Focusing on Nothingness and Apatosauruses

ray-harryhausen-brontesauruHere’s a variation on my most frequently asked question. It’s a pretty good version, so I’m answering it on the blog:

“When sitting zazen, if thoughts come to you and you begin to focus on them instead of ‘nothingness’, how do you deal? Do you ever let thoughts take full shape and form or do you push them away before they have time to become concrete? Is it important to ever focus on these or to push them out quickly?”

The problem here is the same problem everyone who has ever done meditation throughout history has had. The questioner is comparing her state while doing zazen with the image of the state she thinks she’s supposed to have, and she feels like her real state falls short of her ideal.

Your real state will always fall short of your ideal.

That is the nature of idealized states. It’s a trick your brain can do. It has great practical value. Our ancient ancestors looked at their efforts to try and kill apatosauruses by throwing rocks at them. They realized that wasn’t working and envisioned an idealized state wherein apatosauruses could be killed more quickly with less effort. They imagined an ideal apatosaurus killing weapon, perhaps pointy rocks attached to big sticks. And so the spear was born, and apatosaurus could be killed efficiently enough that the whole tribe could dine on apatosaurus burgers for months. Yay!*

Meditation practitioners all have the same problem of trying to match up their their actual meditative state with their idealized meditative state. Sometimes they come up with clever solutions to make it seem like this idealized state actually comes about. They invent words to repeat to themselves, or light candles and stare at them, or think about funny questions, or concentrate their whole mind on their solar plexis, or make recordings of weird sounds to listen to, or wear silly sunglasses with colored lights attached… There are thousands of variations.

They all do the same thing. They get certain people to feel like they’re a little closer to their idealized “meditative state” by temporarily tricking the thinking mind into believing it has achieved its goal. But what happens when you’ve achieved a goal? That process of creating idealizations kicks back in and creates a vision of an even better state it wants to get itself into. Then you’re right back where you started.

What we’re trying to do in Zen practice is totally different. Nishijima Roshi used to say “dimensionally different” to try to emphasize just how different it was. It’s so different it might as well be in another dimension of reality altogether.

You just sit with whatever comes up. Whether it matches your idealized vision of what meditation ought to be or not is completely irrelevant. Just sit with what you are at that moment. If it’s a lot of thoughts taking full shape and becoming concrete, then that’s what you’ve got going on today. Sit with it.

In any case, thoughts never take full shape and become concrete. That’s an illusion too. It’s always an ongoing process.

What I do when this sort of thing happens is adjust my posture. In 30 years, I’ve never had a single incident in which I was getting too wrapped up in the stuff in my head and my posture was not at least slightly off. Sit up straight again, let your shoulders drop, see if your neck is bending forward or back. Sway a little and re-discover your balance point if you need to. Then get back to it.

There is no need to focus on “nothingness.” There is no need to make your mind a complete blank. Kodo Sawaki said the only time when your mind is a complete blank is when you’re dead. There is no need to chase after your idealized perfect state of zazen because that perfect state is just another useless thought your brain has created. Pay it no more attention than you would any other random thought.

* I am aware the last apatosauruses died about 100 million years before the first human was born. Or did they???

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Speaking of random thoughts, random donations always help! Thanks for your support! I’m way into this new book and it really makes a huge difference.

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My on-line retreat at Tricycle.com is still on-going. Check it out!

