Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Re-(Not)Thinking Sitting

I've noticed a few changes in my practice recently, like what goes on while I'm sitting. This nice post got me to re-examine my practice so I'd like to go over it a little bit so I'll at least have something to look back on.

Pretty much from the beginning, when I'd sat, my mind was a little like a TV screen with my thoughts-of-not-thinking taking up most of the screen and my thinking thoughts scrolling across the bottom like a news ticker. Sometimes I'd get caught with what was passing by on the bottom, but then come back to what I was supposed to be watching.

This seemed like a pretty good setup. I wasn't intentionally blocking my thoughts, just being aware they were there and letting them go by. It wasn't an intentional contrivance, it would just present itself that way. Guess I watch too much TV.

Other times I would find things a little differently. My breath would be like the waves on the beach, in and out without effort or stopping. Thoughts would wash up like crabs or seaweed and soil my pristine beach. Instead of tracking all over the sand to throw them back, I would just let the out-breath wash them back out to sea. Sometimes it would take a few waves, but they'd leave eventually.

These aren't really visualizations, though. They're closer to metaphors of just how it works. But with both of them thoughts were pretty concrete, the longer I practiced, the more concrete the thoughts became. It got to the point where coming back to the present was as solid a feeling as waking from sleep to find my dreams dissolved into nothing.

Recently, though my thoughts have become sneakier. They've learned how to ride the waves and interject like commercials. Like enjoying the clear blue sky only to realize you're contriving shapes from the clouds. They're quieter as they slip in and sit there like they're supposed to belong.

While I intellectually understand all the lessons I should have about this: not judging my practice, not getting frustrated by change, new opportunities, blah, blah... it's still a little annoying.

Honestly, while I've been sitting regularly for between three and seven months (depending on your definition of regular) if I were to judge my practice, I'd say I was doing better when I'd just begun. The only thing that's gotten better is my flexibility, improving my comfort level. Whether that view is tainted by the passage of time or not, I don't know. But I have stuck with it and it's most definitely a habit.

With these new developments, one new perspective has illuminated itself. In my comment of the post linked to above, I stated my issue with letting the time pass during zazen. A few days after making that comment, I realized what I was really acknowledging: impatience.

This was a little bit of a shock, since I pride myself on being pretty patient. I know it's not always true, but still... I can pretty much tell out of habit when about twenty minutes has passed and since I've started trying to sit for thirty at home, when that's passed. I think sub-consciously I'm just telling myself, "good effort, that's enough zazen but you got finished too fast and now we have to wait until time's up," like I'm taking a standardized test or something.

Surrendering to a timer is still surrendering in the way surrendering is giving up this way. While I freed my mind from the responsibility of deciding when enough was enough, I wasn't addressing the problem of being impatient.

So now when I sit, I have to be mindful of this. Come back to what my body is telling me after I've decided enough is enough, because enough is never enough. All I've accomplished is the ability is to sit for twenty minutes, not to sit in the moment moment after moment. In Opening the Hand of Thought, Uchiyama Roshi urges us to "sit for ten years, then for ten more years, then another ten years." But I sit for twenty minutes, then twenty more, and another twenty when I should just be sitting.

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