What's wrong with Spacing out?

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  • shikantazen
    Member
    • Feb 2013
    • 361

    What's wrong with Spacing out?

    What I found is that most types of meditation practices (including some styles of shikantaza) teach you to focus on an object giving the reason that without an object you might space out (get lost in thoughts). I have been pondering this question for quite sometime. What’s wrong with spacing out? Who knows that you are not “still progressing” (I understand progress is a banned word but you get what I mean) when you are spaced out during your meditation?

    I find that having an object or any kind of toys goes against the basic principles of shikantaza: Just Sitting. No manipulation. Sitting with whatever arises, however it is, letting it all be. Wanting to be nowhere else other than here. Letting go of the meditator, the one who is trying to do it right, the one who is trying to control the experience. Trust that there is nowhere to go, nothing needs change.

    When I just sit doing nothing, all these aspects can easily be manifested. I’m adding nothing. But when I try to take on an object or add anything else, I feel it is no more shikantaza. The addition can be something as concrete as following breath to something subtle like posture/open awareness/sitting-with-faith etc…

    If I add anything else (my favourite being open awareness to nothing and everything as Jundo suggests) I am definitely more aware, more present. But I no longer feel I am not manipulating anymore. I no longer feel there is nowhere to go or nothing needs change. I no longer can let go of the meditator (the meditator is very active). I no longer feel Zazen is useless. lol. To really feel Zazen is useless, I have to sit doing nothing. Just Sit and add nothing. No toys. Then definitely it feels useless. I’m not doing anything. How can I expect it to add anything to me? A Perfectly hopeless practice.

    Thoughts Welcome

    - Sam
  • Heion
    Member
    • Apr 2013
    • 232

    #2
    As I am not an experienced Zen instructor, I can not say much, but my opinion on spacing out being that it allows your mind to do whatever it wants to do. There is no discipline, and you are simply in a la-la land haze.
    I am young and have not been practicing Zazen for long, I believe you are over thinking this. Let go of the boundaries between right sitting and wrong sitting, and just sit. Zazen doesn't 'have to feel useless'. It is Zazen.

    Gassho,
    Alex
    Look upon the world as a bubble,
    regard it as a mirage;
    who thus perceives the world,
    him Mara, the king of death, does not see.


    —Dhammapada



    Sat Today

    Comment

    • Geika
      Treeleaf Unsui
      • Jan 2010
      • 4977

      #3
      The feeling of shikantaza and the feeling of "spacing out" are much different to me. Trance provides more relaxation, but you're not practicing just sitting that way, and I find just sitting to be more stabilizing in the long run.
      求道芸化 Kyūdō Geika
      I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

      Comment

      • Nameless
        Member
        • Apr 2013
        • 461

        #4
        From what I can gather,
        open awareness to nothing and everything
        is the way to go. Spacing out is definitely different then Zazen though, as Alex said. In spacing out, there is no awareness. You just jump from cloud to cloud without bringing your mind back to the blue sky. I'm sure Jundo will weigh in on this soon enough to clear it all up

        Gassho,
        John

        Comment

        • jus
          Member
          • Nov 2012
          • 77

          #5
          ive noticed when im spacing out that im lost in thought.
          gassho,
          justin

          Comment

          • Risho
            Member
            • May 2010
            • 3179

            #6
            I can space out a lot. Lol. Isnt zazen more like spacing in?
            Email: risho.treeleaf@gmail.com

            Comment

            • Jundo
              Treeleaf Founder and Priest
              • Apr 2006
              • 39221

              #7
              Originally posted by Clarinetist!
              As I am not an experienced Zen instructor, I can not say much, but my opinion on spacing out being that it allows your mind to do whatever it wants to do. There is no discipline, and you are simply in a la-la land haze.
              I am young and have not been practicing Zazen for long, I believe you are over thinking this. Let go of the boundaries between right sitting and wrong sitting, and just sit. Zazen doesn't 'have to feel useless'. It is Zazen.

              Gassho,
              Alex
              Everyone, if I ever take a vacation I am leaving young Alex in charge.

