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Thread: Strong back, soft front

  1. #1

    Strong back, soft front

    Hi all

    Many of you know that I have a chronic illness and that forms the basis for a great deal of my practice. Some of you will be aware that this illness has been deteriorating very significantly for the past two or three years.

    Yesterday I spoke to my doctor and she said there was nothing else she could offer me besides pain relief. This is not a terminal diagnosis as such, yet as I continue to grow weaker I am facing up to questions about death and impermanence in a very real way. It is of course, a constant refrain in Buddhist teachings but this is the first time my mortality has become real.

    Roshi Joan Halifax of Upaya Zen Center has a saying about sitting and practice which is 'strong back, soft front'. As far as I understand it, this encompasses a vulnerability and openness to experience with courage and strength. For a large part of her life, Roshi Joan has been working with people who are dying and teaching this practice to others. Her approach to practice has been very much informed by what she has seen of people facing the end of life and she wrote a book called Being with Dying which I am currently reading in audio format and can greatly recommend to anyone interested in this subject.

    Anyway, today I started watching a recording on Netflix by the American academic Brené Brown who studies topics such as shame and vulnerability. Many of you might have seen her TED talk The Power of Vulnerability which is one of the top five viewed TED talks ever. I pretty soon realised that Brené and Roshi Joan are talking about the same thing from different points of view of social scientist and Zen teacher.

    This seems to be the key for me at the moment, and probably is for all of our life - the willingness to be open to the difficult stuff, the messy stuff, like when Jundo sat in hospital before his cancer operation. We turn towards instead of turning away.

    This might sound simple but in practice I find it much less so. I am afraid. Very afraid. Feeling your body weaken each day is not pleasant. However, tensing against it brings more pain and there is literally nowhere to run in this condition.

    Even in the unpleasantness of the moment, everything is here. How could it not be? As I break open, the world rushes in. Then we all lie here together - not one, not two.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    Last edited by Kokuu; 04-27-2019 at 04:16 PM.
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  2. #2
    Hello Kokuu,
    that post really touched me. Although im in other conditons i can follow your point. The facing of things we dont want to encounter, also uncertainity is hard and i think its natural to try to escape through distracting oneself.. but what if the things are too obvious in front of us, close to us? Any resistance do not help but make suffering even worse. I remind myself more and more of my own death the last month or years, because its too clear that i cannot avoid it.. in your situation, this reminder becomes louder, stronger and confrontation becomes really hard. I wholeheartedly wish u that conditions become more easy for you and at least that this time as an opportunity of practice, gives you the power to face and embrace the things may come.

    Gassho and deep bows,
    Ben

    Stlah
    Last edited by hishiryo; 04-27-2019 at 12:33 PM.

  3. #3
    Thank you for the teaching Kokuu. I am sorry to read of your declining condition. Much metta to you and to all who are suffering.


    Tairin
    Sat today and lah
    泰林 - Tai Rin - Peaceful Woods

  4. #4


    Gassho
    Meishin
    Sat Today

  5. #5


    Doshin
    Stlah

  6. #6
    Kokuu, this post was most helpful. Thank you so much for the sharing. _()_

    If I may make some noises --- fear is nature's way. My dad said to me in his last days, "I'm anxious to go, but the animal doesn't want to." And looked down the bed at his body. We can practice death by treating each loss as a death, but in the end, the fear is like those thoughts that obtrude upon zazen -- hard to prevent, but maybe dismissible, at least intermittently. For me, mala practice has been helpful.

    I'm here (Treeleaf) because my local teacher recommended it, as I have, over time, found it more and more difficult to get to the zendo, fifty minutes away. We are a sangha stuffed with old-timers and chronically ill folks -- I called in to say I would not make it to the monthly half-day zazenkai, feeling unaccountable shame because I had some responsibilities, and Teacher called back to say, oh, well, so had everyone else (!!!), and she would be circuit riding to check on all of us. When she came we were able to determine I would not need to go to Urgent Care (this time) and brought me homework from my sewing teacher -- the pinned panels for my okesa, ready to begin sewing _()_. We did morning service -- she did full prostrations, I did little bows from the waist in my chair. What we see, for most of us most of time, we label with nouns, but it's all verb, I think -- a prostration is a doing, a nod is a doing. The chair is a doing, the altar is a doing. Also non-doing. Mountains meet mountains.

    I have expressed to my Dharma sisters that if I don't make it to the end of the okesa, would they please finish it and provide me with a nun's send-off. They have agreed to do so. This takes some of the (self-imposed) pressure off, and I can watch the clouds on the hills with at least some peace of mind. _()_

    gassho,
    doyu sat today

  7. #7
    Thank you, all.

