2023-09-D2-TT: Working With Obstructions in Our Zazen
3:38PM Sep 16, 2023
This is the second day of this September 2023, two days to shame. And we'll resume Mindfulness in Plain English, English by Bhante Gunaratana. Chapter 10. Dealing with Problems. You're going to run into problems in your meditation. Everybody does. It's one of the things I love about these writers really walked the walk. They don't sugarcoat it, you know, every once in a while, I'll come across an ad. Maybe in a certain Buddhist magazine, enlightenment in a weekend or five easy steps and it just try not to get too irritated by it, but just there's something about just laying it out, as it is, and just saying, you know, it's not easy doing this, but it's so vastly rewarding if you stick with it. Ajahn Chah, it reminds me of, Ajahn Chah, the Thai Forest master from from the sections I've read from him before, on my own, he just lays it out, bare it just this is we are going to die. This is how it is. So back the Bhante, Bhante Gunaratan. You're going to run into problems in your meditation. Everybody does. Problems come in all shape eyes. And the only thing you can be absolutely certain about about it is that you will have some the main trick in dealing with obstacles is to adopt the right attitude. Difficulties are an integral part of your practice. They aren't something to be avoided. They are to be used. They provide invaluable opportunities for learning.
There's that word again, I
think of that those Chinese characters Wei Zhi, Wei being crisis, and then G is opportunity. So don't look at your obstacles. Take that as a perspective and attitude don't see your obstacles in your meditation has been a problem. I see it as an opportunity. Of course, that's easier said than done. But you know, it's not about a belief. He's not talking about belief system here. We're really talking about just an attitude. Just an approach your practice. The reason we are all stuck in life's mud is that we see slowly run from our problems. And after our desires, there is again, a version and desires clinging on the one hand and avoiding on the other. Meditation provides us with a laboratory situation in which we can examine this syndrome and devise strategies strategies for dealing with it. The various snags and hassles that arise during meditation are grist for the mill grist for the mill. You know, I think that was one of Roshi capitals, favorite scenes. You probably often mentioned that in sesshin, especially if people did get snagged down or feeling like there would get nowhere with their practice. In fact, to remind you of the tombstone that we have of Roshi Kapleau grave, which is just up above, south end of the building, past the creek, a little towards the left there, I guess that would be the east. You can see his tombstone, his grave site and it's actually aggress mill. I think that's what you call it one of those round circular stones that pounds the grain. This is saying is coming from a person has no idea how you grind a wheat in the flour, but that's what it used to be a mill house and we somehow have that stone from from the mill house from long ago. All right, let's get back to it. The various snags and hassles that arise during meditation are grist for the mill. They are the material with which we work. There is no pleasure without some degree of pain. There is no pain without some amount of pleasure. Life is composed of joys and miseries. They go hand in hand. Meditation is no exception. You will experience good times times and bad times ecstasies and fear. Because the prom the the trick to this is to not get caught up in your Exedy ecstasies or your fears. It's the same approach, you know, you just notice it. Don't do anything with it, you've shone a light on it, and just get back to the practice. So don't be surprised when you hit some experience that feels like a brick wall. Don't think you are special. All seasoned meditators have had their own brick walls. They cut again and again. Just expect them and be ready to cope. Your ability to cope with trouble depends upon your attitude. If you can learn to regard these hassles as opportunities as chances to develop in your practice. Start again, if you can learn to regard these hassles as opportunities as chances to develop in your practice, you will make progress. Your ability to deal with some issue that arises in meditation will carry over into the rest of your life and allow you to smooth out big issues that really bother you. This is such an important point. One of the really profound
one of the profound surprises or realizations or insight that that one can have from from doing long, arduous meditation, such as the sheen is working with the pain, and we'll probably be talking about that a little later. But the working with the pain, getting beyond your pain, there is a turning point where you can work with it and you can get beyond with it and it just doesn't become a problem anymore. And then, lo and behold, that translates itself into our daily life. We're not so averse to conflict. If conflict arises with someone. We're not so averse to doing something saying something that might be painful to the person that they need to hear that that feedback because it's part of them training or having a difficult conversation with your partner. We're not so averse to a smaller example. But we're not so much averse to doing something we don't want to do, but we need to do. Everything is grist for the mill.