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Here’s my upcoming touring schedule:

Aug. 2 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM All Day Zazen at Angel City Zen Center Los Angeles 4117 Overland Blvd. Culver City, CA 90230

Aug. 16 9:30 AM – Noon Angel City Zen Center Los Angeles 4117 Overland Blvd. Culver City, CA 90230

Sept. 5-7 Houston Zen Center

Sept. 9 Austin Zen Center

Oct. 3-5 Helsinki, Finland all events to be determined

Oct. 6 Movie Screening in Espoo, Finland

Oct. 8 Lecture in Munich, Germany

Oct. 9-11 Retreat in Munich, Germany

Oct. 12-17 Retreat at Benediktushof near Würzburg, Germany

Oct 18-19 Retreat in Bonn, Germany

Oct 20 Hamburg, Germany

Oct 24: Lecture in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 25: Day-long zazen in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 26: Lecture in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Oct 27: Evening zazen in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Oct 28: Evening zazen in Nijmegen, Netherlands

Oct 29: Lecture in Rotterdam, Netherlands

Oct 30: Lecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Oct 31: Movie screening in Utrecht, Netherlands

Nov 1-2: Retreat in Utrecht, Netherlands

Nov 4-6 (or 3-5 possibly) Retreat in Hebden Bridge, UK

Nov 7-8 Something in Manchester, UK (to be determined)

80 Responses

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  1. Mumbles
    Mumbles July 13, 2014 at 7:40 am | |

    #1 ! Does that mean I win an apatosaurus burger???

  2. Daniel
    Daniel July 13, 2014 at 8:43 am | |

    I meditate for ten years now and since a few months After I started in 95 out of 100 cases reach exactly that State i want to. Maybe youre doing something wrong, Breathing deeply from the abdomen helps a Lot.

  3. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer July 13, 2014 at 12:27 pm | |

    I NEVER reach the state that I want.

    However, for the most part, I am fine with that. At one point I realized that, if all my meditations were “perfect”, then my time off the cushion would suck by comparison.

    ” You can’t always get what you want, But if you try sometime you find
    You get what you need”.

    R. Stones

    Cheers.

  4. minkfoot
    minkfoot July 13, 2014 at 12:51 pm | |

    I’m pretty happy to be in the state of Vermont.

    Often thought of compiling a kind of rock’n’roll scripture, starting with that Stones quote. There’s a lot of great lines with religious meaning, at least if you squint the right way.

    “Do the lovers in your dreams wake up too?”

    1. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer July 13, 2014 at 1:28 pm | |

      Minkfoot,

      That is a great idea.

      Another entry might be REM’s “It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine”.

      Cheers.

      1. minkfoot
        minkfoot July 15, 2014 at 5:38 am | |

        “The words of the prophets are written on the subway wall.”

  5. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 13, 2014 at 7:30 pm | |

    apatosaurus on a bun!

  6. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 13, 2014 at 7:32 pm | |

    If your posture is a little off, do you sit with that? Just twisting the bagel a bit.

  7. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 13, 2014 at 8:00 pm | |

    I’m not the sitter you are. I’m a breather, though!

  8. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 13, 2014 at 8:11 pm | |

    Does your posture ever correct itself?

  9. Steve
    Steve July 14, 2014 at 2:21 am | |

    Brad – are you saying that koan introspection is not zen practice? Is that what the “funny question” business is about? What’s the difference between adjusting your posture on the one hand and adjusting your posture and breathing into a question on the other?

    1. sri_barence
      sri_barence July 15, 2014 at 5:05 am | |

      I’m not Brad, but I’d like to give you my answer. Koan introspection can be just another way of thinking. In that respect it is not strictly zazen. But suppose you pick up the question with your whole body and mind. Maybe then the question is doing zazen, and body and mind have dropped.

      I have never worked on koans this way. I try to just sit, in the way Brad described above. That has worked very well for me.