    Ben, I have done my fair share of distracting behaviour and you are right that at some point it becomes impossible. Reminding ourselves of death is a common practice in most Buddhist traditions and I find it brings me sharply into the present moment. It is a good thing to do when death doesn't seem close. You look like a young man but we never know when our time will come.

    Life and death are of supreme importance. Time quickly passes by and opportunity is lost...

    Doyū, I am so glad we can be a practice place for you and happy your teacher recommended Treeleaf. Your father's experience chimes with mine. I cannot imagine not having fear in this situation and it is more about finding a space for it than trying to get rid of it or somehow move beyond. We are hardwired for survival and I cherish every breath and snatch of birdsong. Even the pain has an aliveness about it.

    I hope you get to finish your okesa. Breath by breath, stitch by stitch. You words about nouns and verbs have a lot of wisdom. Thank you.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  8. #8


    Washin
    st-lah
    Wa (和) Harmony
    Shin (心) Heart-Mind

  9. #9
    Thank you for sharing this teaching Kokuu.

    Deep Bows

    Gassho,

    Junkyo
    SAT

    Sent from my SM-G955W using Tapatalk

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Kokuu View Post

    Roshi Joan Halifax of Upaya Zen Center has a saying about sitting and practice which is 'strong back, soft front'. As far as I understand it, this encompasses a vulnerability and openness to experience with courage and strength.
    This seems to be the key for me at the moment, and probably is for all of our life - the willingness to be open to the difficult stuff, the messy stuff, like when Jundo sat in hospital before his cancer operation. We turn towards instead of turning away.
    This really is the heart of practice. Thank you for that quote, Kokuu, "Strong Back Soft Front" really resonates. This so very temporary, imperfect sojourn in a bag of skin is hard to accept but a little easier when sitting in the company of others. Deep bows for your courage in constantly turning back towards the truth and teaching us all in the process.

    Quote Originally Posted by Doyū View Post
    Kokuu, this post was most helpful. Thank you so much for the sharing. _()_

    If I may make some noises --- fear is nature's way. My dad said to me in his last days, "I'm anxious to go, but the animal doesn't want to." And looked down the bed at his body. We can practice death by treating each loss as a death, but in the end, the fear is like those thoughts that obtrude upon zazen -- hard to prevent, but maybe dismissible, at least intermittently. For me, mala practice has been helpful.

    I'm here (Treeleaf) because my local teacher recommended it, as I have, over time, found it more and more difficult to get to the zendo, fifty minutes away. We are a sangha stuffed with old-timers and chronically ill folks -- I called in to say I would not make it to the monthly half-day zazenkai, feeling unaccountable shame because I had some responsibilities, and Teacher called back to say, oh, well, so had everyone else (!!!), and she would be circuit riding to check on all of us. When she came we were able to determine I would not need to go to Urgent Care (this time) and brought me homework from my sewing teacher -- the pinned panels for my okesa, ready to begin sewing _()_. We did morning service -- she did full prostrations, I did little bows from the waist in my chair. What we see, for most of us most of time, we label with nouns, but it's all verb, I think -- a prostration is a doing, a nod is a doing. The chair is a doing, the altar is a doing. Also non-doing. Mountains meet mountains.

    I have expressed to my Dharma sisters that if I don't make it to the end of the okesa, would they please finish it and provide me with a nun's send-off. They have agreed to do so. This takes some of the (self-imposed) pressure off, and I can watch the clouds on the hills with at least some peace of mind. _()_

    gassho,
    doyu sat today
    So much wisdom! Thank you for being here with us, Doyu! Your Sangha sounds wonderful, and I will include all those "old timers and chronically ill folks" in Metta practice..., may you all be healthy and at peace with your ills, (and make it to the next Zazenkai)

    Deep bows

    Jakuden
    SatToday/LAH
    清 道 寂田
    SEIDO JAKUDEN
    I am a novice priest. Any resemblance my posts may have to actual teachings about the Dharma, living or dead, is purely coincidental (and just my attempt to be helpful).

  11. #11
    Member Geika's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    San Diego County, California
    I don't know what to say. I will just bow and let you know that I am thinking of you and wishing you well. And you already know we are all sitting with you.

    Gassho

    Sat today, lah
    迎 Geika

  12. #12
    Kokuu,

    For those times when you do have the energy, maybe you would want to make a little course of lessons teaching from those books and resources for people with chronic illness.

