Can You Meditate Too Much?

prayingNext week, February 18-23 I’ll be hosting a retreat with Kazuaki Tanahashi  at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico! GO!

This coming Saturday (Feb. 15, 2014) my talk at Hill Street Center will be Spreecast live. You’ll be able to interact with the group and ask questions! Do it! Just go to the link I provided above at 11 AM Pacific Time.

You can now sign up for our three-day retreat at Mount Baldy Zen Center May 9-11, 2014. Go here! There’s a discount if you sign up soon!

I’m really looking forward to the event with Kaz. It will be amazing and there’s still time to sign up. I’ve been plugging it at the end of this blog for the past month or so.  Kaz translated the Shobogenzo with the folks at the San Francisco Zen Center and produced one of the best editions available. He’s a great calligrapher and just all around interesting arty person. So the retreat will be very fun.

Also, all this month I am the Meditation Doctor over at Tricycle.com. I’ve done this a couple times before and it’s always interesting. I do my best to deal with people’s meditation questions. Some of them are about things I can’t really address, like the use of mala beads, for example. But the most recent one today was pretty good. I hope they won’t mind too much if I quote it (it’ll drive business over there anyway, right?).

A Tricycle reader named John said:

Hi Brad, in Hardcore Zen at the end of the chapter Why Gene Simmons is not a Zen Master you said:

“Lots of Zen students also fall into this trap: they think that balance occurs only when they are deeply in Zazen and at no other time. Students like this often spend far too much time doing zazen and the practice ultimately leads them further and further from true balance.”

The idea that meditation could lead us away from true balance struck me as quite worrying. I’d be grateful if you could say a bit more about what you meant here. What is happening when someone falls into this trap and what does it means to get further and further from true balance?

I replied:

This is a tough one. I wrote that book ten years ago. I would express it differently now. And it’s hard to recall precisely what I was thinking when I wrote that line.

I feel like meditation practice can get you into some very deep introspective places. And these places can be extremely fascinating and entertaining. They can also seem incredibly important. You can start to feel like if only you could get more deeply into these spaces you’d know The Big Answer to Everything and could then bring it back and SAVE THE WORLD!

But it’s not really true. People have been attempting to do this for centuries and nobody has ever succeeded. It’s pure egotism to feel like you alone will be able to do what all the great masters of every tradition were not able to. I may have written this line more to myself than anyone else, because that’s kind of what I was going through at the time.

Or else you become what the Buddhist traditions call a “self-enlightened one.” That’s somebody who keeps going deeper and deeper and deeper into her/himself until nobody and nothing else matters at all. You end up sitting under a blanket with admirers feeding you oranges but you can’t really do anything for them because you’re so far gone.

The reason I’d probably either totally rephrase this now or maybe even cut the line completely is because this is a rare thing. That is to say, it’s fairly common among serious practitioners. But my book ended up being read mainly by people who were not that deeply into the practice (though many later went that direction). I didn’t anticipate such a wide audience when I wrote it. Heck, I didn’t anticipate any audience at all! I thought the book would never be published!

That’s what I said for Tricycle. I’ll continue a little for you fine folks.

The danger of over-meditating is not a widespread problem throughout human society. Rather, most people don’t meditate at all. And that is a much bigger problem!

Still, I do often come across people who appear to me to possibly be overdoing it. It’s not easy to talk to someone who is in that phase of practice because they’re usually so deeply impressed with themselves that they’re not going to listen to anyone. They don’t know, of course, that they’re deeply impressed with themselves. They’ve externalized all the ego stuff into ideas about the Great Way of the Ancestors or God or whatever name they’ve decided to call that which they like best about the stink of their own behinds. Often they’ve amassed a following of people who feed back into their fantasy trip because they’d like to go along for the ride or because they like the buzz of worshipping at the feet of a Great Master.

It appears to me that there is a limit to the practicality of this kind of deep introspection. The vast, v~a~s~t majority of people aren’t introspective at all. And this is a huge problem for the world. So most of us will never have to worry about this stuff. Which is why I now kinda wish I didn’t put that line in Hardcore Zen. It’s good to be introspective. But that rabbit hole goes down and down and down forever and it may not be necessary or even possible to get all the way to the bottom. You have to come up for air sometime! The reason we keep ending up back in this so-called “mundane world” even after the greatest transcendental experiences is because this “mundane world” is the one that’s actually the most important place for us to be and to remain.

When someone tries to get all the way down that rabbit hole, it tends to invite a whole lot of weirdness. The strangest cults I’ve encountered all seem to be centered around people who, to me, seem to have gone off the deep end with meditation.