If you try to avoid each piece of nastiness that arises in meditation, you are reinforcing the habit that has already made life seem so unbearable at times. It is essential to confront, it is essential to learn to confront the less pleasant aspects of existence. Our job as meditators is to learn to be patient with ourselves, to see ourselves in an unbiased way, complete with all our sorrows and inadequacies. We have to learn to be kind to our soil cells. In the long run, avoiding unpleasantness is a very uncommon unkind thing to do to yourself. And I'll repeat that because it's really important. In the long run, avoiding unpleasantness is a very unkind thing to do to yourself. Paradoxically, kindness entails confronting unpleasantness when it arises. One popular human strategy for dealing with difficulty is auto suggestion. When something nasty pops up, you convince yourself it is not there or you will convince yourself it is pleasant rather than unpleasant. The Buddhist tactic is quite the reverse. Rather than hide it or disguise it. The Buddhist teaching urges you to examine it to death. Buddhism advises you not to implant feelings that you don't really have, or avoid feelings that you do have. Kind of reminds me when I first showed up at the center, and I was off of staff for a while and I was a librarian at some of the local libraries so I could pay off my student loans. And anyway there there was one of those. I don't know what you call them, like Sessions had nothing to do with the library. It was just kind of have like a learning experience. And so we had a local woman come in, I can't remember the name it was she probably had a small not for profit organization or anyway, she was a consultant. And her whole talk was all about positive thinking, you know, using positive thoughts and feelings. And even at that early stage of my Zen practice, I could sense that that's that's not the way that's not the way to reality. That's not the way to be happy. Just by having positive thoughts or feelings said, there's something there's something deeper there's there's getting beyond the thoughts, getting beyond the feelings and not suppressing your feelings. But experiencing your feelings, and it's something through long Zen practice. The feelings arise. They're there for a while, and they subside. And we don't get so caught up in those, that turbulent emotional turbulence, that all that emotional turbulence that might arise through our long, long days of practice or long years of practice, Mondays is a shame.
If you are miserable, you are miserable. That is the reality that is what is happening. So confront that. Look at square in the eye without flinching. When you are having a bad time, examine the experience, observe it mindfully study the phenomenon and learn its mechanics. Well, this, this is mindfulness practice, which we don't do. And which by the way, and I meant to say that a lot of times when I'm reading from this book, you know, he'll use the word mindfulness and I just substitute the word mindfulness for Zen, when it works when an applies to our practice. But this whole, you know, square in the eye without flinching, yes. When you have are having a bad time experience, examine that experience, observe it mindfully study the phenomenon and learn its mechanics that we don't do. A lot, you know, let's just use as an example, anxiety, anxiety, anxiety, and xiety pops up. We don't know why. We're feeling agitated, anxious. Doesn't really matter why we feel anxious, although that also might pop up, we might have some, I don't know fear that something sort of fear in the future am I going to make it through this round or so we might know why or we might not but the anxiety arises, we're not analyzing the anxiety, we're not trying to figure it out. All we're doing is
following the breath, just returning our attention to the breath, and the anxiety, anxiety will be there. As the beginning has a middle, it has an end and it will pass.
This point is essential, but it is one of the least understood aspects of Buddhist philosophy. Those who have studied Buddhism superficially are quick to conclude that it is pessimistic, always harping on unpleasant things like suffering, always urging us to confront the uncomfortable realities of pain, death and illness. Buddhist thinkers do not regard themselves as pessimists, quite the opposite. Actually, pain exists in the universe, some measure of it is unavoidable voylla Excuse me, some measure of it is unavoidable double. Learning to deal with it is not pessimism, but a very pragmatic form of optimism. Now always remember, you know, I remember when I first started reading about Buddhism, you get that impression. The Four Noble Truths. First one is life is suffering or life is dukkha, unsatisfactory. But always remember, there's the third noble truth which is there is a way out.
