I sat with the young dharma group at Jeana's tonight, (185 Mission St. Apt 5 if you are interested). The topic beign discussed was addiction. What the group name right away was that when you were mindful of the feelings that accompanied the dive into an addiction, usually the driving feeling was boredom. Boredom is interesting in that I feel it very viscerally. It hurts me physically and I want to scramble away from it as quickly as possible. Then I will flee into another thought, or a drama of the moment, a story, a recrimination, or even start to move physically. I will check email compulsively, a begin a fervent surf of the internet, each click driving a spike of dopamine into my blood stream and staving off, for a moment, the rising wall of panic.
But what happens when I do the opposite. When I turn into the boredom. Strangley, when I turn into it, look for that emotion of boredom, it dissolves. I am suddenly intensify interested in the feeling and the conditions and then I find that I am not bored at all. That I was bored was just a story I was telling myself. When I pay attention, its gone, a phantom, a dream.
Interestingly, I notice that is the way with a lot of my emotions. Maybe all of them. Recently I have noticed that when I turn into anger, or boredom, or intimidation, or jealously, they soften, and when I extend my feelings a kindness, letting them be whatever they are in the moment, they just fade and disappear. I am surprised to learn that I don't feel the way I thought I did when I wasn't looking. Its not as bad as I thought. Or rather, its exactly as bad as I thought and now I am not thinking about it, but just letting it be, its not bad at all. Can you really hate yourself as psychologists seem to say? My experience is no. The only way to experience that sensation is not to really pay attention to yourself, but rather to tell yourself stories about how you should be and what is wrong with you. When you really just kindly spend time and attention with what is really there, how can you hate it? I thought I could, but I couldn't. Its just me; And thats just kind of there, without judgment.
So there you go, just like the cold that I noticed I no longer felt when I really paid caring attention to the sensations and stories that were happened in that moment, similarly, I noticed that when I look into boredom, there is no boredom, and when I look into anger, there is no anger. There is something, its just....well, me. And who am I to judge that?
So what does that mean about addiction? Well, addiction is very real. But like boredom, the interesting thing to me is that you have to start by liking it a little. By admitting that you are in fact getting something you want and need. And once you do that, the addiction is less immediate. There is just a little space there because you are beign kind about what that addiction is doing for you, and seeing that you have needs that are not met. Sometimes we have the freedom in that space to make other choices. Other times the best we can do is just enjoy our addiction. Sometimes we have no choice at all, or so it seems. But there is no reason that your addiction is something other than you. There is nothing bad there. Nothing to be eradicated or destroyed. There is no warden in that prison, and sometimes when I pay attention, I notice that while the window is barred, the door is open, and I can just walk on out.
Since personal experience is the cornerstone of what I am doing here, I will put more me in this. Recently, I noticed this buzzing in my head. It drives me on to do more and more and the sensation, once I paid attention to it, is quite euphoric. I noticed when it was gone, the buzz was gone, and that this sensation may come from all the excersize I do. I don't really go to the gym, but I surf most days, and I climb many others, and then I ride my bike places and walk a lot. I also like to lift weights on occasion. I truly like these activities, but when I noticed the buzzing, I noticed it had more qualities than I ha previously noticed. I noticed that there was a hunger there and once I noticed it, paid attention to it, I noticed I was not entirely comfortable with how it felt. maybe all this activity was my addiction? Well, once I noticed it, it took a couple months, but eventually, there arose the realization that I was bored with answering that hunger. I wondered what it would be like to do something different. So, thats what I am doing. There was enough space created by my attention that I noticed how the cell door was open, even though I had been banging on the window bars. So, Then I sat in the bunk of my mind and made up stories about the horrors of outside the cell. Finally, I decided that horrors or not, I wanted to see what was out there. Frankly, I knew all about the cell and wanted something different, even if it confirmed all my fears. So, this month I am doing something differnt. I dont know what that is yet, because this is new, but somehow, I am discovering I know just what to do. Strange how when we forget what
Thanks for your attention if you got this far.
Teacherless? I feel like my high school English teacher would be really upset about that. If not, then my dear Nana, a stalwart defender of her majesty's tongue. But I digress.