If you have a competent teacher who has a grounding in the real world, this kind of thing is very unlikely to happen. By having a “grounding in the real world” I mean a teacher who doesn’t allow her/himself to be worshipped or to be waited on hand and foot. That’s a killer. It makes people lose all sense of reality.

A bit of deference to a teacher is appropriate. Teachers should be respected. Helping teachers is also appropriate. It’s a tough job sometimes and a teacher often needs an assistant or two. But I think it’s really vital to watch that the lines don’t get blurred too much.

If your teacher is a good one, she can see when you’re starting to overdo it and help you get back to the real world.

In short, don’t worry too much about meditating too much!

*   *   *

In 2013 I once again failed to make enough to live on through book sales.  Your continued donations are my lifeline that allows me to continue working.

(If you get a warning about an expired security certificate, ignore it. It’s just some company trying to get money from us. We’re gonna fix that. The PayPal link is not associated with my blog and is completely secure.)

You can see the documentary about me,  Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen, at the following locations (I’ll be at all screenings):

• March 11, 2014 Ithaca, NY

• March 15, 2014 Brooklyn, NY

• April 20, 2014 San Francisco, CA

 

51 Responses

Page 1 of 1
  1. Brent
    Brent February 13, 2014 at 4:38 pm | |
  2. boubi
    boubi February 13, 2014 at 4:55 pm | |

    Hi Brad

    “you’d know The Big Answer to Everything and could then bring it back and SAVE THE WORLD!”
    Was it what Gautama S. did?

    I liked the “appropriate ” thing …

    Me too In 2013 once again failed to make enough to live on through … , and had to feel the gap through some other job.

    sincerely

    1. boubi
      boubi February 13, 2014 at 4:59 pm | |

      i seriously had a thought about turning to the adult industry

      BTW IMO the image doesn’t seem very appropriate, specially on “zen” ground, guess why

  3. Jinzang
    Jinzang February 13, 2014 at 5:06 pm | |

    I’ve never met anyone who I thought meditated too much. Now that I think about it, I probably wouldn’t run into them, right?

    I HAVE met people (on the Internet) who were convinced they had discovered some truth through their meditation and were hell bent on pursuing that truth to the end. Reading about the 50 demonic states in the Surangama Sutra can be a good antidote for this.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot February 16, 2014 at 10:42 am | |

      Reading about the 50 demonic states in the Surangama Sutra can be a good antidote for this.

      People should read it early, before they think they’ve attained.

  4. Mumbles
    Mumbles February 13, 2014 at 5:30 pm | |

    I’ve been listening to The Beatles, the double album also known as The White Album. I’ve also been looking at all the wiki pages for the songs, and some of the stories behind them are fascinating.

    “Dear Prudence” for example (possibly my fave track along with “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”) was a song John Lennon wrote about Prudence Farrow, sister to Mia. Both sisters had traveled to India to hang with the Maharishi with The Beatles. Unlike John and Paul, who instead of meditating would sneak off and write most of the great songs on The White Album, Prudence Farrow was Serious About Meditating, maybe too much?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVP05ziY9ig

    1. Wedged
      Wedged February 14, 2014 at 6:02 pm | |

      K, that is really weird…so have I. My wife the other day suggested we listen to the White Album since it had been a while so last Sat we cranked it all day. Donavon (I think), a folk singer from the 60′s was on Stern last week. He traveled to India with the Beatles and he was talking about Dear Prudence and all these crazy, crazy inside scoop stories. These guys all did TM which this Donavan guy and Stern still do…he said McCartney still does too. They had a discussion about meditation that I thought was interesting. It did get me curious so I googled it and literally my eyes scanned over “sign up now for $17.99 to learn how – anyone can do it” and I lost 100% interest.

      I googled Donavan and that wasn’t the guys name…but I can’t remember his name although he had some killer songs himself.

      Anyway…very weird to read your comment!

      1. Mumbles
        Mumbles February 15, 2014 at 7:20 am | |

        Donovan. He was huge 7 I loved his stuff. Check out “Hurdy Gurdy Man” with a great electric guitar work by Jimmy Page of Led Zep https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHV8Wzldlck
        and many many others. When Bob Dylan toured Europe w/The Band (I think) in the ’60′s he was paranoid that this Donovan guy was gonna steal his thunder. I think that’s documented in the great Dylan film “Don’t Look Back.”

        I got that urge after (?) years to play The White album and as I may have said above thoroughly loved it. Its so dark. All of John’s stuff anyway. The bottom of the pit is not “Helter Skelter” it’s.. “Yer Blues”…’I'm lonely, want to die’ (x2), if I ain’t dead already, whoo girl you know the reason why’ etc.

        I probably would’ve postponed meditating (I was having too much fun having out-of-body experiences every night among doing other crazy stuff) if The Beatles hadn’t gone to India. I bought a mass market paperback on Transcendental Meditation read that sucker, built a little perch in the rafters of my parent’s garage, and threw down some sitting.