              Yes, as all the folks here have said, Zazen is not "spacing out" ... nor is it "thinking about things". I once wrote ...

              --------------------------------------

              [O]ur “goalless sitting” in Zazen is –not– merely sitting on our butts, self-satisfied, feeling that we “just have to sit here and we are Buddha“. Far from it. It is, instead, to-the-marrow dropping of all need and lack. That is very different. Someone’s “just sitting around” doing nothing, going no where, complacent or resigned, giving up, killing time, is not in any way the same as “Just Sitting” practice wherein nothing need be done, with no where that we can go or need go ...

              ... So, if someone were to think I am saying, “All you need to do in Zazen is sit down on one’s hindquarters, and that’s enough … just twiddle your thumbs in the ‘Cosmic Mudra’ and you are Buddha” then, respectfully, I believe they do not get my point. But if they understand, “There is absolutely no place to be, where one needs to be or elsewhere where one can be, than on that Zafu in that moment, and that moment itself is all complete, all-encompassing, always at home, the total doing of All Life, Time and Space fully realized” … they are closer to the flavor.


              -------------------------------------

              Neither too loose, nor too slack. Neither wallowing in thoughts or stirring them up, neither sitting in a spaced out fog. There may be times for all that too (it is all part of Zazen), but when catching ourselves doing so, we let the thoughts go, return to vibrant "Just Sitting".

              In fact, our Zazen does have an "object of focus" (although, as in all forms of Zazen, it is actually an "objectless object", for as we drop thoughts of this and that the hard barriers between subject and object may soften, sometimes even fully drop away). I have written this too ...

              There are many small variations in Shikantaza, teacher to teacher. One has to place and focus (and simultaneously not place/focus) the mind somewhere!

              So, for example, Uchiyama Roshi was a "bring your attention back to the posture" guy. Nishijima Roshi is a "focus on keeping the spine straight" fellow, and there are others who emphasize focusing on the breath or the Hara (also called the "Tanden", the traditional "center of gravity" of the body, and a center of Qi energy in traditional Chinese medicine) ...



              Master Dogen sometimes recommending resting the mind in the palm of the upturned left hand in Mudra. I sometimes let it rest there for a time if caught up in thoughts.

              ...

              All are forms of Shikantaza ... so long as the objectless nature of sitting is maintained even if focused on an object.

              In fact, all forms of Shikantaza have an "object of meditation", a place to focus or place the mind to build concentration and quiet the thoughts (hopefully to soften the border and pass through "object" and "subject"), while dropping all effort to attain and releasing all judgments. At Treeleaf, ... as our central "objectless" object of meditation, I recommend open, spacious sitting centered on everything and nothing at all ... sitting with open, spacious awareness ... sitting with the whole world but without being lost in trains of thought (which I also sometimes describe as having the mind focused on "no place and everyplace at once"). That open stillness is our "object of concentration". I believe it makes it a bit easier to take this practice off the Zafu and out into the world.
              Last edited by Jundo; 05-15-2013, 03:09 AM.
              ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

              Comment

              • shikantazen
                Member
                • Feb 2013
                • 361

                #8
                No Toys

                Sorry for the confusion guys. My primary point is not that spacing out is okay. The title of the thread should instead have been "No Toys". My primary point is that "adding toys" (adding objects) to shikantaza just to achieve less spacing out is totally missing the point of Shikantaza.

                For me alert sitting with whatever arises is good enough and just enough. True Shikantaza is something that all of us have to figure out within ourselves. But I have a feeling that the essential points of "No manipulation. Non-Judgmental Sitting and Trust that nothing needs change" get compromised by adding any toys/crutches to the practice.

                This practice is also known as a practice of great faith (just like Koans are a practice of great doubt). This faith is not just a belief that we are already enlightened and nothing needs change but also a belief that our practice needs no crutches. If you lose the trust on your practice because of a little spacing out and add those crutches, then I feel it deviates from the basic tenets mentioned above. Not that you cannot get results by following your breath or training your awareness or doing something else but I feel those cannot be called Shikantaza.