    We can help you with some of the groundwork and labor. You can record on those days when you feel up to it, and even from bed when you need.

    Many people would benefit from what you are learning, and any practices that you are developing, to get through these times. Let's discuss it if you are interested.

    We are all sitting for you, and others in like circumstances, as always.

    Gassho, Jundo

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Kokuu,

    For those times when you do have the energy, maybe you would want to make a little course of lessons teaching from those books and resources for people with chronic illness.

    We can help you with some of the groundwork and labor. You can record on those days when you feel up to it, and even from bed when you need.

    Many people would benefit from what you are learning, and any practices that you are developing, to get through these times. Let's discuss it if you are interested.

    We are all sitting for you, and others in like circumstances, as always.

    Gassho, Jundo

    STLah

    A wonderful idea. Many of us will travel that path and the wisdom will be of value.

    Gassho
    Doshin
    Stlah
    Last edited by Doshin; 04-28-2019 at 12:44 AM.

  14. #14
    Thank you, Kokuu, Doyu and Ben, for your teachings.
    I have a hernia in the spine and it sometimes give me pain during zazen. It really is nothing at all, just a persistent little pain that, with treatment, is getting weaker. But my egoistic mind still complains. Now I became very inspired by your teachings to sit and embrace this very little pain of mine.
    Thank you very much. Much metta to you. May you and all beings be free from suffering.
    Gassho,
    Mateus
    Sat today

  15. #15


    Gassho
    Shingen

    Sat/LAH
    RINDO SHINGEN
    倫道 真現

  16. #16
    Thank you so much for this teaching and your wisdom, Kokuu and thank you for having the compassion to pass them on to us even when you are suffering.

    It's maybe a bit too easy to picture ourselves sitting zazen like a rock as the waves of life crash against us and equally easy to forget that vulnerability and openness.

    Metta to you and all beings

    Gassho,

    Neil

    STLah

  17. #17
    thank you Kokuu, thank you Doyu.



    Aprapti

    stdlah

    Meister Eckhart ‘Nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness.’

  18. #18
    thank you Kokuu
    for your strong and soft voice in this world. Gassho.

    I remembered this quote: “Love and death are the great gifts given to us, mostly they are passed on unopened.”
    by Rainer Maria Rilke .

    I am happy to know you have the strength and vulnerability for these gifts ...

    Metta and Love
    eva

    sattoday

  19. #19
    Nine bows Kokuu. I very much appreciate you sharing this with us. I'm not sure that I would do so. Thank you.
    Gassho
    Kyoshin
    Sat/lah

  20. #20
    Thank you for your teachings . I profoundly respect your attitude, and we are here with you.

    Gassho,
    Jack
    Sattoday/lah
    Last edited by Kakedashi; 04-29-2019 at 07:25 AM.

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Doyū View Post
    Kokuu, this post was most helpful. Thank you so much for the sharing. _()_

    If I may make some noises --- fear is nature's way. My dad said to me in his last days, "I'm anxious to go, but the animal doesn't want to." And looked down the bed at his body. We can practice death by treating each loss as a death, but in the end, the fear is like those thoughts that obtrude upon zazen -- hard to prevent, but maybe dismissible, at least intermittently. For me, mala practice has been helpful.

    I'm here (Treeleaf) because my local teacher recommended it, as I have, over time, found it more and more difficult to get to the zendo, fifty minutes away. We are a sangha stuffed with old-timers and chronically ill folks -- I called in to say I would not make it to the monthly half-day zazenkai, feeling unaccountable shame because I had some responsibilities, and Teacher called back to say, oh, well, so had everyone else (!!!), and she would be circuit riding to check on all of us. When she came we were able to determine I would not need to go to Urgent Care (this time) and brought me homework from my sewing teacher -- the pinned panels for my okesa, ready to begin sewing _()_. We did morning service -- she did full prostrations, I did little bows from the waist in my chair. What we see, for most of us most of time, we label with nouns, but it's all verb, I think -- a prostration is a doing, a nod is a doing. The chair is a doing, the altar is a doing. Also non-doing. Mountains meet mountains.

    I have expressed to my Dharma sisters that if I don't make it to the end of the okesa, would they please finish it and provide me with a nun's send-off. They have agreed to do so. This takes some of the (self-imposed) pressure off, and I can watch the clouds on the hills with at least some peace of mind. _()_

    gassho,
    doyu sat today


    Jinyo

    ST

  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by Kokuu View Post
    Hi all

    Many of you know that I have a chronic illness and that forms the basis for a great deal of my practice. Some of you will be aware that this illness has been deteriorating very significantly for the past two or three years.

