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Thread: Zazen & Shikantaza when illness 'zags' instead of 'zigs'

  1. #1

    Question Zazen & Shikantaza when illness 'zags' instead of 'zigs'

    Hi all,

    I have a question that I'm struggling to find the correct phrasing for.

    For some time now, I've been experiencing periodic spasming and twitching -- I suppose muscular, intra-muscular, ligaments, general soft tissue -- that sometimes is just annoying, other times is problematic, but is really frustrating. It comes and goes. I informed my neurologist of it last year, but given that migraines and seizures also cause some memory loss, when he followed up again, I couldn't remember (at that time) what he was referring to. Then it started up again.

    Related specifically to zazen and shikantaza -- I end up having to move frequently. When awake, I have to move frequently anyway, or my body will move on its own. During Sunday Sit, for example, I was seated as comfortably as possible (to minimize pain), hands in gassho as normal -- but my fingers started twitching throughout the Heart Sutra. During Zazen, various parts of me were twitching, or felt like they were about to kick out. During kinhin, I took the opportunity to stretch and tried to alleviate some of the tension that I felt was building up -- but there was none, which confused me. It still felt like my limbs were ready to spring out. During the second part of zazen, my shoulders twitched and my head snapped back suddenly. I was sitting on an old cot leaning against the wall, so I only hit the cot (no damage done).

    This is partly how I end up with odd bruises all over me (have a big shiner on my forearm now). Unfortunately, my neuro always asks "how" these things happen, what was I doing .... I often can't remember at the time, only that part of me spasmed and something goes flying or I hit something but don't know why or how. I'm always walking into things or tripping over who knows what.

    Related to zazen and shikantaza -- does anyone else experience anything like this? Is there a way to "sit zazen" in a calmer way, or without "disturbing the peace" of one's sangha mates (Zoom picks up all movements), and/or without injuring oneself any further? I'd rather not have to take a muscle relaxant before zazen each time (makes me drowsy), but I'm afraid I may have to.

    Some days are better than others, and I have not been able to reach most of my specialists recently (one has no appts for weeks). I know that I can sit in Recline pose, though I feel rather self-conscious that way. But I am wondering if anyone else has experienced this, and has any suggestions -- with sitting zazen, staying safe, or even what to avoid or things to consider.

    Sorry for running long. Much of my illness I am "used to" after a few years (as much as one can be). Twitches and spasms are just frustrating, though thankfully not so painful unless I hit something or burn myself.

    gassho, meian st lh
    迷安 - Mei An - Wandering At Rest
    adapting practice to chronic illness with covid

  2. #2
    I would just like to STRONGLY emphasize that you donít disturb anyoneís peace on Zoom ever, first of all. Second.. have you tried reclining and using a couple of big pillows around you, sort of like when we put one next to a baby so they donít roll off the bed?
    Other than that, please donít be harsh on yourself and your zazen and if it is twitchy, let it be twitchy and just go along once youíve done your best to make yourself as stable and comfortable as possible. Itís much better to act according to circumstances and not against them!

    Sorry for the extra lines there ..


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  3. #3
    Hi Meian,

    First, I do not have much input on the medical side of preventing or lessening the twitching except to say ... do whatever works, sit (or recline etc.) in the positions (perhaps several, changing on various days or situations). If it helps ... do that!

    But thank you for allowing the universe to spasm and twitch, as well as bruise and all the rest. Truly, the universe cannot be sentient and alive without us, cannot twitch without twitchers, cannot experience your life without you. Also, it cannot experience your not twitching without you (thus it is fine to do what you can not to twitch). But twitching and bruising or not twitching and bruising, it is the whole world doing so with your muscles and limbs.

    Thus, when sitting Just Sit, when twitching Just Twitch, when spasming, Just Spasm! Heck, when trying not to spasm, Just Be Trying Not To Spasm!! In other words, accept with equanimity whatever is happening in the moment ...

    I can only relate a little because, at my age, I have started getting some periodic hand and leg "Charlie Horses" (ordinary muscle cramps), but there is A WORLD of DIFFERENCE between having a Charlie Horse with equanimity about having a Charlie Horse, and having a Charlie Horse while feeling DOUBLY miserable about having a Charlie Horse. Flow with your spasm and 'Be One' with your bruises!

