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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Shikantaza (repost from Treeleaf)

Our practice is an odd thing to describe, but I'll try.

First, you can't 'stop' thinking. Trying to stop thinking is just more thinking.

Secondly, there really is no 'progress' to speak of. The whole idea of 'progress' is anathema to Shikantaza. There is 'effortless effort' - but that is an 'in each moment thing'. You will not get 'better' at Shikantaza because it's hard to qualify or quantify 'better'. Is having fewer thoughts an indicator of 'progress'? Not really. I can't speak for Taigu or Jundo, but I suspect there are many times when their practice is constantly beset by thought. Mine certainly is! All ideas of 'better' or 'worse' simply make no sense in a practice confined to each moment as it happens.

When you sit, your mind will likely begin taking you on a 'ride' somewhere. At first, this is usually a 'mental' ride - a 'grocery list' of things your discursive mind helpfully tries to bring to your attention. I call it a 'ride' because you are invested in these little trips. You may find them important or tiresome or worrisome - but in some way, your attention is drawn into them to the inevitable exclusion of immediate experience. You are involved in these trips. As soon as you realize that you are involved in a trip - that your identity is invested in a trip, you bring your awareness back to 'right here' (which is really 'nowhere in particular'). You 'get off the ride'. When you begin Shikantaza, you'll find that your helpful mind almost immediately begins to take you on another little 'trip'. Your attention and identity become drawn to another discursive thought pattern. This is actually a good thing in a way, because only by having your mind take these little trips can you realize how your attention and identity are getting sucked into them! The dropping can only happen when there is something to drop, and the activity of 'dropping and coming back' can really only be cultivated in a delusive and confused mind. The important thing is to realize you are being taken for a ride. Truly, simply noticing it typically causes your identity to dissolve. It's very important that you don't make the 'activity of dropping' yet ANOTHER ride.. There is no 'dropper'.

Once you begin to do this 'dropping', something very tricky will begin to happen. Typically, your mind will choose more and more 'rides' that have an emotional quality to them. Fear, greed, lust, outright terror, etc. The egoic mind adds more 'firepower' to the trick, but it is essentially the same trick. Try to keep some compassion for your egoic mind! It really does think it is trying to help! It can be a bit more difficult to 'drop' emotionally charged 'rides'. Sometimes, you may have to take some 'off cushion' time to truly investigate these emotionally charged thought patterns. My favorite thing for this is Byron Katie's 'Work' - because it actively shows the egoic mind the errors in its assumptions - that is, it shows you how much you really don't know - but this is not done in interruption of your practice. If you are sitting and fear comes, notice the 'stickiness' of the emotion/thought, and drop it to the best of your ability. If it does not 'drop', then sit with it with awareness. You may discover some true strength in being able to sit in the face of absolute terror! Doing just this helped me overcome a rapidly developing Panic Disorder.

Lastly, if your dropping reflex becomes very quick - if you become aware of the 'rides' before they even start and drop them immediately, you may experience thoughts nonetheless - floating, sideways, etherial....but they are disidentified and they are part of the now - they do not form an identity and pull you from 'right here, right now' - they become PART of 'right here, right now' (they always were, but your mind screened out the now in favor of a particular thought pattern). At this point, the thoughts actually may become less frequent. Without the energy of identification, there is much less energy for thought creation. Nonetheless, an unidentifiedawareness begins to become known to you. It has always been there. It is not 'developed' by sitting Shikantaza. As a matter of fact, identification is a FUNCTION of the thought trips - there is no identity aside from them.

I hope that helped more than it confused. Shikantaza really is much different from 'mindfulness' practice as I know it.

Jundo or Taigu will be along to correct me shortly (I hope).


Friday, July 17, 2009

Sitting more...