                I feel the heart of Dogen's message is to trust our practice and add nothing to it.

                P.S. Of course this doesn't mean I don't use any crutches in my practice. Practically speaking complete trust may not be possible. My main point (for discussion) is that true Shikantaza is about this trust and not adding anything to the practice
                Last edited by shikantazen; 05-15-2013, 03:35 AM.

                Comment

                • Jinyo
                  Member
                  • Jan 2012
                  • 1957

                  #9
                  Hi there - this is a question for Jundo.

                  I've been reading Thich Nhat Hahn's commentry on the 'sutra on the four establishments of mindfulness' - a translation of the Chinese title Nian Chu - Nian is 'to be mindful of' - Chu means the 'act of dwelling'.


                  The commentary is quite detailed and what is required very disciplined - a total focusing on the body within the body, the feelings within the feelings, the mind within the mind, the objects of the mind within the mind - then an awareness of the 5 hindrances and the 5 aggregates of clinging - and a whole lot more that I can't easily summarize.

                  I've got two questions really:

                  Is Dogen's shikantaza based on the sutra - or does 'dropping off body and mind' preclude what's laid out?

                  The second question is - the Mindfulness movement is often dismissed as 'self-help' - relaxation. stress relief. I felt this book was far removed from the self-help literature because it works with the words of buddhist scripture and goes into it in great detail. Is this sutra the basis of all meditation?

                  And lastly (a third question ) does the concentration on breath mean that this is a Vipassana practice and therefore different to what is taught here?

                  I'm a bit confused by this because after a while the breath concentration becomes natural (no need to 'think' about it) - so is that the point vipassana flows into shikantaza?


                  Gassho

                  Willow
                  Last edited by Jinyo; 05-15-2013, 09:21 AM.

                  Comment

                  • Heion
                    Member
                    • Apr 2013
                    • 232

                    #10
                    Haha. Thanks for the warm words and great advice, Jundo.

                    Kind regards,
                    Alex
                    Look upon the world as a bubble,
                    regard it as a mirage;
                    who thus perceives the world,
                    him Mara, the king of death, does not see.


                    —Dhammapada



                    Sat Today

                    Comment

                    • Kyonin
                      Treeleaf Priest / Engineer
                      • Oct 2010
                      • 6739

                      #11
                      Sam,

                      Try sitting more and drop the questions. In time you'll get your answers and the over thinking will slow down.

                      But that's just a opinion of someone who knows nothing, really.

                      Gassho,

                      Kyonin
                      Hondō Kyōnin
                      奔道 協忍

                      Comment

                      • Kokuu
                        Treeleaf Priest
                        • Nov 2012
                        • 6750

                        #12
                        Try sitting more and drop the questions. In time you'll get your answers and the over thinking will slow down.
                        With reference to that I just read the following poem by Ryōkan and thought it was apposite:

                        When the moon comes out I read Buddhist poems.
                        I have nothing to report, my friends.
                        If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after
                        so many things.



                        Gassho
                        Andy

                        Comment

                        • Daitetsu
                          Member
                          • Oct 2012
                          • 1145

                          #13
                          Hi Sam,

                          It is a bit like riding a bike. Neither surpress thoughts from coming up nor cling to them.
                          If there are no thoughts, fine. If there are thoughts and you eventually let them go - that's fine and Zazen, too.

                          Gassho,

                          Timo
                          no thing needs to be added

                          Comment

                          • Jundo
                            Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                            • Apr 2006
                            • 39221

                            #14
                            Originally posted by willow
                            Hi there - this is a question for Jundo.

                            I've been reading Thich Nhat Hahn's commentry on the 'sutra on the four establishments of mindfulness' - a translation of the Chinese title Nian Chu - Nian is 'to be mindful of' - Chu means the 'act of dwelling'.


                            The commentary is quite detailed and what is required very disciplined - a total focusing on the body within the body, the feelings within the feelings, the mind within the mind, the objects of the mind within the mind - then an awareness of the 5 hindrances and the 5 aggregates of clinging - and a whole lot more that I can't easily summarize.