      1. Steve
        Steve July 16, 2014 at 8:06 am | |

        The group I sit with has a teacher who teaches zazen the way it is described by Brad. However, the lineage itself also has koan teachers. It’s just that I don’t have one near me. So I have no teacher on koans. But I have found my own koan introspection to help me let go of being attached to thoughts. I’m sure it is a mistake to try to koan work on my own with no teacher. I suppose if I was sitting there thinking “now what did he mean when he said a dog had no buddha nature? what is buddha nature? does mu mean no or does it mean nothing? And how does this relate to a dog? Is the dog supposed to be me?” etc. then yes I see the point. But that’s not what I do. Sometimes it is what I do off the cushion. But it’s not how I work with a koan. I use a koan like Brad uses adjusting his posture. I boil the koan down to a single word and when my mind has wandered I breath back into the word. And that’s it. Then I’ll be out doing something later – a couple of times it happened during kinhin -but usually it’s a random thing where suddenly, the koan makes complete sense to me in such an obvious way that I start laughing. But even then after that, I could still work with the same koan forever. It’s not like I’m running around going “haha look at how great I am for figuring this out! I’m so special! I now understand this koan once and for all time!” I can see the pitfalls of koans. But regardless, it seems to me that my on the cushion koan introspection isn’t all that different from shikantaza. Maybe I’m doing koans wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t be using a question to drop my thinking and therefore I’m doing shikantaza wrong. I’ve always read Dogen’s comments on the tile polishing koan to mean that striving in sitting won’t do, and not striving in sitting won’t do, so what to do? i.e. shikantaza itself is a koan. In any event, I also think (like Jason below) that Brad thinks koan introspection is somehow wrong, but he won’t just say that for some reason.

    2. Jason
      Jason July 15, 2014 at 9:05 pm | |

      I noticed this as well. In the last blog you wrote “no silly questions to ponder so you can try to impress some old guy in golden robes with your answer.” Every once in awhile you’ll toss out what appears to be a sort of sarcastic reference to koan study like this. So what do you think? Is koan study mainly a crock? Is it really just another pair of X-ray Spex in the spiritual comic book catalogue?

      I have to assume this has come up before, so if you’ve already addressed this somewhere, feel free to point me there instead of restating.

      1. mtto
        mtto July 16, 2014 at 10:52 am | |

        I’d love to read a more in-depth answer to this question by Brad, but in the meantime, there is a short, partial answer on this page: http://www.dogensanghalosangeles.org/resources/nishijimas-books/
        “SHINJI SHOBOGENZO
        It is often said that the difference between Rinzai Zen and Soto Zen is that Rinzai Zen uses koans, the sometimes strange sounding or illogical seeming stories of ancient Zen masters, and Soto does not. This isn’t true. Soto Zen uses koans extensively, but in a very different way.

        Shinji Shobogenzo is Dogen’s collection of 301 koans he studied in China. Legend has it he copied them all down in a single night just before leaving China. But that’s probably an exaggeration. He used many of these koans as the basis for chapters of Shobogenzo. This was the first ever complete English translation of this important book of Dogen’s and is still the best and most straight-forward translation available. Nishijima Roshi adds his own brief comments to each koan to help readers understand their meaning and historical background. Nishijima’s comments will give readers an idea about how koans are used in Soto style Zen.”

        1. mtto
          mtto July 18, 2014 at 11:28 am | |

          To clarify, I asked Brad to write a summary of Dogen’s koan collection for the site, and this is what he wrote.

  10. A beginner in Texas
    A beginner in Texas July 14, 2014 at 5:46 am | |

    Mmmmm apatosaurus burger….

    Probably would taste like alligator.

  11. blake
    blake July 14, 2014 at 7:29 am | |

    Apatosaurus ribs made my car tip over. It’s a fact.

    1. A beginner in Texas
      A beginner in Texas July 14, 2014 at 4:29 pm | |

      You should have gone with the sliced brisket!

  12. navybsn
    navybsn July 14, 2014 at 11:06 am | |

    I agree with the note about posture. I also find that I’ve usually let my gaze focus on something and I start creating images or ideas based on what I see. The mind is a tricky thing. Kind of like a 4 yr old that’s been fed an espresso or 2.

  13. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 14, 2014 at 3:13 pm | |

    So to be clear, the question was mainly:

    “When sitting zazen, if thoughts come to you and you begin to focus on them instead of ‘nothingness’, how do you deal?”