Learning to deal with it, that is pain is not pessimism, but a very pragmatic form of optimism. How would you deal with the death of your spouse? How would you feel if you lost your mother tomorrow? or your sister or your closest friend? Suppose you lost your job, your savings and the use of your legs all on the same day? Could you face the prospect of spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair? How are you going to cope with the pain of terminal cancer? If you contract it, and how will you deal with your own death when that approaches, you may escape most of these misfortunes, but you won't escape all of them. Most of us lose friends and relatives at some time during our lives, all of us gets sick now and then, and all of us will die someday, you can suffer through things like that, or you can face them openly, the choice is yours.
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is not. Pain and suffering are two different animals.
So just as an example of that, we're feeling pain in her lower back or in our knees. So yes, that's the pain. The suffering is the pain on top of the pain, we're thinking about the pain or we're trying to get out of the pain, or we're trying to suppress the pain. That's the suffering side of it. And that's, that's the, that's the learning. That's, that's such a great learning tool. When we bring it out into our daily lives, to not put the suffering not put the pain on top of the pain.
Pain is inevitable suffering is not. Pain and suffering are two different animals. If any of these tragedies strike you in your present state of mind, you will suffer. I had to think about that one a little bit. If any of these tragedies strike you in your present state of mind, you will suffer I think what it means there is by if you're thinking about the tragedy, if you're just mulling it over and over, of course a tragedy happens. You're affected by it. Again, it goes back to how would you deal with the death of your spouse? Well, you cry, you grieve, it's clean. It's you experience the pain of that loss. But it's then further down the road say where you're just constantly thinking about the pain or thinking about the loss. Just get back to the practice, just stay hold on to the practice. And and then that way things open up and things open up if you start to cry, you start to cry.
A bit of time spent in learning alternatives to those habit patterns is time well invested. Most human beings spend all their energies devising ways to increase their pleasure and decrease their pain. Buddhism does not advise that you see such activity altogether. Money and security are fine. Pain should be avoided whenever possible. Nobody is telling you to give away every possession or seek out needless pain. But Buddhism does advise you to invest time and energy in learning to deal with unpleasantness, because some pain is unavoidable, unavoidable. When you see a truck bearing down on you, by all means jump out of the way. But spend some time in meditation to learning to deal with discomfort is the only way you'll be ready to handle the truck you didn't see. problems will arise in your practice. Some of them will be physical, some will be emotional, and some will be attitudinal. All of them can be confronted and each has its own specific response. All of them are opportunities to free yourself. Problem one, physical pain. Alright, I think I'm going to skip physical pain. Yeah, because there are a lot of other problems that I want to get through. And if I get through all the other problems, then we'll go back to physical pain. So let's go right to problem two legs going to sleep. Well, I'm going to skip that one too. but just to mention, you know, just a couple of things about legs falling asleep, chances are that if your legs are falling asleep, you're pinching your sciatic nerve. Okay, I can't say that for 100%. But that's my experience, I had numbness in the legs for a while. And it was from sitting and pinching my sciatic nerve. So a couple of solutions to that is you might be sitting too far back on your cushion. So you're cutting off that circulation. So it's always ideal to sit on the front third of your cushion. So not too far back. Another thing you can try is to get more, get some extra support underneath your cushion, get some height there, you know, and that kind of, you can kind of what I often do if I'm sitting cross legged, is a lift myself, I'm sitting cross legged on the cushion, and I'll kind of lift my butt up into the air and then sit back down on the front third of the cushion and connect my sitting bones onto the cushion. So it's good to connect your sitting bones you can actually feel him there and your but to have those sitting bones connected onto the cushion. So you know, that's just a couple of tricks. You know, if your legs continually falling asleep, then there's a problem that you have to adjust. But you know, every once in a while my leg falls asleep. And yeah, it just I adjust my posture a little bit and Bob's your uncle. All right legs going to sleep. Next problem, three odd sensations Makia. molecule for those who don't know is that Japanese word which means all sensory phenomenon that we might experience you know, it could be hallucinations, it could be auditory, it could be texture on the body. Some people are really prone to it, and some people are not and everyone in between. Everything in between that is all right. People experience all manner of varied phenomena and meditation. Some people get itches. Others feel tingling, deep relaxation, a feeling of lightness or a floating sensation. You may feel yourself growing or shrinking, or rising up in the air. Beginners often get quite excited over such sensations. Don't worry, you are not likely to levitate anytime soon. As realization sets in the nervous systems start again. As relaxation sets in the nervous system simply begins to pass sensory signals more efficiently. Large amount of large amounts of previously blocked sensory data can pour through giving rise to all kinds of unique sensations. So fascinating. You have never actually read it quite that way. Large amounts of previously blocked sensory data can pour through giving rise to all kinds of unique sensations. It does not signify anything in particular, it is just sensation. So simply employ the normal technique should come up and watch it pass away. Don't get involved.