    In fact, as strange as it sounds, have equanimity even about those times when the pain of spasms etc. is so miserable that you feel miserable and DO NOT feel equanimity. In other words, feel a higher Grand Equanimity even about those times when one do not feel equanimity at all. Feel a Grand Equanimity even about bitching and moaning and rolling on the floor cursing the damn 'universe' that is living through you! When cursing #$&%'$, Just Curse #$&%'$!!!

    Finally, do not worry about disturbing others, especially on Zoom. Nobody is watching you (or they should not be if they are), and everyone is staring at their own wall or floor! In fact, I happen to know that we have a few folks with various conditions that need to move and twitch quite a bit due to various medical conditions. No problem. (I have to look from time to time because I am the sitting overseer ... but I certainly don't care). Now, if someone moves a lot because they cannot quiet their thoughts, and always feel disturbed and needing to "fidget," THEN I care, and encourage that person to learn to settle the thoughts and please sit still! However, if someone like you has a medical condition where they need to move, then please move ... because I don't care, nobody cares, nobody is disturbed.

    And if somebody else is disturbed by your movements, that is THEIR issue not yours. THEY need to work on greater tolerance and equanimity with surrounding circumstances while sitting. In fact, I want to say THANK YOU for any disturbance you create which bothers someone else, because you are teaching THEM equanimity.

    If we were in a brick and mortar Zendo, and someone has a condition which is unusually loud and moving, then we might have to make some small special arrangement. But I have sat in Zendos in both Japan and the west with members with palsy, Tourette Syndrome and the like, and it was very helpful to others after awhile. They learned not to care or notice. (I might compare it to my recent apartment right under the landing path to the airport in Las Vegas, and with noisy neighbors having pretty loud parties all hours of the night ... after the first few hours, I learned to not even hear them.)

    Nobody is bothered on Zoom. We all have our microphones off, so move around. Heck, scream and yell ... we can't hear you. (Maybe this is actually an advantage of ZoomZen to brick and mortar.)

    By the way, I do have one tip I learned with my Charlie Horses: When I do accept the spasm with deep equanimity, feeling "relaxed" about the situation, it does seem to ease the symptoms quite a bit ... even though the spasm is involuntary. It is not total control, but tensing in the situation sure seems to make it worse.

    I also like very much Bion's suggestion about reclining, putting big pillows, and maybe soft mats around the floor. Maybe remove hard furniture. Give yourself space, and when it happens, JUST HAPPEN!

    Gassho, J

    SatToday(in last day of quarantine)LAH
    Last edited by Jundo; 06-28-2021 at 04:57 AM.

  4. #4
    Jundo, thank you -- made me laugh, yes, I get more than a little frustrated sometimes at how little to no control I have over my body some days/nights. I will practice equanimity with it -- your explanation was quite colorful! It also made me feel better -- I really love the Universe explanation.

    My family has witnessed this sometimes, when I'm sleeping or trying to do something simple. It seems I even vocalize at times, though thankfully nothing embarrassing! I am relieved that this is not an issue at Treeleaf, and even helpful for others in their practice.

    It is old habit for me to worry about disturbing others, but I am glad if my medical condition will allow me to be of more service to the sangha. Ironically, I have shared my experiences to help others for many years -- just not usually by physical demonstration. So this will be a 'new' practice for me (of not hiding 'me'), to be of service in this way. I think I understand this better now, upon further reflection, thank you.

    I was able to reach my neurologist office and I see him in two weeks. I need to update him on what has developed. Otherwise, I don't have many pillows, but I can get help to clear the area a bit, and my Japanese futon feels safest to me, with lots of blankets.

    Thank you, Jundo and Bion, for your teachings .... and I'm glad you're back safely, Jundo (my daughter had quarantine also, but maybe not as long?).

    Gassho2, meian st lh

    Sent from my SM-G975U using Tapatalk
    Last edited by Meian; 06-29-2021 at 09:14 AM. Reason: Clarity
    迷安 - Mei An - Wandering At Rest
    adapting practice to chronic illness with covid

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