    And Brad’s answer was partly:

    “What I do when this sort of thing happens is adjust my posture.”

    It was for that he received the bagel mobius strip award, since he had just uttered:

    “You just sit with whatever comes up. Whether it matches your idealized vision of what meditation ought to be or not is completely irrelevant. Just sit with what you are at that moment. If it’s a lot of thoughts taking full shape and becoming concrete, then that’s what you’ve got going on today. Sit with it.”

    That is to say, just sit with it, or just don’t sit with it (adjust your posture). See, there’s really only one side to this bagel, no matter what you just do or just don’t.

    I think in the circumstance Brad is describing what he’s saying is practical advice. I get out of balance sometimes because something’s not quite comfortable in my posture and I’ve somehow become numb to it, and over the years I too have formed a habit of checking where I left myself physically when things get weird.

    That’s why in this piece, I wrote:

    ‘My own practice in response to any “cutting off” of breath is to look to discern pitch, roll, and yaw wherever my awareness takes place (“bite through here”), as a critical aspect for me of letting go of action in favor of a spontaneous experience of sense.’

    Indeed, it’s doing something, but it is really only the recollection of the latest in a long trail of investigations that grew out of mindfulness. The question is, does anyone else benefit from hearing such a recollection. I think the answer is yes, but I only have one example of it with regard to my recollections.

  14. mb
    mb July 14, 2014 at 3:42 pm | |

    (I think my first comment disappeared into the ethers – if it somehow shows up, sorry!)

    Mark – pitch, yaw and roll are aviation terms that apply to an aircraft flying through space. How does that apply to humans, who when not ensconced inside of transport vehicles, are always touching the ground and subject to gravity? I think you’ve mentioned this in context with CST, but I don’t get it. Can you explain?

  15. Jinzang
    Jinzang July 14, 2014 at 5:51 pm | |

    Meditation is not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, spiritual bliss, or tranquillity, nor is it attempting to become a better person. It is simply the creation of a space in which we are able to expose and undo our neurotic games, our self-deceptions, our hidden fears and hopes.

    Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

  16. minkfoot
    minkfoot July 14, 2014 at 5:58 pm | |

    As part of a discussion with a monk about the Dark Knight article, I began looking into Shinzen Young. I have a friend who’s involved with him, and I’ve sat with a group he started in Burlington, VT. In the light of the past few comments, maybe it might be helpful to check out what he says about the practice of the method of no method. His manual for Basic Mindfulness is at
    http://www.shinzen.org/Retreat%20Reading/FiveWays.pdf
    The practice, Do Nothing, is on pages 40–43. I found 43 especially interesting.

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles July 16, 2014 at 4:59 am | |

      I’ve looked at Shinzen’s website over the years, and there are some pretty good videos on Youtube, Fred has posted some here now and then. &A few years ago one of Shinzen’s students started a mindfulness group here that I participated with and still keep in touch with now and then. Well worth it, IMO. Good stuff. Thanks for the link, that’s all good introductory material.

    2. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer July 16, 2014 at 11:05 am | |

      Minkfoot,

      I was curious about the Shinzen material on mindfullness that you linked to so I decided to take a look.

      This is from the introduction to the article :

      “You can dramatically increase your satisfaction and decrease your suffering by
      systematically training your attention skills. Such systematic training is referred to as your practice. Practice consists of one or several focus exercises that you do on a regular basis”.

      Based on the short amount of reading I did Shinzen’s article had more the feeling of a self help book than a text on zen.

      I’m not saying that it couldn’t be helpful, but the contrast between the style I am learning and this is pretty dramatic.

      It seems to be very goal oriented (do this to get here) which is one of the root causes of suffering.

      Cheers.

      1. mb
        mb July 16, 2014 at 12:20 pm | |

        Allan:

        As Minkfoot says, Shinzen studied Zen under the now-infamous J. Sasaki, and then got into Burmese Theravada studies afterwards (Sayadaw primarily).