                            I've got two questions really:

                            Is Dogen's shikantaza based on the sutra - or does 'dropping off body and mind' preclude what's laid out?

                            The second question is - the Mindfulness movement is often dismissed as 'self-help' - relaxation. stress relief. I felt this book was far removed from the self-help literature because it works with the words of buddhist scripture and goes into it in great detail. Is this sutra the basis of all meditation?

                            And lastly (a third question ) does the concentration on breath mean that this is a Vipassana practice and therefore different to what is taught here?

                            I'm a bit confused by this because after a while the breath concentration becomes natural (no need to 'think' about it) - so is that the point vipassana flows into shikantaza?


                            Gassho

                            Willow
                            Hi Willow,

                            There are many flavors of meditation, including Buddhist meditation. So, asking me is a bit like asking a baseball coach to comment on cricket! However ...

                            In my understanding, the original purpose of this kind of meditation ... observing all the parts of the body, kinds of sensations, kinds of feelings and thoughts, one by one ... was to profoundly realize and get past that your "self" is a false composite of all those pieces, and to see through them and, thus, see through the experience of "self" and the theatre of the mind. It is a bit like saying that one will "deconstruct" the reality of a car by noticing and removing the tires, the windows, the pistons, the gas tank, the gears ... until noticing that there is really no "car" there.

                            An interesting (but only to Buddhist history buffs) book I just read (The Making of Buddhist Modernism) explores how Thich Nhat Hahn and some of the teachers in the American "Insight Meditation" movement have moved a bit away from the original purpose (of realizing, for example, that the body is a pretty yucky and stinky thing made of all kinds of grossness, not to be attached to) into using the practice as a way of being "aware" and "in the moment" with all these small parts of life. And even beyond the "Insight Meditation" folks, some people like John Kabat Zinn have stripped it down even more into a general relaxation and stress relief technique (although with a good dose of "allowing what is" like us). That is all fine ... to each their own, and Buddhism has many paths.

                            Now, Shikantaza is also about seeing through-and-through the games of the "self" ... and we also recognize the sacredness of "just this" and "just this moment" and every thing under heaven. However, the approach is different, like baseball and cricket. Dogen's way was not based on the Sutta, which is very instrumental, very mechanical, very goal oriented. As you know, we are rather the very reflection of that ... total, to the marrow Just Sitting not "examining" any parts of the body etc.

                            Yes, we do not undertake breath practice generally here. That topic has come up a few times recently ...

                            Hello all, I am currently reading 'Zen Training' by Katsuki Sekida and am finding it interesting (and a little confusing) how he speaks about breathing in zazen. To quote (p32): "In zazen, we breathe almost entirely by means of our abdominal muscles and diaphragm. The muscles of the thorax are scarcely used. If the


                            Again, cricket is a lovely sport, baseball is a lovely sport ... but here at Yankee Stadium, we practice baseball, not cricket (sorry Myozan! )

                            Gassho, J

                            PS - If you search the words "prosaic" and "profound" and find page 233 here, it talks a little about the original intent of the Satipatthana Sutta.

                            Last edited by Jundo; 05-16-2013, 11:08 AM.
                            ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                            Comment

                            • Kokuu
                              Treeleaf Priest
                              • Nov 2012
                              • 6750

                              #15
                              Willow,

                              I wanted to wait until Jundo had replied and agree with him that the anapanasati (breath mindfulness) and satipatthana (four foundations of mindfulness) suttas are both the underpinning of vipassana practice rather than shikantaza. As he says, each stage involves seeing the impermanence and lack of self in the body, feeling tone, emotions and thoughts in turn using the breath as a mental anchor. Larry Rosenberg has an excellent presentation of this in 'Breath by Breath'. From personal experience there are definitely moments when vipassana (and anapanasati) can turn into shikantaza but the use of the breath to anchor the mind is a definite vipassana practice.

                              Gassho
                              Andy

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