At Wind-in-Grass, we play games. Sometimes I think of them before the weekly meeting. Sometimes they just suggest themselves to my great relief.
Last week, we played our 4th and 5th games. The Truth Onion and the Teacherless Teacher.
In the truth onion, after a period of zazen ( seated meditation), I invited the group to consider a truth. The idea was that each person would alternative offer a reason why this was, or was not true. Since we had an odd number of people, it worked out that everyone alternated their stances. In this way, I hoped that we might see how the truth as we know it, isn's as certain as we think it is. That it is like an onion, layer after layer, with the center an illusion, empty. In practice, the game may not have demonstrated that.
We used the observation, "Its cold in here". People looked to outside data to confirm it, but inside subjective observation to contest it. Around we went. What I noticed was that after a time, I was not so certain if it was cold or not, or that the feeling was unpleasant. The cold seemed more maleable, more negotiable and abstract. Try it sometimes.
The teacherless teacher seemed to flow better, which was interesting because it came to me on the spot. I asked that each person speak a single sentence into the room in response the the one from the person before them. Just one. In this way, we saw our minds want to anticipate, and struggle to "make sense" and to create a consistent story. As we went around however, the narrative approximated poetry. There were electrons and bird, drafts and waves. Deep water and stillness, the the fish below. Somehow there without a teacher, there was a dharma talk. Whos
No idea how long this will last, but for the moment I am intrigued by getting up some historical background into the zen masters who inhabit my koans.
Lingi. Lets start with Lingi, because, well, because John seems to like to talk about him. Then we can move from there.
Lingi was born in the Tang Dynasty, in China. That means very little to me. It doesn't look like anyone knows when he was born, but he died in 866. Linji was trained by the Chan master Huángbò Xīyùn , who, from what I understand, was a tall cat who seemed to like to encourage students into awakening by hitting them or shouting. This seems a bit childish, but its important to realize that this was before the internet and entertainment was pretty limited in rural China. There is no record on how many students this worked with, but it kind of worked on Lingi, who, according to legend, was struck by Huangbo in response to what sounded like a pretty reasonable question to me, and, taking it for a signal of his failure, left the monastery to take up with a reclusive monk, Dayu. According to the Record of Linji, Lingi then was enlightened while discussing Huángbò's teaching during a conversation with Dàyú, who called Lingi an ingrate for not recognizing how kind and caring Huangbo had been in striking him. Linji then returned to Huángbò to continue his training after awakening. In 851, Linji moved to the Linji temple in Hebei, where he took his name, which also became the name for the lineage of his form of Chán Buddhism.
Lingi is credited with the instruction that if you should meet a Buddha, "Kill him". The full quote is:
Followers of the Way, if you want to get the kind of understanding that accords with the dharma, never be misled by others. Whether you're facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it! If you meet a buddha kill the buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet an arhat, kill the arhat [whatever that is]. If you meet your parents, kill your parents. If you meet your kinfolk, kill your kinfolk. Then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, will pass freely anywhere you wish to go.
So, that's pretty much it. Comments?
The following is a guest post by Sara, a WiG member, written after practice on WEdnesday the 6th. My deep gratitude for her thoughts, her sincerity and her words:
t’s interesting what my mind does when my practice is uneven and my body a live-wire. For the past few days I couldn’t discern when my thoughts had wandered, and when I did notice, I just watched myself get wrapped up in the story, feeling no inclination to do anything about it. I watched, slightly disinterested, vaguely frozen behind a soap-bubble. Inevitably, the thought would arise: “Well, why don’t you DO something about this!?”
In the past I would have bristled up and sat up straight and found some gimmick to help me concentrate. But I simply didn’t FEEL like it this time. First I stuck my tongue out at that voice, and pranced about, smirking. Haha! I’m doing zen bad. Bad bad bad!! I felt an adolescent joy in watching my mind run the show, feeling that it was somehow “against the rules,” but feeling unmotivated to do anything about it.
But then, finding no will, no special trick of ‘being’, to alter the course of inner events, I began to play with the phenomenon. I started yelling at each thought as it arose, in a mock army seargent’s bellow: “What are you doing here, little thought?
Why are you here? WHAT do you want with me?”