        When he decided to teach, he went with his westernized version of Theravada. It’s definitely more “technique-oriented”, although the Do-Nothing portion of his curriculum most resembles Zen. A lot of westerners love techniques, it gives the mind something grab onto while learning to dissolve itself. And it gives the teacher more to talk about!
        I can tell you from having sat with him 3 times that he is definitely not encouraging goal-orientation! And he humorously admits that his approach is well-suited to “spiritual nerds” who love organization and systemization. But he strikes me as someone who very well understands that these are all means to an “end”. Techniques can get you started, but when successful, they just disappear on you.

        If you’re in the LA area (I recall that you are), his talks are broadcast every Friday morning at 1 a.m. on KPFK (90.7).

        1. Alan Sailer
          Alan Sailer July 16, 2014 at 12:36 pm | |

          mb,

          Thanks.

          His approach could be useful to me, I obviously wouldn’t know unless I tried some of his ideas.

          As a matter of no importance, too much thinking got me into the overheated mess that ended up driving me into zen.

          So I decided early on to let my practice be primarily about sitting.

          I do read a fair amount of zen literature, but if I don’t understand something that I read, I choose just to let it go.

          If I understand it later, fine, if not, also fine.

          I am actively avoiding a organized, systematic approach.

          Cheers.

    3. minkfoot
      minkfoot July 16, 2014 at 11:23 am | |

      Shinzen is not a Zen teacher. Nonetheless, he has a lot of Zen training under his belt. I think that makes him even more useful to Zen students.

      We are, of course, trying to get something out of Zen. To get something out of Zen, you have to give up trying to get anything out of Zen. You have to try so hard to stop trying, the universe eventually cracks itself up, and the foaming breakers of the void run like spittle from your drooling mouth.

      Feh! What useless garbage all this Zen is!

      1. Alan Sailer
        Alan Sailer July 16, 2014 at 12:23 pm | |

        Minkfoot,

        I wasn’t aware that Shinzen is not teaching zen. That explains a lot.

        And yes I find the whole goal/goal-less aspect of zen pretty darn frustrating. Which is pretty much the point of practice as far as I can tell.

        Luckily (or unluckily), so far my drool is still under control and my heart has not broken.

        Cheers.

  17. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 14, 2014 at 9:04 pm | |

    Regarding pg 43: “If you have an intention to drop an intention, …”

    “pitch, yaw and roll are aviation terms that apply to an aircraft flying through space. How does that apply to humans, who when not ensconced inside of transport vehicles, are always touching the ground and subject to gravity?”

    mb, try something for me, please. If you are seated, after you read this close your eyes, and see if you can register where your awareness is in your body.

    Ok, now see if you can add a sense of motion forward and backward at the location of awareness. What happened to the location of awareness?

    For me this is effective, but I have a lot of training in connection with the induction of trance through relaxation in conjunction with inhalation and exhalation, so I don’t know if you will experience what I experience.

    1. mb
      mb July 14, 2014 at 10:32 pm | |

      Hmm…I tried your suggestion and it had some kind of tangible imaginative effect that’s hard to describe. But now I get the sense you are applying these terms more to subtle (energy) body orientation than to physical?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_dynamics#mediaviewer/File:Rollpitchyawplain.png

      1. mb
        mb July 14, 2014 at 10:35 pm | |
        1. mb
          mb July 14, 2014 at 10:36 pm | |

          I guess WordPress doesn’t like those addresses – just paste either one of them into the address line of your browser

  18. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 15, 2014 at 9:28 am | |

    mb, thanks for giving it a shot. I’m always interested to hear.

    WordPress doesn’t like png’s, at least this WordPress install.

    Right away you will probably come to a relationship between motion at the sacrum, regularly initiated by the psoas rocking the pelvis as it slides over the front corners, and the location of awareness. The action of the obturators to hammock the hips from the pelvis and allow a turning motion in the action of the sartorius, the gluts, the tensors, and the piriformis may cross your mind, the weight of the body “with no part left out”may focus from the lower front of the abdomen across the PC’s to the tailbone (and up the spine to the head bones), the surface of the skin may come forward. Or not.