        Didn’t stick w/TM long, though. When John Lennon became disillusioned w/the Maharishi (listen to “Sexy Sadie” on the White album) that was enough for me. I did however go on to explore other meditation…

        Wait a minute….Howard Stern is into TM??? I thought it was weird when I heard David Lynch was into it…

        1. Wedged
          Wedged February 15, 2014 at 3:07 pm | |

          Ya same here, once Lennon saw him as a scam I lost interest too and never looked further. But looking back I wish I had of looked into it more. Would have been nice to stumble on meditation in my early 20′s…even though whatever TM is isn’t Zazen it’s better than the drinking I was doing – amongst other things. Ya Stern apparently has been doing TM since he was 18 and he’s 60 now.

          OK, so it is Donovan (I miss spelled it)…and I will check out his stuff cause he played a few of his hits on acoustic and it sounded awesome. He said when they got to India Maharishi put Mia under a deep meditation while the others did “regular” meditation and days later they had to fetch her “Dear Prudence…won’t cha come out to play” is apparently what Lennon was talking about. But then Stern and Donavon continued on and I so badly wanted to know what that meant to put someone under a deep meditation. For days? I wouldn’t have the energy to have a Zazen vs TM debate with those guys…I’d just love to hear their perspective, it’s interesting even though (and maybe because) it means nothing to me.

  5. Mumbles
    Mumbles February 13, 2014 at 6:22 pm | |

    Minkfoot -re the last BradBlog post comment thread yeah I watched a 3 hr Youtube thing on Father and crew. They reportedly had the Best vegetarian cafes in LA, not to mention the free love, etc. etc. And yeah, he did his Eastern School/Western School homework and was likely some sorta “adept” at both. I sent a note to one of the remaining devotees in Hawaii and received a couple of responses, seriously, That was/is a cult I could Almost join. But naaaaw.

    Have you read Travis Jeperson’s “Victims”?

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot February 13, 2014 at 7:04 pm | |

      No. I’ll look it up. But . . . “Travis Jeperson”? Sounds like a pseudonym a stoner on a deadline came up with in desperation.

      Apologies to Mr. Jeperson if an actual birthname.

    2. minkfoot
      minkfoot February 13, 2014 at 7:10 pm | |

      I see I am not the only one to abuse poor Mr. JEPPESEN.

    3. minkfoot
      minkfoot February 13, 2014 at 7:42 pm | |

      Read the review at Bookslut. Think I’ll get it.

      Heaven’s Gate bothered me enough that I read all of their book, and whatever else was available online. Excellent portrait of a delusion. I wrote something up about it at the time, but don’t have it handy, I think.

      It reminded me of a time when I accompanied a fellow cab-driving friend of mine from Chicago out to Berkeley. He was moving, and had acid at his going-away party and said, “Hey! Why don’t you come with me?” Well, it was 1973 or so, and so I said, Sure! Why not?

      I told him that Berkeley was a place where it was impossible to be bored for long. Soon after we arrived, we wandered about the streets on an Easter morning, and with everything closed, my dictum was sorely tested. But one restaurant we passed, though closed, still had a bunch of people sitting around someone with a guitar. Some of them waved us in, and got up to unlock the door. Friendly bunch, sitting around singing hippy songs, passing around snacks. The guitarist was fairly good and sang well, but every so often he’s sing something like a spiritual, about how the saucer people were going to come down and take us all away to a planet without any problems. The other kids knew all the words and joined in.

      When I heard about Heaven’s Gate, I wondered if that might not have been the same bunch. But I think there’s many more saucer cults out there. On another trip to California, about 18 years later, I fell into joining a sweat ceremony on top of a hill at Blue Lake. A couple of young Native fellows were paid by the local Yurok and Hupa councils to provide the ceremonies as a public service. Besides me, there were a couple of younger hippies. At a point in the ceremony where you could voice your personal prayers, one of them started praying about the “Space Brothers.” In that total darkness, I could nonetheless sense the two Indian grinning like anything.

      Bet there’s current examples readily found today, but I am not interested in spending that much more energy on the topic.

      1. Mumbles
        Mumbles February 14, 2014 at 4:47 am | |

        Great memories there Mink! We must have passed each other on the road back in the early ’70′s tripping hither and yon. I spent a lot of time in the great northwest & some in Kaliforny, and well, all over the place.