The thoughts were so befuddled by this new form of interaction that they stopped dead in their tracks. Caught in the spotlight. “Well??” I demanded. They didn’t have any response. And then I realized I was yelling at paper dolls, at little wispy wind-o-the-wills, and they just rustled back at me. Finding nowhere to land, my fighting words just flew back at me and landed on my belly. I began to laugh. At myself, at the words, at my inner sargent, at the rustling underneath it all.
Wedneday night late. Ill just drop some notes. Regular WEdnesday night meeting S and J came and sat.
After Zazen, we discussed the koan "Illness and medicine relate to one another. All the world is medicine. Who am I?" It was a koan we used for the short series last year, but it was new to the group.
Interesting discussion though. The format was that everyone would say something that they noticed and we would go twice around the group. Questions were welcome but not comments.
So, what I noticed was that if all the world is medicine, then even the parts we thing are illness are also medicine. You "cure" them by stopping considering them as problems, or illness. The thoughts created the illness. When that dropped away, everything was well. Medicine then, was anything that helps you break out of that fantasy that there is something wrong. I noticed that if you stop looking at death as an illness, then its just a natural part of life.
J noticed that she had a hard time believing that all the world was medicine. She thought it was easier to think that maybe the whole world was illness. S got stuck with medicine. Not health, but a promise of a cure. By thinking that you needed curing, you created an illness.
Later, on a moment of grandiose inspiration, I asked the group to turn right, and ask the person there "What is your illness?" and for that person to answer immediately with what came up.
Lack of caring,
Then we changed it, and asked, "what is wrong with you?" since to me, that's what is going on, that we are imagining that we are deficient and need curing.
I laugh too much,
I am insecure,
I act in evil ways,
Finally, I asked "how will meditation cure you?", another interesting fantasy we cary with us:
Attetntion to my intent
calm my thoughts,
I am forgetting more than I am recalliny, but thanks J and S, jumping in whole heartedly. It was an amazing discussion and I learned a lot from you all.
I just returned from sesshin yesterday. Sesshin is a practice of intensive meditation, the tradition coming from Zen monastic practices. I am not going to describe sesshins in general here,but talk about my experience with sesshin and this sesshin.
First of all sesshins go on for a week. You sit many hours a day. I have never been able to take a week off of work to attend. This is the case for a lot of people, hence I have noticed that sesshins in general are pretty poorly attended by working people. This means that when I arrive, the sesshin is in full swing and practioners are already many days into deepening their practices. The energies are not congruent and I notice I feel more like I am observing than participating. On shorter 3 days sesshins, I have been able to attend and therefore have felt more in tune. I joined in and filled in the work practice schedule. I was there Friday to Sunday, but to make that happen worked till 3am on Friday morning and drove right over.
It was a great, perfect sesshin for me, perhaps my favorite.
My legs really hurt; I think I may have injured my knee; my lower back gave out quickly; I was unable to sleep one nights one and three; I involuntarily jerked in and out of sleep through most of the meditation periods and took to long periods of kinhin ("walking meditation") my myself to keep awake; the food was mainly tomato based, so I was often hungry and/or in gastronomic pain; there were no sheets on my bed; I had to work during the rest periods after my work practice; I got three kitchen clean ups in a row (lunch, dinner and breakfast in a short period); I had to work until after midnight on a client proposal; I was exhausted and felt a low level rage at all times. It was awesome.
I turned into the rage. And turned into it again. And saw in stark silhouette my expectations on how meditation could be or should be, and what I want and how I move when I dont get it. I saw that anger sometimes softens with attention, sometimes disappears, but sometimes hardens and remains and that this is not failure, but perfect.
Turning inward toward perceived failure, it turns out, is like a knife cutting off delusion. I noticed that the pits of my disappointment were really no different than the highs of silent mind and open channels of loving. There was a kindness there, offered involuntarily, like a father caring for a sick child. There was a naked moment of appreciating the expectations on how meditation goes, and what elnightenment might look like. There is the freedom that pain and confusion will not kill you, and in fact, hosts many small packets of contentment. There is realizing that your participation may not be necessary in moving toward the light. It might be moving toward you.