    Yesterday I spoke to my doctor and she said there was nothing else she could offer me besides pain relief. This is not a terminal diagnosis as such, yet as I continue to grow weaker I am facing up to questions about death and impermanence in a very real way. It is of course, a constant refrain in Buddhist teachings but this is the first time my mortality has become real.

    Roshi Joan Halifax of Upaya Zen Center has a saying about sitting and practice which is 'strong back, soft front'. As far as I understand it, this encompasses a vulnerability and openness to experience with courage and strength. For a large part of her life, Roshi Joan has been working with people who are dying and teaching this practice to others. Her approach to practice has been very much informed by what she has seen of people facing the end of life and she wrote a book called Being with Dying which I am currently reading in audio format and can greatly recommend to anyone interested in this subject.

    Anyway, today I started watching a recording on Netflix by the American academic Brené Brown who studies topics such as shame and vulnerability. Many of you might have seen her TED talk The Power of Vulnerability which is one of the top five viewed TED talks ever. I pretty soon realised that Brené and Roshi Joan are talking about the same thing from different points of view of social scientist and Zen teacher.

    This seems to be the key for me at the moment, and probably is for all of our life - the willingness to be open to the difficult stuff, the messy stuff, like when Jundo sat in hospital before his cancer operation. We turn towards instead of turning away.

    This might sound simple but in practice I find it much less so. I am afraid. Very afraid. Feeling your body weaken each day is not pleasant. However, tensing against it brings more pain and there is literally nowhere to run in this condition.

    Even in the unpleasantness of the moment, everything is here. How could it not be? As I break open, the world rushes in. Then we all lie here together - not one, not two.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    Have ordered the book in solidarity Kokuu.




    Jinyo

    ST

  23. #23
    Hi Kokuu,

    Thank you for all you teach us. Sitting with you always.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Sat/LAH
    Hondō Kyōnin
    奔道 協忍

  24. #24
    Member Seishin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2016
    Location
    La Croix-Avranchin, Basse Normandie, France
    Kokuu

    Thank you for this teaching. Stay strong if not in body but in mind. Deep bows.


    Seishin

    Sei - Meticulous
    Shin - Heart



    Sat Today / lah

  25. #25
    I also face chronic illnesses. I live with bipolar disorder and I suffer sometimes moment by moment chronic pain caused by a form of rheumatoid arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis which attacks spin and other body functions notably in my case sight and breathing. You might see immediately breath is one foundation of Zen practice leading in Zazen to less or more mental states. I also experience sometimes level 9 pain, better than 10 which was my condition for about 5 years. I have hope for advanced medication, I take 2 pills, has made my mental state near normal. Advances in biological medications has lessened pain and very much slowed progress of the arthritis. Even so, sometimes my life approaches living inferno and it’s possible someday I may cry confined to a chair. Jundo has told me I may accommodate sitting, so I prop myself against a chair back and a wall. I may also tit in an office chair with chair arms. These accommodations help sitting practice such that I may focus on breath until trout is still. I recommend folks consult with your doctor and Jundo about accomplishing Zazen!IMG_1950.jpg


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    "We cannot enjoy life if we spend a lot of time worrying about what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow." Thich Nhat Hanh

  26. #26
    Metta to you, Tai Shi, and thank you for your testimony. _()_ _()_ _()_

    gassho
    Doyu sat today

  27. #27
    One of our dharma sisters here studied with Darlene Cohen, and has taught us how to do zazen in a prone position. I have had to do that, as have several others here. Interestingly it's much the same as the "rest and recovery" pose I was taught by my Judo teacher, Dae Shek Kim, in 1967. Feet apart, knees up and together, hands in shashu. This could be called "Bodhidharma facing the ceiling."

    Some of Cohen's titles: https://www.darlenecohen.net/books.html

    gassho
    doyu sat today

  28. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by Doyū View Post
    One of our dharma sisters here studied with Darlene Cohen, and has taught us how to do zazen in a prone position. I have had to do that, as have several others here. Interestingly it's much the same as the "rest and recovery" pose I was taught by my Judo teacher, Dae Shek Kim, in 1967. Feet apart, knees up and together, hands in shashu. This could be called "Bodhidharma facing the ceiling."

    Some of Cohen's titles: https://www.darlenecohen.net/books.html

    gassho
    doyu sat today
    Thank you Doyu, that is an interesting link.
    There are a few of us here engaged in 'Bodidharma facing the ceiling'. Jundo has always stressed that it's fine to participate in
    Zazen lying prone if physical difficulties dictate.