    On some level it’s just where I am, and a distinction of the senses that comes of its own accord.

    1. mb
      mb July 15, 2014 at 8:25 pm | |

      Well, it all seems a bit esoteric, even though I do recognize the muscle names you cite from having looked at several yoga anatomy books and I know their general locations within the body. What are the “PC’s”? Are you actually able to recognize and distinguish the actions of these individually-named muscles from each other yourself? If so, that’s quite a talent. As to “adding motion” to the “location of awareness”, my experience yesterday in that little exercise was that the “location of awareness” kind of expanded in its internally-perceived “size”. Beyond that, I’m not sure what you’re onto – I know it has much more meaning and specificity to you. I was just trying to get you to explain what the “pitch, roll and yaw” apply to since we aren’t airplanes or boats. And you seem to be referring to those motions in relation to the muscles that come into play around the sacrum and how that affects the “location of awareness”. All right, enough for now. I will revel in my ignorance.

  19. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 15, 2014 at 9:32 am | |

    The freedom of the sense of location to move is integral to the relinquishment of volition in action of the body: I remind myself to relax and sink, as they say in Tai Chi, and that what I know comes out of the movement of breath with the freedom of the sense of location to move. For the most part.

  20. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 15, 2014 at 9:43 pm | |

    ‘As to “adding motion” to the “location of awareness”, my experience yesterday in that little exercise was that the “location of awareness” kind of expanded in its internally-perceived “size”.’

    I can see that. What happens if you look for forward and back at the location of awareness, and allow for movement in the sense of location?

    1. mb
      mb July 15, 2014 at 10:44 pm | |

      What happens if you look for forward and back at the location of awareness, and allow for movement in the sense of location?
      =======================================================
      Is this koan practice? I’ve got the answer: Mu!

      Maybe that “sense of location” can be perceived as bobbing around those 3 axes of movement in a kind of quasi-physical sense, just as an airplane moves through air or a boat through water. That’s my vague sense of it. I really don’t know what your definition of “allow for movement” is. And I don’t want to tie my mind in knots trying to come up with some kind of discombobulated intellectual understanding either, so I’ll just let it percolate.

  21. A beginner in Texas
    A beginner in Texas July 16, 2014 at 2:58 am | |

    Roll, pitch, yaw? Too technical for me.

    I’m still just trying to plant my keester on the cushion and get my nose over my navel, knees out for balance. Count the breaths and don’t get waylaid by thoughts.

  22. minkfoot
    minkfoot July 16, 2014 at 11:49 am | |

    Steve, if your practice seems to be going well, and your teacher agrees, what reason is there to discontinue? As it is, we all make up our own practice out of teachers’ instructions, directions in books, and our own notions, and this practice continues to take it’s own shape through some mysterious process. You are quite right in calling Shikantaza a koan in itself — there’s and element of asking and inquiry necessary to it, even if it’s not as central as in koan work.

    I think folks are making too much of Brad’s flip remark about “funny questions.” Considering it was part of a list of idealizing stratagems, it doesn’t seem particularly about koan practice.

    Brad has often said he believes zazen as taught by the Soto school is “best,” and so do I. However, it’s not best for everyone, at all times. There’s lots of methods appropriate to particular situations, like, say, breath-counting to counter distractedness. Wholly different systems of practice teachings are better for some people.

    So I could have tremendous respect for the whole body of Buddhist practice, yet still feel the zazen of Sawaki is “best.”

    Brad’s a Soto guy, and it’s traditional to toss off a dig at the kin on the other side of the table. Maybe he shouldn’t have done that in an arena where some people might see it as disapproval or disrespect. Maybe he was being an asshole, but that’s a pretty subjective call.