I was a live wire, distracted and sleeping, but the koans kept working and the practice kept practicing. I saw layers like onions, of consciousness, my consciousness, and felt the warm centerlessness of practice. I saw the grey carpet, and felt knees hurt and they all made it into the inbox. It was all so not what I wanted, and yet, the work got done anyway. I had to spend me hours in attention not to bliss or connectedness, but hour upon hour of frusutration and isolation. There was lpeace, only short periods of stillness. Your reward for noticing your breath? Oh, more pain. More hallucinating images. More dreams. More anxiety. Sometimes thats how it is. Believing that attention to our breath, our selves, our lives, our sitting, will bring peace and contentment is another fantasy, like believing that if we are good zen students, we will not be afraid when we die. It might happen, but its a fantasy. What is sure is that you will die, will be scared, will hurt, will be mad. What does that look like?
Besides all that happy crappy, if you still want to keep with something after all this, you know you really want it. Its not Huike cutting off his arm to study with Bodidharma, but its teeth.
I left, then went home, surfed, ate, talked, slept, awoke, worked and boom, it dropped. It felt like the space between work, sleep and practice just reduced. The lines of delineation greyer and blurrier. I am noticing that I can feel now the connection between drafting and surfing and making park ribs and sitting. It all got a little closer and less separate. I have noticed lately that I am finding it harder and harder to discern when I am sitting and not. Today I am noticing that more, but also, noticing how I can feel one while I do the other. How sitting IS surfing and cutting my toenails IS deposing a witness. And how they differ.
File to the whoever cares department: I notice after sesshin I often forget to write the letter "I", and to refer to I. Interesting. Obviously, for this blog, I am making that effort.
I close this post with an ill-advised poem about the experience:
In darkness more darkness
so the light might be better able to find me.
Yes. That's it. Fuck off if you don't like it.
Tonight in teh Zendo, I spoke a little about shadows. The first thing I noticed is that there really is no such thing. That is, a shadow is not really a thing. It has not force, no weight, no mass. Yet shadows are profoundly powerful. They make animals in clouds and faces in trees in night. I thought about shadows as the absence of light, and contemplated how Zen seems to often focus on light as metaphor for enlightenment. What about darkness. Full shadow. The absence of light. When I was young, I was frightened of the dark. But the world does not change when it is dark. There is nothing more in the darkness than there was in the light, except for my fears and apprehensions.
The mind can be like a shadow, to me, creating faces and patterns and stories where there is nothing. When we believe that the shadows are a man waiting, or an animal crouching, it is the ideas that hold power over us, and our persistence in believing them. Darkness then is like depression. Darkness is something I think we all struggle with at different times and yet we know well that there is nothing different about the world when we are depressed. It doesn't change. Our relationship to it changes. But like darkness, you must be more careful, because darkness and shadows must be headed, must be acknowledged and addressed. Just, perhaps not entirely believed, giving room for something else to happen.
So tonight we sat for a 5 minute period. I asked that during that period, when people heard me ring the sonorous zendo bell, to just drop in the question, "Is that true?". That's it. Afterwords, we discussed what we noticed.
S noticed that she had a hard time finding any thoughts at all. That she was worried that she would not have a thought to challenge when the question rang. I aksed her if she found a true thought. She said yes. I asked how she knew. Thats an interesting thing. Sometimes we feel that we find an true thought, but how do we know that? Is that true? Are there any true thoughts at all? Think about the possibilities if not. If there are no true thoughts, then any thought has equal weight, or no weight. That is to say, they are enjoyable for their artistic merit, but interestingly not necessary or grave.
And I noticed a couple of things. I noticed that I was worried that S would want the bell rung. From where on earth did that thought come? How exactly was I knowing what S thought? I didn't. What an odd idea.
We diverted down a path where S noticed how she was more likely to believe negative thoughts were true. I think we all get there. Somehow its easier to persist in the fantasy that there is something wrong with us, and thoughts that confirm that we need improving or that we are meditating wrong are consistent with that fantasy. But the other is more troubling, at least at first, that there may, in fact, be nothing wrong with us. But of course, that is another thought, and probably not true either. So what happens when there are no true thoughts? Are we freer?
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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