First sittings (experience advice)

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  • BaltimoreBuddhist
    • Jul 2024

    First sittings (experience advice)

    I have officially been a member here for a few days now. As I stated when I first introduced myself, I haven't done any sort of consistent meditation in many years. Even in the years that I did do it, it was not for protracted periods of time. While I'm sure there is a succinct "this is how to meditate" thread here, I couldn't find it when I started. Obviously there is "just sitting" but that's sort of like "just singing." I actually found an interesting link a week or so ago (which is how Chet introduced me to this site!) http://www.zenguide.com/zenmedia/boo...ditation_guide. I have since found lots of discussions on sitting form and a handful on concentration, so obviously this is a common question.

    I have tried to sit every day since Monday. I sat for a whopping five minutes on Monday. Yesterday I tried to sit for 20 and again 20 minutes today. Wow! What a disaster. It's amazing how undisciplined the mind can get, but it does get better. First time was so short I dare not call it sitting. I think I've had blinks that were longer. The second one was like watching my life flash before my eyes. Nothing but mental images, tasks I forgot to do or wanted to do, et cetera. The mind would not settle down. I started trying to do counting with my sitting session today. That did help a bit, but often times I couldn't concentrate. The good news is that by today five minutes didn't feel like thirty and I didn't get ants in my pants the whole time.

    I do need to work on sitting form though. My core strength isn't what it should be and I had some lower back problems last year. I want to get to sitting the full 20-30 minutes on the floor in Burmese or half lotus position, but as of now I can do that for a maybe half that long tops. I use my breathing concentration techniques from yoga and the counting method in the above link to help concentrate on breath and get rid of the thousands of distracting flashes before my eyes. It's incredible how hard just being present can be. You would think we would just do that intrinsically.
  • Jinyu
    Member
    • May 2009
    • 768

    #2
    Re: First sittings (experience advice)

    Hi!
    Thanks for sharing your experiences!
    I'm sure Jundo or Taigu will answer soon.
    I'm quite busy so I'm afraid I can't take the time to answer you properly,
    but I think you should seriously just listen to the "zazen for the beginners" on the sit-a-long ( http://www.shambhalasun.com/sunspace/?a ... 01&paged=2 ), because Jundo and Taigu made various talks on those subjects. And above all, it 'll give you the "taste" of the vision of jundo (and Taigu) on those subjects...

    I'm sorry to be so "vague" on my answers, I 'm sure someone will do better...

    Gassho,
    Luis/Jinyu

    ps: Welcome to Treeleaf Sangha!
    Jinyu aka Luis aka Silly guy from Brussels

    Comment

    • KellyRok
      Member
      • Jul 2008
      • 1374

      #3
      Re: First sittings (experience advice)

      Hi all,

      Luis is right...Jundo and Taigu did a wonderful series...try this link: http://www.shambhalasun.com/sunspace...+for+beginners. They both have offered some great tips for beginners at zazen.

      My only advice is that your mind will play tricks on you. You will get distracted over and over again. But keep coming back to your breath, again and again. In the beginning, I could only sit for about 10-15 minutes. But that's okay, as long as you sit. Try adding one or two minutes to your time each time and before you know it, you'll be at the 20-30 minute mark. Don't get discouraged with yourself and don't expect too much too soon. It is okay to switch positions if you are in pain or try doing walking meditation (kinhin). I have to rely on kinhin at times when my back won't allow me to sit for long periods (but I have chronic back problems).

      I know this isn't much, but I hope it gets you started...

      Gassho,
      Kelly-Jinmei

      Comment

      • BaltimoreBuddhist

        #4
        Re: First sittings (experience advice)

        Thank you, Luis and Kelly. I have started those series but have been trying to digest them one a day rather than blitz through them. I have gotten up to the four noble truths one. I'll do another one tonight. I do expect that with more practice I'll be able to have more mental discipline and mental calmness (which I'm hoping will filter into other aspects of life). As my core strength improves I'm really looking forward to more floor sitting too, but at this point it seems to be more of a distraction.