Problem for drowsiness, we're going to skip that one to everyone especially at the stars to sheen, whether it's a two day or four day seven day, everyone will struggle with drowsiness even in just a normal daily round. So, you know, just couple of tricks, keep the eyes get the eyes wide open, get light into the eyes. Another just trick that came up to me just actually today is just remember to straighten that back. You know you don't want to be straight like a Marine. But just feel the you know the chassis can have the chest go up a little bit. You can feel the spine, kind of expand. That generates energy it does. Even that just small thing can help if you're you're really struggling with drowsiness, so eyes open. Straighten that back. The other trick maybe might help is the chin. Always picture your chin as a drawer. And you just you're pushing a drawer in the head nice and straight. You know I really struggle with that. My early years my head was always sticking out. I was just so stuck in my head and the monitors and Roshi compassionately just kept at it kept adjusting my head and I did notice a difference. You know, I was less stuck in thought now that my head was nice and aligned, and it probably helped with drowsy Yes. So those are just a couple of pointers. Problem five, in ability to concentrate. Sure, no one's struggle with that one. In overactive jumping attention is something that really experiences from time to time. It is generally handled by the tech generally handled by the techniques presented in the chapter of on distractions. You should also be informed, however, that there are certain external factors that contribute to this phenomenon. And these are best handled by simple adjustments in your schedule. mental images are powerful entities, they can remain in the mind for long periods. All of the storytelling arts are direct manipulation of such material. And if the writer has done her job, well, the characters and images presented will have a powerful and lingering effect on the mind. If you have been to the best movie of the year, the meditation that follows is going to be full of these images. If you're halfway through the scariest horror novel you ever read, your meditation is going to be full of monsters. So switch the order of events, do your meditation first, then read and go to the movies. This is kind of I have a feeling this is more than once that I've come across him mentioning movies so I have a feeling that our bond pay here is is quite the movie going which is it's nice to hear. You know, it's kind of humanizes. So now we have a tendency to idolize and put these teachers on a pedestal. And well, it reminds me a Roshi mentioned to me one time he's no haters movies. Let me tell you. Once in a while, we'll talk about movies. And you haven't mentioned to me that the Dalai Lama really enjoyed watching movies. Which brings back this other memory that I'll just mention quickly. One of the first people that from our center that went to Japan to train up with Coca G this is the small temple in Obama, Japan were Tongan Roshi taught for decades. On their spare time, they did one time, the two of them Tangen-roshi And I believe it was John Sheldon went to go see a movie. And John Sheldon was like, it was like the most saccharin sentimental story I'd ever seen. Blown Behold, he looks next to Tang and Roshi in areas with tears in his eyes.
Another influential factor in your own emotional state. Oh, excuse me. Another influential factor is your own emotional state. If there is some real conflict in your life, that agitation will carry over into meditation. Try to resolve your immediate daily conflicts before meditation when you can, your life will run more smoothly, and you won't be pondering uselessly in your practice. But don't use this as this advice as a way to avoid meditation. Sometimes you can't resolve every issue before you sit. Just go ahead and sit anyway. Use your meditation to let go of all the egocentric attitudes that keep you trapped within your own limited viewpoint. Your problems will resolve much more easily thereafter. And then there are those days when it seems that the mind will never rest. But you can't locate any apparent cause. That's okay. We're not looking for causes. If your mind is active, your mind is active. The wheels are just spinning, the wheels are just spinning. Don't believe in them don't get caught up in them. Just it again. It's just always returning to the practice returning to the inhalation and exhalation returning to the call on not it just it's kind of like cutting the circuits off, just get right back to it.