        A good buddy of mine wrote a novel titled The Chymical Cook about meeting an inter-dimensional being in the form of a witch named Elsie in North Carolina in the late ’60′s. One of the group they were with later claimed to have been taken by a ufo related to the Heaven’s Gaters. He died shortly after that, around the time Hale Bopp came around, so we always wondered…

        Where I live there were a lot of utopian groups that originally arrived with big hopes to start their own private Shangri-la around the early 1900′s. I’ve visited ruins of some of their settlements and researched a few of them. About 5 miles north where I sit writing this there is still an old school nudist colony in operation. I’d rather see a resurgence of those than the recent proliferation of hooka bars…

        1. minkfoot
          minkfoot February 14, 2014 at 5:40 am | |

          These things come in cycles. I hope we are seeing a new one forming. Hard to beat the combo of factors in the 60s, though:
          Revulsion at 50s’ consumerist materialism;
          Middle-class affluence and leisure;
          Civil Rights;
          Vietnam;
          Rock’n'roll & Folk;
          The election and assassination of JFK;
          And, of course, the sudden widespread appearance of LSD!

          How can you intentionally put something like that together? Now we have climate degradation and accompanying impoverishment — prime ground for growing fascist cults in an atmosphere of competition.

          The one thing that stood out for me about Heaven’s Gate, to change the subject, was how irrationally materialistic they were for people who believed in transcending the Human Level. You can find it all throughout their writings, but consider the simple fact of their demise — they shed their bodies in order to get onto a fucking spaceship, that will then take them to the next level!

          The obvious defense is that rationality ain’t all its cracked up to be. True enough, but irrationality is still less reliable.

      2. Mumbles
        Mumbles February 14, 2014 at 6:20 pm | |

        Thanks to Brent for leading this off with a link to CosM, the Alex Grey website. Think I might invest in some of those goggles that block out the light but you can open your eyes (with)in.

        But I’m putting this in here because it fits with our discussion of cults. It seems Alex and wife and friends have an enclave dedicated to his artwork north of NYC about 65 miles. http://cosm.org/about.htm I gotta admit, the idea of a group of even semi like minded folk (aka an organized religious type thing, like Soto Zen too) is appealing, and always will be I suppose.

        Makes me wonder why I’m such an loner/outsider these days…

        1. minkfoot
          minkfoot February 15, 2014 at 4:49 am | |

          The Alex Grey house is in our neck of the woods. At least when I’m “at home” with my partner in Ulster County. (I have two other homes, though my true home is homelessness.) She actually made us a reservation to an event at the house which unfortunately got canceled.

          As for why you’re a loner, well, you’re on your own there.

          1. Mumbles
            Mumbles February 15, 2014 at 7:02 am |

            LOL on that last line…

            Yeah I’d go up for an event if possible, his art kind of induces acid flashbacks (IMO) somehow, there must’ve been some purple microdot or orange sunshine I ran across that let me see that way once or twice back in the day.

            About ten years or more ago I went to a Tool concert and they used all these huge banners and light effects based on Alex Gray artwork, the collaboration of their music/his images worked very well together.

  6. Mumbles
    Mumbles February 13, 2014 at 7:14 pm | |

    Yep. Sorry about that, I have a novel (and other) OCD. I read too much to remember all them there author’s nemes. Glad you sussed that out. VICTIMS: Its a great little novel on ufo’s and cults.

  7. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 13, 2014 at 8:08 pm | |

    “It’s not easy to talk to someone who is in that phase of practice because they’re usually so deeply impressed with themselves that they’re not going to listen to anyone”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdYgKrSgCyY

    look around, round, round… gotta love it.

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles February 14, 2014 at 4:50 am | |

      Thanks for that youtube vid Mark! I love those guys!! My oldest son and I used to watch them on PBS when he was about five years old. We’d laugh our heads off. Great, classic comedy. Pom.

  8. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 13, 2014 at 10:47 pm | |

    Zazen is a dropping away of volitive activity, first in speech, then in the body with respect to inhalation and exhalation, and finally in the mind with respect to perception and sensation. In my experience, the sense of place, and the freedom of the sense of place, become a part of the movement of breath until the activity of mind becomes a part of the distinction of the senses.

    it’s not over until the zazen sings.

  9. AnneMH
    AnneMH February 14, 2014 at 6:56 am | |

    I must admit up front I am unlikely to be the person who meditates too much. I have times when I am much more dedicated and times when it falls to the side and isn’t every day. But I have been doing it for 25 years so I finally accepted that if that means I suck that is okay. I was in a stretch of significant times where I had a great daily practice and I think I understood why teachers need assistants. Again it could just be me being bad at it but I had a hard time holding all the daily life together as well. I have a pretty stressful daily life to start, basic long hours, low pay and single parenting. I honestly have never met someone at a daily or weekend retreat or with the group I sit with who quite has this combination and still practices a lot. It is hard to not make that sound like I think I am so cool on the internet, however it is just the truth and it helps me have a realistic expectation of my practice.