        Hank

        Comment

        • kfrance0
          Member
          • Jul 2009
          • 44

          #5
          Re: First sittings (experience advice)

          Getting distracted, realizing you're distracted, and then pulling yourself back to the moment is part of the point. You're learning to bring yourself back to mindfulness when you drift, and hopefully that will carry over to other activities, not just sitting in zazen.

          Unless, of course, I've totally missed the point, which is entirely probable. ;-)
          Kevin France
          ---
          Breathe fully and effortlessly, like a child
          See who you are, without distortion
          (Tao Te Ching, ch 10)

          Comment

          • Stephanie

            #6
            Re: First sittings (experience advice)

            Hi Hank,

            Everything you describe is absolutely "par for the course." You will experience this stuff--random weird feelings and memories, "ants in the pants," etc.--no matter how long you sit! How's that for encouraging? :wink:

            Don't worry too much about how "disciplined" your mind is or is not. I've learned through many years of trial and error in practice that whether the mind is "disciplined" or not is really not the point. Some times in your life, you and your mind will be disciplined; some times will be more chaotic. The only valuable practice is the one that gives you freedom in either condition, not the one in which you're constantly trying to change the "chaotic" or "unpleasant" condition to the "disciplined" and "pleasant" one.

            Just watch what your mind does. Notice when it drifts, and notice that you are noticing that. Chet has some excellent advice that has really helped me out, and one of the best pieces of his advice I can point to is to be curious about what's going on. Not to try to control or change what's happening, but to be curious about what actually is happening.

            It is definitely more difficult in the beginning, so perhaps the best advice now is to "keep it simple." If your butt is on the cushion, and you're sitting no matter what your mind is doing, that's the absolutely most important thing that could be happening. There are no results in this practice... just freedom.

            Stephanie

            Comment

            • Taigu
              Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest
              • Aug 2008
              • 2710

              #7
              Re: First sittings (experience advice)

              Hi Hank,

              Noticing how difficult it is for the mind to settle down is already a great realisation . Seeing through your-mine basic delusion is one of the treasures of our practice. Shikantaza is not a supermarket, you may shop but on the shelves you 'll find nothing but confusion and delusion. What sees the delusion is Buddha mind, what thinks it is Buddha is deluded mind.

              I use my breathing concentration techniques from yoga and the counting method in the above link to help concentrate on breath and get rid of the thousands of distracting flashes before my eyes. It's incredible how hard just being present can be.
              Getting rid of is not shikantaza. Breathing concentration techniques from yoga are of very little help here.
              Just being present is easy, you have done nothing else since you were born. What is difficult is not to add to its simplicity. But even though, the ten thousand thoughts are part of it. As Stephanie says, just notice without judging . Please, don't try to achieve anything special and don't expect any result.

              Now, you might just be an old cow chewing what Jundo or this old fool have to say, please, go to the vids for beginners as Luis nad Kelly suggest... Listen, study, forget, sit and sit , again and again.

              No quick fix here, miracle method or instant Dharma. Your patience is precious. Be patient.

              Patient



              Patient



              Patient



              Patient...


              gassho


              Taigu

              Comment

              • BaltimoreBuddhist

                #8
                Re: First sittings (experience advice)

                Getting rid of is not shikantaza. Breathing concentration techniques from yoga are of very little help here.
                Just being present is easy, you have done nothing else since you were born. What is difficult is not to add to its simplicity. But even though, the ten thousand thoughts are part of it. As Stephanie says, just notice without judging . Please, don't try to achieve anything special and don't expect any result.
                I suppose getting rid of is the wrong expression, I meant instead to minimize. How can one be in the present if their mind is continuously focused on the reality (or perceived reality) of the past or the potential (or perceived potential) of the future? These thoughts will come and go, but it being 95% of one's active thought process so that we are missing the now in lieu of obsessing about the past and the future is one of the things I like to correct through meditation. The breath counting recommended in that Zazen link I posted seemed like a good exercise for centering the mind on the experience of now. My yoga breathing comment came from a similar place. The Zen Mountain Monastery link on another thread illustrated what the recommended breathing in zazen should be like. It is incredibly similar to the breathing one should have when doing yoga. All of that I was assuming goes back to being mindful of the moment; breathing being one of the most fundamental elements of what is going on at any one moment but so often ignored. The deep breathing, from a yoga perspective anyway, also helps to relax and center the person as opposed to the shallow breathing our bodies adopt as we grow older.

