice long enough and diligently enough, the dharma wheel force will begin to be stronger than the force of samsara's gears. But do samsara's gears ever grind to a halt? Maybe not, but they do slow down. More importantly, there is no need for those gears to stop because we are One Body where far beyond delusion nirvana is already here. But it takes many trials for us to truly learn that and live within that knowledge, just as it took many trials (lessons) before the dharma wheel overtook samsara gears.

    Personally, the more I practice the more good days I have than bad. Though bad days still happen, the dharma wheel momentum is clearly outpacing samsara's gears. As for the wholeness of the One Body, it is getting clearer all the time as the dharma wheel picks up speed. And somewhere in all that space/time is where I sit....

  25. #25
    Senior Member Heisoku's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    Al in this analogy would the synchromesh be the 5 skandas?

    But do samsara's gears ever grind to a halt?
    Would that be only when the synchromesh becomes disfunctional or with no synchromesh? Or does a gear change happen? One that is too subtle for us to first recognise? One that reprogrammesthe synchromesh to make the gears and wheel move more harmoniously?

    But at a deeper level everything has changed because my perspective has changed.
    Maybe you have shifted into a more subtle gear ratio?

    Maybe enlightenment is a continuous refinement of this harmony rather than a single event producing a constant state. Perhaps the natural harmonious adjustment to flux is the enlightenment within since we all have to produce our own gear shifts and harmonious adjustments?

    I'm riding the clutch on my car at the moment so every drive is a continuous copnstant stream of adjustments? Do I mind..well it's getting really boring but it's finding time to get to the garage.. a bit like some days when the zafu is far from top priority!
    I will be on one tomorrow morning!!
    Thanks Al for this stimulus!

  26. #26
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    :? Oh NIgel, you English and your English. I had to look up synchromesh :? But I'm good to go now...

    I'm not sure that five gears corresponding to speed also correspond to different phenomenon, though it does seem sort of close. Maybe you can clarify that a bit more. I suppose it could, but that's not how I see it or was trying to explain it. I was trying to keep it simple ( :shock: ) and relate life to momentum, consisting of force, mass, and that sort of thing. But I think you gave me a new twist on an old Jundo analogy, and I will try hard not to mix my metaphors here.

    Our "self" creates lots of force and mass and momentum, and thus an "I" gets created. The older you get the greater that force and mass and momentum can become. Then one day you encounter Mount Zen (insert dramatic music here). Curious, self-involved, and desirous (perhaps to the point of desperation), you decide to climb this mountain. You then use all that force and mass and momentous self to try and climb that mountain, but it is really steep so you have to keep downshifting those gears (synchromesh ) in order to make any progress. Your self finds this very frustrating. Plus, it's a very cloudy mountain, so you don't ever get a very good view of the top, though you have heard GREAT things about it. Unfortunately, this combination of fog and steep climb that requires tremendous effort combined with a promise of GREATNESS at the top just means you expend more of your self to try and get there. You begin to realize that the mountain has its own force, mass, and momentum. Mount Zen does not give up easy. (Though it could just as easily be a river valley you climb down, for in the fog who knows where you are going or what is up and down?)

    You climb and climb and then you suddenly level out and hit a downslope. "WOW! Yeah! WooHoo!!" you exclaim. The work is suddenly easy and clear, so you think you are done. Naturally, you coast; you relax all your gears. The mountain lets up on you, and for a moment you can see through the fog, or so it seems. This is it! I reached the top, you think. But as you celebrate you look around and notice that you can't really see any actual top of the mountain, just more trail. You get confused. Wait a minute, you say to your self, "I thought this was it. What's this? There's more to go? Shit! Damn! What was the f*&% point of this damn climb anyway!" Chaos hits you. The mountain has its way with you for a while. Maybe you say the hell with it and ride back down, or maybe you rest a while and then say, "Hmm, I like this climb. I think I'll try some more. It's been a hell of a ride but I came this far so I may as well go further. I am beginning to like this mountain. I am getting the feel of it. I get the idea that it has more to offer than just this supposedly great view at the top."

    Repeat ad infinitum...

    What gets lost in all this is that you (self) and the mountain (samsara) are ONE. There is no mountain without a rider to climb it, nor is there any one without a mountain to climb. The mountain is just as empty as the self that climbs it; each depends on the other. The only way to the top of the mountain is to realize that it's just the ride that counts, because then the top is also empty, and so is the ride

    But DAMN, don't we make it a BITCH

  27. #27
    Senior Member Heisoku's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    Hi Al...you are right in that I was mixing analaogies and metaphors. I will think about the gears/ skandas one another time! :roll:

    As for momentum, mass and force...yup I can see the 'I' being created from this and how inertia will cause us to find gear changes to enable this self to continue (in its deluded way). I can also sense the frustration of how our manual gearbox gets frustrating ( in repeating the shifts) and tiring to keep adjusting!
    However somewhere on Mount Zen we meet a mechanic, who tells us about an easier way to drive...where uphill struggles and downhill acceleration can be taken in one's stride (the Gateless Gate). We sit and wait and suddenly..but not necessarily at the top of the mountain....we are told that we have a new gearbox(!) ..it's an automatic.. now all we have to do is focus on making steering decisions...wow this seems so much easier than clunking through gears!
    Thanks zen mechanic...why couldn't I see this option before? :|

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    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    Not an "automatic transmission!" I don't think my donkey has one of those

  29. #29
    Senior Member Heisoku's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    Oh no I'm mixing analogies, metaphors and modes of transport !!!!!! :shock:

  30. #30
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Zen Inertia

    Wasn't there a book about this? Yes, I think it was called "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Synchromesh" :roll: :lol:

    Actually, now that I did that whole mountain and gears parable I don't like it so much. I was trying to fit what I've been talking about with the synchromesh because it's such a fun word and concept to play with. Anyway, I might come up with another story that fits better, but it will not be the above title.

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