    I did go through times where I felt if I could just be consistent or put in enough hours on the cushion for just long enough then something magical would happen and it would make up for the other things I did not take care of. Didn’t actually happen, although when I don’t sit regularly I do feel like shit as well. Some of the practitioners I have the most respect for including my teacher (she is an alms mendicant theravadan nun) still deal with everything the rest of us do and are quite humble about the situation. I realized that there have even been times that instead of meditating so I can handle the day I am meditating to avoid the day.

    With that said i think I will figure out how to not have the power turned off this week!

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot February 14, 2014 at 4:53 pm | |

      Hope you make out OK.

      I felt like I wasn’t making progress. About ten years ago, I took a trip around the country to think about my life, practice, and everything. I got some ideas and did some research, and became pretty certain I have ADD, or AD/HD. Wish I’da known that before I dropped out of college.

      Anyway, it seemed like decades of practice got me to where someone normal might get to in, oh, say, 3-4 years. I like to think of it as slow cooking. It’s helped me manage my expectations, which can be the main hindrance.

      I admire you for sticking with it. Parenting is a practice all to itself — I’ve done a little of it.

      What’s the ideal amount of time one should practice daily, in ordinary days? From reading and self-experimentation, I think two-and-a-half to three hours. Collecting Social Security has helped me to do that much at times. But sitting, chanting, prostrations, etc., interact with life, so a certain amount of life needs to balance it out. Outside periodic intensive practice, probably shouldn’t do more than that. On the other hand, there should be some meditation every day. James Ford thinks 25 minutes is a good minimum. Sounds about right to me.

  10. goolo
    goolo February 14, 2014 at 8:19 am | |

    Well said Anne. That cuts to the heart of the problem with zen and Buddhism today. We have spiritual professionals who won’t take up family/real life responsibilities. They just dedicate themselves to meditation and being a full-time Buddhist. Any religion that can’t be incorporated into everyday life (i.e isn’t run by a full time caste of professional who probably meditate too much) is a waste of time for most people IMO.

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 14, 2014 at 9:26 am | |

    good luck with that, Anne! :(

    Today’s pom-pom’er, hope the fry pan is rubber:

    https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150268903937339

  12. AnneMH
    AnneMH February 14, 2014 at 6:19 pm | |

    Thank you all, I will make a note that my teacher is awesome and very supportive of lay practitioners. She deeply understands where we are at which is amazing. She is working with a group of us women to be peer leaders in our groups and we really are flexible to make the study work, we use email, conference calling, Skype, etc. to connect. So I can see there is such a possibility in a relationship between monastics and lay community to be mutually supportive. But she still gets sick and worries about the costs of supporting a monastic life and is sensitive to our lives and talks like a real person with bad words sometimes.

  13. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 15, 2014 at 12:09 am | |

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-we-swear/

    but does she meditate too much?

    I believe Gudo made do with once a day, and maybe a touch-up after dark?

    minkfoot, interesting to hear you find that pace natural. I keep busy. I don’t meditate too much. Downtown with the young ones at the hideaway, the fool who likes to dance; Chen Man-Ch’ing’s “listening to energy, interpreting energy, perfect clarity”, who cares! Cha cha cha. Thanks, Professor, and happy Valentine’s!

    Happy Valentine’s, all!

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot February 15, 2014 at 5:02 am | |

      Don’t know about “natural.” Doing two or three hours of meditative practice (including chanting, mantras, prostrations, mindful walking, etc.) coincides with a feeling of spiritual productivity that is distinct from intensive practice or “maintenance” practice. I don’t always find it possible to do, depending on my situation. And even when it’s possible, I often prefer to just, oh, follow Brad’s blog’s commentary.

      I would ask people who find three hours of practice daily formidable, have you ever had periods of your life where you watched three hours of TV/movies/Internet practically every day? Games? Bar-stool meditation?

  14. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 15, 2014 at 12:25 am | |

    The “Mindful Revolution”, from Time magazine:

    http://sfinsight.org/MindfulRevolutionTIME.pdf

    “There is a swath of our culture who is not going to listen to someone in monks’ robes, but they are paying attention to scientific evidence,” says Richard J. Davidson, founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Davidson and a group of co-authors published a paper in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2004 that used electroencephalography to show that Buddhist monks who had logged at least 10,000 hours of meditation time had brains with more functional connectivity than novice meditators. The monks also had more gamma-wave activity, indicating high states of consciousness.

    The MBSR class I took consisted of 21 hours of class time, but there was homework. One week, we were assigned to eat a snack mindfully and “remember to inhale/exhale regularly (and with awareness!),” according to a handout. Since we were New Yorkers, another week’s assignment was to count fellow passengers on a subway train. One student in my class said he had a mindfulness
    breakthrough when he stopped listening to music and playing games on his phone while riding to work. Instead, he observed the people around him, which he said helped him be more present when he arrived at his office.”