    Metta to all in physical pain,

    Jinyo

    (ST - lying prone )

  29. #29
    Quote Originally Posted by Jinyo View Post
    .... Jundo has always stressed that it's fine to participate in
    Zazen lying prone if physical difficulties dictate.

    Metta to all in physical pain,
    )
    Yes, yes, for sure!

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  30. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by Tai Shi View Post
    I also face chronic illnesses. I live with bipolar disorder and I suffer sometimes moment by moment chronic pain caused by a form of rheumatoid arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis which attacks spin and other body functions notably in my case sight and breathing. You might see immediately breath is one foundation of Zen practice leading in Zazen to less or more mental states. I also experience sometimes level 9 pain, better than 10 which was my condition for about 5 years. I have hope for advanced medication, I take 2 pills, has made my mental state near normal. Advances in biological medications has lessened pain and very much slowed progress of the arthritis. Even so, sometimes my life approaches living inferno and it’s possible someday I may cry confined to a chair. Jundo has told me I may accommodate sitting, so I prop myself against a chair back and a wall. I may also tit in an office chair with chair arms. These accommodations help sitting practice such that I may focus on breath until trout is still. I recommend folks consult with your doctor and Jundo about accomplishing Zazen!
    Thank you, Tai Shi.
    You are an inspiration to us.
    Much metta.
    Gassho
    Mateus
    Sat/LAH

  31. #31
    Thank you for your teaching, your humanness, your example Kokuu.
    sitting with you.

    sosen
    _()_
    stlah

  32. #32
    Shortly after joining Treeleaf I began to have health issues. Your teachings and example have been inspirational to me as I've navigated physical pain and weakness. I'm sad to hear your body is continuing to deteriorate and hope you find peace in every moment.

    Nanrin

    st

  33. #33
    Thank you, Nanrin. I really appreciate you saying that.

    How are you doing with the navigating of pain and illness? Do let me know if you need anything.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  34. #34
    Member Geika's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    San Diego County, California
    How have you been holding up this past week, Kokuu? <3

    Gassho

    Sat today, lah
    迎 Geika

  35. #35
    Thank you Kokuu for sharing.
    Thank you all.

    Gassho,
    SatToday
    流道
    Ryū Dou

  36. #36
    How have you been holding up this past week, Kokuu? <3
    Thank you for asking, Geika.

    My weakness and pain is sadly only increasing.

    There are moments of acceptance and moments of non-acceptance, moments of joy and moments when the fear overwhelms everything.

    I guess this is essentially what it is to be human.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  37. #37
    Member Hoseki's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2015
    Location
    St. John's Newfoundland, Canada.
    Hi Kokuu,

    I'm sorry to hear about your health. But I'm happy to hear you can face it with equanimity at times.

    Gassho
    Sattoday
    Hoseki

  38. #38
    Member Geika's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    San Diego County, California
    Quote Originally Posted by Kokuu View Post
    Thank you for asking, Geika.

    My weakness and pain is sadly only increasing.

    There are moments of acceptance and moments of non-acceptance, moments of joy and moments when the fear overwhelms everything.

    I guess this is essentially what it is to be human.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    Sitting with you and hoping for some good days ahead soon. Or at least some peaceful moments. I'll be thinking of you.

    Gassho,

    Sat today, lah
    迎 Geika

  39. #39
    What I meant to say that since all types of meditation
    And especially sitting Shikantaza and mindfully prayer to Higher Power of my own understanding I have felt less pain and though I feel bones of my arthritis moving its not as bothersome as once and again! I
    Feel improved and will still
    Have Radio Frequency ablation on my neck. A good doctor always helps!

    Tai Shi
    sat
    Gassho

    "We cannot enjoy life if we spend a lot of time worrying about what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow." Thich Nhat Hanh

  40. #40
    Quote Originally Posted by Tai Shi View Post
    What I meant to say that since all types of meditation
    And especially sitting Shikantaza and mindfully prayer to Higher Power of my own understanding I have felt less pain and though I feel bones of my arthritis moving its not as bothersome as once and again! I
    Feel improved and will still
    Have Radio Frequency ablation on my neck. A good doctor always helps!

    Tai Shi
    sat
    Gassho


    Thanks all for so much Metta for me and so many other people and Tonglen from Kokuu stone face my friend!
    "We cannot enjoy life if we spend a lot of time worrying about what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow." Thich Nhat Hanh

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