And sitting for longer, ignoring the verdicts that my mind tries to make up for the sessions. This is all as it should be. I get about 3 minutes of less-blinkered, less figet-ey, less 'gotta-move' oriented story talk than I have had in a long time. I still miss days, but it seems I miss no more days than when I was aiming at ten minutes of meditation anyway, and twenty minutes feels more authentically sincere. I give up the 'I get to (get up, get a beer, listen to music) etc.' feeling after the first ten minutes are killed in small circles of 'back to the breath, back to what 'this' is.'

I know I must be stressed because I'm ignoring all my plans. My diet and exercise plan is on a shelf for about a few more days now, my budget needs 'catch-up' time soon before it becomes merely what 'used to be a budget'. I'm drinking strong beer and smoking cigarettes. I'm endlessly playing mindless computer games when I know I have to pack. When I know I have to set up my broadband internet disconnect and box and ship some things that I think won't make it in the back of my car for the trip home.

From the outside I can tell something is wrong..and sitting with it doesn't acquaint me with it, but I know that when I sit, I'm sitting with it.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Life is messy and lonely

My stepfather died today. Technically it was yesterday, but I haven't slept yet - and my current girlfriend and an old drunk friend both have assured me that 'it isn't tomorrow until you sleep'.

He was a flawed man. Drank a lot of vodka. He was supposed to have been on the wagon the last year or so, but we all suspected he took a nip or two now and then. He wasn't like my long dead old man though - he didn't get mean when he drank. He didn't cut you down. He was out to lunch, he told the same stories again and again. He hit on your girlfriend, drunk in his underwear (Sorry Karla, Kristy, Theresa, and Janel). He was mostly harmless.

Like the rest of my family, I don't for a moment think he ever understood me. Maybe it was because he was outside though - I didn't fear him. I didn't fear his judgment. He wasn't supposed to understand me. Fuck, I don't know why I would expect my family to understand me - they're like strangers with special claims, but not kindred - not people to which you tell strange thoughts - unless you want strange looks. I scare my mom, I annoy my brother and sister - but here's the kicker....I could have told Jack anything and there would have been no judgment. Why would there be? My fucked-up-ness was really no reflection on him. My fucked-up-ness scares my mom because she thinks it's an indictment, a sign of bad parenting. My screwed-up-ness is just a mirror for her mistakes. She wonders why I stay away, but that's really the only reason. I sometimes feel like the reality of who I am hurts her. My fucked-up-ness annoys my brother because he thinks it's just obstinance - he's always wondered why I just had to be so fucking weird. It scares and embarrasses my sister - maybe because she fears she'll be like me when she grows up more. Of all my siblings, she and I are most alike. She'd never admit that, though. She's repulsed by my weakness.

With Jack, there was none of that. Sure, there were times when he kicked me in the ass and told me to shape up, but it wasn't because he feared or was repulsed by anything I did.

When my mom told me he was dead this morning...I didn't feel anything. I knew it would fuck me up somehow, but I couldn't feel it. It took getting drunk to really let it sink in. Intoxication - the secret language of the fucked up - the bent key to a heart that thinks it's safe from loss.

I'm gonna come up with a reason not to go to his funeral. I had to be there for my father - and there was more junk there. I had to be there because Dave was in prison, and there was really just me and Dave anyway. That's the way my father was - alone, alone, alone, alone.

Jack is surrounded by friends. The vodka didn't always let them in, but they were there. Someone (anyone) else can take this hit. I already put an old man into the ground and I don't savor putting down another one.

He was my friend. If he'd have gone to the hospital two weeks sooner, he'd still be alive.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

No Problems...

(Originally posted on

My girlfriend lives 1,400 miles away and I haven't seen her in 4 1/2 years (we broke up way back when and have gotten back in touch via telephone contact the last two months).

I am about $40k in debt and it will take me at least two years of travel nursing to get out.

My car needs new tires.

I only have my employment secured until mid-July and if I run out of travel assigments, I may have to become a staff nurse which may lead to bankruptcy (!!).

And yet, I dont' really have any problems.These sorts of things would consume me in years previous. Now, they don't. I don't think it's zazen. I don't know what it is.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why are you a Buddhist?


So I get this question a lot.