    “…After eight weeks, we gathered one Saturday for a final exercise, a five-hour retreat. We brought our lunches, and after meditating and doing yoga, we ate together silently in a second-floor room overlooking a park. After the meal, Paulette led us into the park and told us to walk around for 30 minutes in a meditation practice known as aimless wandering. No phones and no talking. Just be present, she said.

    As I looked across a vast lawn, I easily spotted my fellow MBSR students. They looked like zombies weaving and wandering alone through groups of friends and families lounging on picnic blankets or talking and barbecuing…”

  15. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 15, 2014 at 12:54 am | |

    For me, falling asleep is just as important as waking up. It’s about where the action comes from. It’s not a problem that I wonder in a trance; it’s a problem when I ignore waking up and falling asleep in everyday life.

  16. Mumbles
    Mumbles February 15, 2014 at 8:19 am | |

    Mark, I took a v. similar MBSR class a few years ago with a bunch of mental health professionals -it was really their thing, I had a friend who was their clinical director who asked me along for the ride. Being a longtime practitioner of various meditative techniques inc. so-called Insight Meditation, etc., I got along swimmingly, and enjoyed the class. The MH profs, however, balked at almost everything asked of them, complaining and whining the whole 8 weeks. The leader (a locally well known psychiatrist), myself, and one other participant who had a Tibetan lama dude for a teacher stood out like relaxed, blissful not-so-sore thumbs in this sea of misery.

    Once in a while I will run into a fellow-participant at a cafe or somewhere and they will still bitch and moan about “that class” and “meditation.”

    What I came away with regarding the group as microcosm of a larger whole was that most people have been conditioned to fill their time with other more vigorous, materially gainful pursuits, or more likely, some form of entertainment, otherwise they are “wasting” their time doing nothing, aka meditating. That’s all fine and dandy and I understand it, however, as Minkfoot has described, a balance including some of these or other techniques for relaxation, enrichment of the senses or deprivation in order to give them a break, can -as most of us here know – be worthwhile too.

    Presently I don’t like to segment my time into doing this or that or not doing that or this and calling it something or not. It all just flows, one thing into another, a seamless, colorful rolling out of whatever happens next (for lack of any way of describing it at all). I witness it, but am not identified as The Witness.

  17. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 15, 2014 at 11:24 am | |

    @mumbles, sounds like “It’s not a problem that I wander in a trance” (slight correction) to me!

    This is the grave difficulty in imparting anything to do with the state between waking and sleeping to anyone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves: it can’t be done. Willful intent closes the door to anything but the habitual.

    I think a more interesting exercise for the MBSR class might have been asking them to settle down in their favorite easy chair or on the sofa on Friday or Saturday night, and fall asleep sitting up. Or maybe that’s too easy, for some!

    “Making self-surrender the object of thought, one lays hold of concentration, one lays hold of single-pointedness of mind.” Probably good to give the class that as a mystery koan for the exercise; maybe rephrase it a bit, “Making self-surrender the object of thought, one lays hold of single-pointedness of mind, one wakes up wondering how the lights got turned out so suddenly!”

    minkfoot, I could almost believe that you are saying watching T.V. , surfing the net, pursuing some athletic endeavor to absorption, or thinking for extended periods are all similar to meditation- shouldn’t we be mindful of being mindful?

    Shunryu Suzuki advised his students to return to counting their breaths or similar, after he nearly drowned (in the swimming hole at Tassajara). Gautama described his own practice before and after enlightenment as a particular instance of the setting up of mindfulness, each aspect of which was to take place in conjunction with an inhalation or exhalation.

    The place where I realize a relationship between waking up and falling asleep and the movement of breath, that’s where my mind is.

  18. CatsareInfinite
    CatsareInfinite February 15, 2014 at 12:39 pm | |

    Well, I do think there can be too much of meditation, just with anything. It depends on the individual…

    Unlike minkfoot, I do not have ADHD or any debilitating disorder. I have always been naturally reserved. Even before Zazen, I had people remark I was very thoughtful and it came off that I had already done Zazen before.

    I think it has to mostly with upbringing. My parents were always reading stuff like Ferdowsi, Sa’di, Omar Khayyam, Rumi, and etc. I was always hearing panentheistic-like quotes from them. For example, take the film Color of Paradise. Persians tend to be very thoughtful.

    I read J. Krishnamurti when I was 15-16 due to my dad’s recommendation, and my dad was talking about Rumi to me when I was 9. I still read J. Krishnamurti and a lot of Zen texts to day. I’m just an Ubermensch, that’s the gist of it.