                Comment

                • Taigu
                  Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest
                  • Aug 2008
                  • 2710

                  #9
                  Re: First sittings (experience advice)

                  Hi Hank,

                  Here, in Treeleaf, we only teach shikantaza.

                  I understand why you like breathing techniques. In Dogen's teaching, breathing is not an object. When caught by the still state, that is to sit zen, everything is seen as it is, nothing cultivated, nothing rejected.

                  Dogen never taught about special breathing. You may read the old guy inside out...nothing.

                  Yoga is great too. No need to mix everything. When you do yoga, do yoga. When you sit, just sit.

                  Do you understand my words? Am I clear to you? Do you understand Stephanie, Luis and all the great guys giving you pointers? Or do you want to follow and only taste the path of your old clouds?

                  Be well


                  gassho

                  Taigu

                  ps: by the way, nothing wrong about aging and growing old.

                  Comment

                  • BrianW
                    Member
                    • Oct 2008
                    • 511

                    #10
                    Re: First sittings (experience advice)

                    Originally posted by BaltimoreBuddhist
                    Yesterday I tried to sit for 20 and again 20 minutes today. Wow! What a disaster.
                    Hi Hank,

                    Some great advice above and the point about watching the video series will certainly be of help to you. I just wanted to offer some words of encouragement. The first time I did zazen I thought my mind was going to explode! To go for 20 mins. was almost unbearable. I think it took about a week or so for my mind to settle. I have been doing zazen for well over a year and I can pretty much so sit without much trouble just about anytime. It takes a bit of practice, but as long as you make it part of your daily routine it will become just something you do everyday, without much fanfare.

                    Gassho,
                    Jisen

                    Comment

                    • BaltimoreBuddhist

                      #11
                      Re: First sittings (experience advice)

                      Originally posted by Taigu
                      Here, in Treeleaf, we only teach shikantaza.
                      Great! As I learn about that perhaps I'll be able to refine my comments because I'm obviously not expressing myself appropriately to you.

                      Originally posted by Taigu
                      I understand why you like breathing techniques. In Dogen's teaching, breathing is not an object. When caught by the still state, that is to sit zen, everything is seen as it is, nothing cultivated, nothing rejected.
                      I don't like breathing techniques per se. It was a part of the information I read in the above link (and the Zen monastery link in another thread) on how to begin getting focused on the now.

                      Originally posted by Taigu
                      Dogen never taught about special breathing. You may read the old guy inside out...nothing.
                      Again, great! As a fresh beginner, throwing that sort of amorphous information does nothing for me. I'm going through the videos and reading but this comment isn't particularly helpful.

                      Originally posted by Taigu
                      Yoga is great too. No need to mix everything. When you do yoga, do yoga. When you sit, just sit.
                      I am not mixing the two. I was commenting on the similarities between the breathing techniques highlighted in the link on another thread here and the breathing technique as taught in yoga.

                      Originally posted by Taigu
                      Do you understand my words? Am I clear to you? Do you understand Stephanie, Luis and all the great guys giving you pointers? Or do you want to follow and only taste the path of your old clouds?
                      I'm not sure why you are taking this sort of tone. I've already expressed my inability to appropriately present what I'm trying to say. This sort of accusatory comment doesn't contribute at all to helping get past that. I am incorporating the advice given. It seems the more I try to discuss it the more you attempt to talk down to me about it. I don't appreciate that. My questions may seem infantile to someone who has practiced this for some time, but they don't come from an infantile person or a person without a reasonable level of intellect. If there is a better place for me to be posting these discussions, please direct me there.