I didn't really choose Buddhism. I don't know why people choose Buddhism because Buddhism chose me.

When I was seventeen years old, after reading part of a book that only tangentially mentioned Buddhism, I meditated for the first time. I'm not even sure that the meditation 'technique' mentioned in the book was Buddhist per se. Heck, it was more of a description of what one meditator felt she was doing. Thinking back, it reminds me of shikantaza or what Adyashanti advocates.

A little background... I used to hang out in this about-to-be-condemned house that my friend's older brother Jason lived in. A bunch of the kids in the area hung out there and drank Keystone, SoCo, Kessler's, and Old Style. Sometimes we smoked pot.

Jason had borrowed this book from the library, and I, hanging out not drunk, not stoned, had picked it up and started reading it. This book had some sort of something to do with things 'Beyond the Occult' - OOB experiences, remembered reincarnation, the differences between Hindu and Buddhist meditation as relates to startle-ability (is that a word?) - that sort of thing. For reasons I don't understand and with such scanty understanding of what meditation was, I was inspired to try it. I sat in an old couch in a room off to the side during midday when the house was still relatively quiet and basically just did what the woman in the book described.

On the third try, I discovered some things that were quite surprising.

I couldn't find a 'me'. I found all sorts of references to an 'I' or a 'me', but it was like every story I had about 'me' had a footnote that said 'see this other thought/story', and then that reference led to some other story or reference which then referenced something else altogether...and on and on into infinity. This sounds like it's a disturbing revelation, but it's really not. I simply could not find a 'me'. In the end, I had no idea who or what the heck these stories were talking about. There was just this is-ness happening in each moment. Over and over and over.

At the same time, I also realized that I never experienced objects. There were only sensations, and even those fled from direct observation to the point that I couldn't even say they were anything. Everything I thought was real was ... well, real, but not what I thought it was.

There was more, but none of it as truly astounding as these two things. I felt profoundly stupid, but ecstatic at the same time. Why had I not noticed this before?? Why doesn't everyone notice? It's right fucking in front of us all the time.

Of course, because of the remoteness of where I grew up, it took two more years before I really learned about Zen, and I still struggled in the dark with my psychological issues. A minute with the lights on does not dispel all darkness, but it does dispel all doubts. It's been years since then; years when sometimes the lights came on at nearly full-strength, times when they were dim, and times when I couldn't see a damned thing.

Nonetheless, I have no doubts about the fundamental truth of Buddhism.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A flurry of posts!

Maybe it's just the newness of Blogger, but here goes another one:

I texted my ex-girlfriend the other day and the conversation turned to why two people so horribly mismatched as she and I ended up together.  First, she blamed it on my impulsiveness.  When pressed, she also said she was bored and unhappy and hence made bad decisions.  I didn't bother to point out to her that she laid out a scenario that blamed our misguided union on an intrinsic flaw on my part and a situational reality on hers.  I didn't take psychology, but I'm pretty sure that's the fundamental attribution error in action.

I hit the gym today for the first time in three and a half weeks. Goddamn, it feels good to be back!  I also sat zazen for the first time in a very long while.  Did I mention, "Goddamn, it feels good to be back!"?

You're not supposed to talk about any supposed 'benefits' to zazen - it's nearly heretical to speak of such a thing in a lot of circles, and there are VERY good reasons for this if one can genuinely get to that point. On the most important hand, yeah, zazen REALLY is useless and Zen in general will not provide any of the things that it seems people are looking for from it.  That said, on a relative level, it seems to provide a valuable counterpoint to heavy weightlifting.  The thing I most often forget though, is that zazen provides a tiny bit of relief from the tyranny of the mind.  I don't mean that the mind doesn't keep running - oh dear, it surely does - but it's almost like the steering wheel is disengaged from the car.  The mind turns and turns, but it doesn't drive anything.  During zazen (and maybe in extremely dangerous situations) is the only time I've ever experienced this.  It's valuable to realize that the mind doesn't have to drive.  The universe doesn't need you to drive...