And then there are those days when it seems that the mind won't never rest. But you can't locate any apparent cause. Remember the cyclic alternation we spoke of earlier, meditation goes in cycles, you have good days, and you have bad days
problem six, boredom. It is difficult to imagine anything more inherently boring than sitting still for an hour with nothing to do but feel the air going in and out of your nose. You're going to run into boredom repeatedly in your meditation. Everybody does. Boredom is a mental state and should be treated as such. All right, then he mentioned a couple of mindfulness techniques that I'm going to skip over. You are, you're not observing, it's live in reality. He's talking about the method, the practice, when you are clearly mindful of the breath, or of anything else, it is never boring, then looks at everything with the eyes of a child with a sense of wonder. Mindfulness sees every moment as if it were the first and the only moment in the universe. Just this so look again. Problem seven fear. states of fear sometimes arise during meditation for no discernible reason. It is a common phenomenon, and there can be a number of causes, you may be experiencing the effect of something repressed long ago. Remember, thoughts arise first in the unconscious, the emotional contents of a thought complex often leak through into your conscious awareness long before the thought itself surfaces. Again, the emotional contents of a thought complex often leak through into your conscious awareness long before the thought itself surfaces. So there's an example of, you know, say anxiety popping up and you don't know why. But then eventually, the cause does pop up and you do understand why you're feeling so anxious. If you sit through the fear, the memory itself may bubble up to a point where you can enjoy it. Or you may be dealing directly with the fear that we all fear, fear of the unknown.
Yeah, fear of the unknown. That's the shame right there. Not fear of the unknown. Entering into the unknown, we don't know what's going to pop up.
At some point in your meditation, at some point in your meditation career, you will be struck with the seriousness of what you're actually doing. You are carrying down the wall of illusion you have always used to explain life to yourself, and to shield yourself from the intense Lane reality. You're about to meet ultimate truth face to face. That is scary, but it has to be dealt with eventually go ahead and dive right in.
Third possibility, the fear that you're feeling may be self generated, it may be arising out of unskillful concentration, you may have set an unconscious program to quote examine what comes up. Thus, when a frightening fantasy arises concentration locks on onto it in the fantasy feeds on the energy of your attention and grows. The real problem here is that mindfulness is weak. All right, let's just go back to that. Thus, when a frightening fantasy arises, concentration locks onto it, and the fantasy feeds on the energy of your attention and grows. Alright, so something comes up. I mentioned earlier, you know, with everything that arises, there is a beginning and a middle and an end. But it does end of course, it ends. Everything is impermanent, everything changes constantly, moment to moment. So the middle part of whatever is popping up. That's really where we have agency. That's where we really have a choice on how long that middle part will be. So So just get back to Mu, just get back to what just returned over and over again, in that middle just gets shorter and shorter. And, you know, the thoughts may be there, the image might still be there. But I remember my early days as sesshin, you know, doing Yazawa, and these images would appear. So I was susceptible a little bit to Margo, especially if I was sitting late into the night. And when those images appeared, I'm like, Alright, just go to bed. And that's another solution. Just going to bed. You know, if you're really struggling, it's Yeah. Yassa it's an interesting thing about yoga. You know, it really is an experiment for some people sitting right after the evening sitting can be really effective. Sometimes going to bed right away, and then getting up early, but get up early and do Yassa then that for others that really works. It really depends on I know I've mentioned this before, but I'll say it again. One of the few times I really got angry at Roshi was I was in Doakes on and I was really like pushing the envelope with the aza. I was like really staying up late and still trying to I guess I was just working with it still trying to figure out what works best for me and I was just the man named him to him maybe he could hear it in the tone of my voice but I just want to know how much sleep I should get.