    1. sri_barence
      sri_barence February 15, 2014 at 4:34 pm | |

      Cats: If you want to practice Zen, but you find the Soto school is too rigid for your tastes, you might consider the Kwan Um school. There is less emphasis on posture, and more variety in methods of practice. But the Kwan Um school uses kong-an (koan) study extensively, which can be a turn-off for some people. I wasn’t a big fan of kong-an study at first, but I have come to appreciate it. Just remember, even if you can free your mind, you still need a way to get your body out. For money, zazen is it.

      1. CatsareInfinite
        CatsareInfinite February 15, 2014 at 5:24 pm | |

        Sri_barence, I have consider Kwan Um. They are just not any near here.

        I like their practices more too.

        My friend practices in Kwan Um school, and everything he’s said about it, thus far, I have liked.

        1. CatsareInfinite
          CatsareInfinite February 15, 2014 at 5:25 pm | |

          Talk about typos…

          considered*

          There are*

        2. minkfoot
          minkfoot February 16, 2014 at 4:58 am | |

          All the schools and lineages deriving from the Sixth Ancestor have a family resemblance, whether they develop in China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, or elsewhere. There are worthwhile differences in style, methods, and expressed viewpoints I find extremely valuable in considering presentations that can’t be directly presented. When trying to find that invisible moon, it helps to have more fingers to triangulate from. But it’s still the same moon.

  19. Wedged
    Wedged February 15, 2014 at 3:16 pm | |

    I think like Brad mentioned over at Tricycle that meditation is just part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Apparently, Tibetans view it this way…it helps you deal with life. It’s like going for a jog. Eat clean, exercise & sit. It’s just practical. Which helps because sometimes I’m too goal oriented even if I try really hard not to (which is also a goal). I want a finish line and a progress bar and I want to read and wonder at night while trying to fall asleep if I’m going through the “Dark Night of the Soul” cause it sounds cool. Even though it’s hell it means when you’re done you’ve made major progress which makes it exciting…on and on. Whereas you sit because it helps you deal with your annoying as$ boss or my kids meltdowns…that sort of takes away all the “spiritual materialism”. If I’m ever lucky enough to have the problem of sitting too much I’ll be sure to come back to this post ;)

  20. esfishdoc
    esfishdoc February 16, 2014 at 3:22 am | |

    Coming from a life of extremes (as many of us do), meditating “too much” seems very possible to encounter on a path to find the middle way. I’m thinking it would be more likely for me to experience meditating for the wrong reasons, i.e. to go around instead of through an obstacle.

    Richard

  21. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer February 19, 2014 at 11:11 am | |

    Wanted to try posting on a “ancient” thread to see what posting to a void feels like. Everyone has moved on and the silence of everything is good.

    Might try this more often, it’s a different feeling from posting to an active, vibrant conversation. And I will probably get the same amount of reaction…

    Cheers.

  22. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer February 19, 2014 at 11:28 am | |

    The question “Can you Meditate too Much” is interesting to play with. I can certainly say that I personally don’t meditate too much.

    And I don’t know of anyone who does. I sometimes wonder about people who have been sitting much longer than me and spend a lot of time (by my standards) going to retreats. Are they addicted to sitting? Will I start to want to spend more and more time sitting?

    I have also asked myself the question, “Do I look at meditation as an escape?”. I often wonder about that, but it seems that every time I approach a given sitting with a sense of relief or escape, the sitting quickly shows me that it has other plans. So meditation has not been a very good escape for me.

    Cheers.

  23. johnjayr
    johnjayr February 28, 2014 at 12:53 am | |

    Just read Rodney Smith’s book, stepping out of self-deception. He gives some interesting insights into this line of discussion, if you’re interested.

  24. jiesen
    jiesen March 1, 2014 at 2:39 pm | |

    I’ve heard that if you mediate too much you dry up the “dhyana.” I’ve been in ruts where I meditated a fair amount(like a couple of hours a day, in two sittings), and noticed that there seems to be a point where…you kinda get immune too “dhyana.” And sometimes that doesn’t happen. idk…

    But, I do notice that here is an incredible difference between meditating each day, and not meditating each day.

    Also, in terms of beads, I find that depending upon the activity you are engaged in, chanting in your head is a significant expedient. I think beads are a physical distraction that brings you attention back to the chant.

    Meditation itself is an expedient. Oddly enough, I find trying to remember your place in something like the Heart Sutra is not as useful as reciting “Gate, Gate, Parasamgate Bodhisattva.” Or chanting it in Sanskrit, Chinese or Japanese, or a foreign language that you don’t know.

    Like, as weird as it sounds, chanting in a language that you don’t know, forces you to abandon deluded thoughts. Because suddenly your thinking is completely abstract.