                      Comment

                      • disastermouse

                        #12
                        Re: First sittings (experience advice)

                        Hey Hank,

                        When you sit and your mind is a clusterfuck - it doesn't mean you're 'doing it wrong'. Everyone's mind is a clusterfuck. Trying to stop it is futile. Concentration techniques like breath-counting are a bit like 'breaking a horse'. It is control, mental enforcement, etc. I think that some Soto places start with it because SOME mental control seems desirable to them, but I think you'll find that the wild horse of your mind and you will become better friends if you give it a wide space and watch (the watcher goes away too - part of the dream - but for now...). You simply let the mind settle, you don't make it settle. That's because the desire to control is actually a kick from the wild horse, LOL!

                        A lot of teachers start with teaching breath-counting. I think Taigu and Jundo are trying to break a bad habit before it can start - like yanking a cigarette out of your mouth. Taigu may seem rough and dogmatic, but he's actually a lot cuddlier than I am. Basically though, he's saying, 'Do you want to learn or do you want to do it your way?'

                        He's probably pissed you off a little, which is a good sign he's doing his job, LOL!

                        Chet

                        Comment

                        • Keishin
                          Member
                          • Jun 2007
                          • 471

                          #13
                          Re: First sittings (experience advice)

                          Hellos to all posting here!

                          Hank, hat's off to you!

                          You have embarked...

                          Do you know how it is when you open a gate and find a garden?
                          Do you know how it is when you step inside a home and someone has been cooking all day?
                          Do you know how it is to round a corner and catch a glimpse of someone and then recognize your own reflection?

                          Just that moment--BEFORE the mind parses thoughts

                          The mind is constant--like colorful scarves coming out of the magician's hat: no end to them!


                          Thoughts are like words on the page
                          Thoughts are like painting on the canvas
                          So what is 'under' all this thought business? How does one find it?

                          This is likened to trying to see your eye with your own eye or trying to touch your finger with that same finger

                          zazen
                          za (sitting)
                          zen (meditation)

                          is as simple and as basic a way as can be found

                          you know when you walk along the beach, toes in the water, a wave...then the water leaves and small shells, or pebbles move toward the water and the sand changes color as the water leaves it? Some stray stone and bits of shell and seaweed mark the edge of the tideline...

                          sitting, just sitting, is like this: waves of thought
                          coming
                          going

                          there are many different approaches out there and all kinds of different meditation practices.
                          there is no hurry
                          try one for a while (what is 'a while?')
                          you might find yourself at a weekend retreat with a slightly different emphasis

                          life has a way of one thing leading to another

                          you are in a candy shop
                          if you 'sample' too many at the same time you can't taste the distinctiveness of each flavor, only that they are all sweet

                          there is no rush

                          about anything



                          good luck!

                          Comment

                          • Taigu
                            Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest
                            • Aug 2008
                            • 2710

                            #14
                            Re: First sittings (experience advice)

                            Hi Hank,

                            Do you mind if I say hi? I think it is a good habit. Your questions are not infantile. If the tone I used at the end of the post was a bit strong, it had a purpose: to bring your attention to the fact that , maybe, you may listen in a different way. AlthoughI did not want to talk down to you, my clumsy words irritated you.
                            I apologize.

                            As Chet points out, breathing techniques tend to creep in sometimes. They can be helpful but are not part of the scenery of shikantaza, which is a word that is often loosely translated as : just sitting, a word found in Dogen's teachings, Dogen being this Japanese monk who brought back zazen and only zazen to Japan, eight centuries ago. Many guys made the trip to China and came back with books, statues, secret instructions, strange rituals. Dgen came back with the most radical form of Buddhism. You sit as Buddha used to, and Buddha sits you.The form of Zen we practice here is shikantaza. It is not an easy path and you are certainly brave to start this journey.

                            take care, and thank you for your patience


                            gassho



                            Taigu

                            Comment

                            • BaltimoreBuddhist

                              #15
                              Re: First sittings (experience advice)

                              Thanks everyone for their clarification and guidance. Yesterday I tried the "just sitting" without doing any breathing or counting exercises. It's amazing how much more calm the mind is after just one week of doing this. Also unexpected is how short twenty minutes seems now. Here's to more progress on my sitting exercises!

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