He was just there shrug your shoulders you just got to figure that out for yourself
went out there fuming. But you do you really do have to figure it out for yourself. You know, some people don't do any other. They do this Yassa during the day, you know during all the breaks they're continually sitting that works too. But it is always a good idea to at least try and this and yeah to least try experiment see what works because we all have our own body rhythms you know there's that that absolute or relative there yes there is this absolute there is this we all share this buddha mind this original unborn buddha mind. But no, we have differences. And it's the same thing with our body rhythms. You know for some people like I said earlier, do Yassa right after the formal sittings at night. I that really works for me. And then by midnight 11 o'clock, it gets harder you know, so then I go to sleep. But it's this this this trying it out
okay, yeah, I do want to find my place because this is some good stuff here. Watch the pictures as Okay, so we're going back to say Mako watch the pictures as pictures, see memories as memories. Observe the emotional reactions that come along and know them for what they are. Stand aside from the process. Excuse me. Stand aside from the process. And don't get involved. Treat the whole dynamic as if you were curious bystander. Most important, don't fight the situation. Don't try to repress the memories or the feelings or the fantasies. Just step out of the way and let the whole mess bubble up and flow pass. It can't hurt you. It is just memory is only fantasy. It is nothing but fear.
When you let fear run its course in the arena of conscious attention. It won't sink back into the unconscious. It won't come back to haunt you later. It will be gone for good.
Okay, I think we have time for one more. So I think we'll do problem nine which is trying too hard. Advanced meditators are generally found to be pretty jovial people. They possess one of the most valuable of all human traits. There's a sense of humor. It is not the superficial, witty rip partay of the talk show host. It is a real sense of humor. They can laugh at their own human failures. They can chuckle at personal disasters.
Beginners in meditation are often much too serious for their own good. It is important to learn to loosen up in your session to relax in your meditation. You need to learn to watch objectively whatever happens, you can't do that if you are tensed and striving, taking it also very, very seriously. Ma, I mean, that's easier said than done, you know, you kind of practice. If you're serious, you're serious, you're buckled down. The I just think of, you know, yeah, it's important to relax the body. Relax the mind. You know, I think so many of us come to this practice, for whatever reason, we're just trying to white knuckle the pain. And that's, that's not the approach need to take the practice. Yeah, there's just a sense of cutting off or repressing or suppressing just this kind of harshness. But, of course, I mean, that's, that's what we, that's how we come to our practice. That's how we come to it. But if you're effectively doing sitting in session after session, that things will change, things will organically naturally change and we don't get so kind of, we we reach I think what happens is through the practice, through dog Saans, through Peychaud's. He can not help but change with the practice. And then at a certain point, I think we realize that white knuckling it just is not going to work. It might work for a short period of time. But in the long term, that things just I think we just naturally soften and the mind and the body just becomes more relaxed. And we don't approach it that way. As much anymore. We're not just trying to bear down white knuckle the pain or the con or the falling of the breath. But it's something we all need to get through. It's something we all need to do to get into a different place with a practice.
Ah, here we go. New meditators are often overly eager for results. They are full of enormous and inflated expectations. They jump right in. Good, good jump right into the practice. They jump right in and expect incredible results in no time flat, okay, not so good. They push, they tense, they sweat and strain, and it is also terribly, terribly grim and solemn. This state of tension is the antithesis of mindfulness. Naturally, they achieve little, then they decide that this meditation is not so exciting. After all, it did not give them what they wanted. They chuck it aside, it should be pointed out that you learn about meditation only by meditating. You learn what meditation is all about, in where it leads only through direct experience of the thing itself. Therefore, the beginner does not know where he is headed because he has developed a little sense of where his practice is leading. The novices expectation is naturally unrealistic and uninformed newcomers to meditation expect all the wrong things. And those expectations do not go at all. Do Oh, excuse me say that again. Newcomers to meditation expect all the wrong things and those expectations do no good at all. They get in the way that's what's so great about joke's on you know, is just turn down those expectations. Nope merengue. Roshi just happened to mention to me this recently, you know that ringing of the handbell that is his way of expressing faith in the student
Yeah. But again, the teacher is there to pull the carpet from underneath your feet. Not this. Not that, nope. Keep going, keep going. Don't give up.
Trying too hard leads to rigidity and unhappiness to guilt and self condemnation. When you're trying too hard, your effort becomes mechanical, and that defeats mindfulness before it even gets started. You are well advised to drop all that. Drop your expectations and straining. Drop your expectations and straining. Simply meditate with a steady and balanced effort. Enjoy your meditation and don't load yourself down with sweat and struggles. Just be mindful. The meditation itself will take care of the future
okay, this is a good place to stop. Will now recite the Four Vows