    When we go back to meditation, to abandon deluded thoughts, it becomes a little easier. Chanting off the cushion, and meditating sort of hot-wires the brain away from deluded thoughts. And like meditation, the more deluded thoughts that are extinguished, the more good thoughts come to the surface. Or the “a-ha!” moments occur.

  25. jiesen
    jiesen March 1, 2014 at 3:01 pm | |

    I have found that in my experience, chanting during meditation isn’t a bad thing. I know it’s not something we are supposed to do, but it seems too be helpful bring focus back to Dhyana. I only repeat a chant for may be 10 or 20x. That’s may be 5 mins? idk…time is very irrelevant when we are really focused in mediation. It seems to occur for a lot longer then 5mins, but that’s not logical.

    Like, sometimes I will chant “Namo Kuan Shr Yin Pusa(Kannon Butsu or Avalokiteshvara), please help us turn our suffering into enlightenment in our present form.” That’s one I came up with. A person could create their own….Or sometimes I do it for another person “…please help this person fully recover from their “suffering” quickly…”etc…Its not that I think there is a demi-god elsewhere that saving ppl, or that I am that demi-god or such thing…It’s more just a way of dealing with the current issue. And reiterating/reinforcing my focus on that issue….But too…if you look at the world around us, and see compassion as a part of many many things, even as part of your own being…can you say that compassion is not real? What is more real? Compassion or delusion? When real and not real become irrelevant, is that not a compassionate existence/experience? Is not our own existence in the universe a form of compassion? We could be wiped out at any moment, and yet we’ve existed for 2.5 billion years? (That’s a long time for us.) When someone is being pulled out of the ruble of an earthquake, or a parent is consoling a crying child, isn’t that compassion? Sounds cheesy perhaps, but the point being is that it does seem to exist in many different forms.

    But, at some point I stop the chanting, and try to hold a mind that rests upon nothing.

    And then I have a deeper meditation, and I walk away with a more focused mind. More aware of things like compassion as a force of nature. Perhaps a statue representing compassion is in itself a form of compassion?

  26. jiesen
    jiesen March 1, 2014 at 3:30 pm | |

    In Zuimonki, Dogen says of Ku Amidabutsu (Shingon priest Myohen who converted to PureLand practice). Myohen was a scholar of exoteric and esoteric Buddhism. A Shingon priest asked him about esoteric Buddhism he replied that “I have forgotten everything.” Dogen praised him saying that he throw himself wholeheartedly into chanting, and succeed. He says repeated that, this is what a person should do. I can’t reference it, but my understanding is that Dogen said that a country should be founded on Buddhism(kinda like Tibet?) Dogen seemed pretty extreme too me.

    Dogen says throughout Zuimonki, that ppl should “just follow Buddhism.” He says ppl should aim to be poor, they should sink all their wealth to the bottom of the ocean like Layman P’ang Yun. And that that is a good layman. That monastics should own a robe and bowl, not even utentsils, and refrain from useless talk. That ppl should not forget the world by fully engaging into Buddhism. I think at one point he said that lay people should somewhat forget their relatives and just practice the Way.

    So…idk man…may be you can’t meditate too much? May be that whole weirdness that comes out of a person is just a thing they are going through? May be it’s partly the way things should be? idk…Things are definitely different in terms of practice today then what Dogen prescribed. Good or bad, idk.

    On the flip side, my understanding is that Buddhism was used to create the Kamikaze pilots in Japan. They use a sort of meditation of words/pictures/video to convert Muslim terrorists into mass murders.

    May be extremism is good if there is Dharma? idk…I’m not that extreme about it. What is extreme?

  27. jiesen
    jiesen March 1, 2014 at 3:34 pm | |

    May be extreme to some degree is worth it when you find yourself walking through the park on the way home from work on a beautiful day, without a single deluded thought in your head?

  28. jiesen
    jiesen March 1, 2014 at 3:42 pm | |

    May be Dogen would be considered a cult leader by today’s standards. (A person could approach that concept from multiple points of views.)

  29. jiesen
    jiesen March 1, 2014 at 3:56 pm | |

    When Dogen first studied under Ju-ching, he says he cast his body aside and just sat in meditation and entirely forgot about his health. He sat through night after night? And that sitting this way, was what prevented him from getting sick. Dogen encourages ppl to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the practice so that they don’t waste their life in vain. Because death could come at any moment, and then they can’t practice and have wasted a chance to study Buddhism.

    And btw, not trying to be argumentative, just trying to add to the discussion.

  30. jiesen
    jiesen March 1, 2014 at 4:09 pm | |

    i heard that Dogen gave himself a case of hemorrhoids sitting in zazen too much while studying under Ju-Ching?

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