    A few years ago, after getting an award, Gary Snyder made a speech, mostly reminiscing about Beat days. He made the comment that Rinzai students know Shikantaza very well, but that Sotoists don’t have a clue about Rinzai practice. I thought that was hilarious! Old Tahui was no slouch insulting “Dead Tree Zen.” How insulted was Hongzhi? Sawaki hardly lost a chance to diss koans with his friend Tokujo Kato.

    Why do people take everything Brad says so seriously? What a funny question!

    1. Fred
      Fred July 16, 2014 at 1:13 pm | |

      “You have to try so hard to stop trying, the universe eventually cracks itself up, and the foaming breakers of the void run like spittle from your drooling mouth.”

      +1

    2. Steve
      Steve July 17, 2014 at 6:23 am | |

      Thanks.

  23. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon July 16, 2014 at 4:07 pm | |

    Be like Wang Silly Head. Chant Buddha’s name. Get wisdom.
    Namo Amituofo!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJ3H7ejqlzU

  24. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 16, 2014 at 4:36 pm | |

    “Maybe that “sense of location” can be perceived as bobbing around those 3 axes of movement in a kind of quasi-physical sense, just as an airplane moves through air or a boat through water. That’s my vague sense of it.”

    Not a koan, and what you are describing is what I experience, as well.

    Here is something from my notes of December, 2012 that I hope will make sense to you on the basis of your experience; this is “humbleone” from “The Tao Bums”, talking about using the exercise to get back to sleep:

    ‘”I woke up at 4:30 AM, after a quick drink of water. returned to bed and tried your practice.

    I hope I did it correctly, I was somewhat surprised that my mind moved around quite a bit. not fast, but in slow motion the awareness would shift, from left cheek to right side of torso etc. The end result was a light sleep state, but I was glued to the bed and then woke up exactly at 6AM, feeling refreshed like I had a complete 8 hours of sleep.”

    Clearly the context in that case was falling asleep, humbleone (his pseudo on Tao Bums) was having difficulty waking up and being unable to get back to sleep. He was actually able to get back to sleep with this practice, consistently for weeks. I asked him to try it in the daytime (with his eyes open), and he discovered what he described as a sense of peace when he did.

    What’s the significance in zazen? The sense of location and the three motions there help me to discover the stretch I’m in at the moment, so I can relax particular activity. That helps. When I’m relaxed, I fall awake the way humbleone fell asleep, everything enters in with nothing left out and the place where I am sits.

  25. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 16, 2014 at 4:42 pm | |

    Interesting that Shunryu Suzuki lectured on the blue cliff record when students started sitting with him on Bush Street; Mel Weitsman recalled it this way:

    “He would give a talk once a week. I remember he gave a talk from the Blue Cliff Record once a week. He went through the whole Blue Cliff Record. He would have Wednesday night discussion, and Mrs. Suzuki would serve tea.”

    that’s from here.

  26. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 16, 2014 at 4:47 pm | |

    Also Jakusho Kwong worked through the entire Blue Cliff record with Kobun.

    Dogen apparently copied at least thirty of the koans from the Blue Cliff record before he returned to Japan.

    Mark Foote is studying the Blue Cliff record under the tutelage of his navel, but so far the universe has only seen fit to deliver volume two to him from Pegasus Used Books.

  27. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 16, 2014 at 4:49 pm | |

    But, Soto doesn’t do koans.

  28. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 16, 2014 at 4:56 pm | |

    The blue cliff record is behind my right shoulder, here.
    <—

  29. Fred
    Fred July 16, 2014 at 5:56 pm | |

    “mind like body is just an image, interestingly both are quantum and can only be ever known in insufficient images !”

    An3drew

    1. Fred
      Fred July 16, 2014 at 6:02 pm | |

      illusions coalescing around probabilities in dependent origination

  30. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 16, 2014 at 10:33 pm | |

    mb, thank you for your feedback. I can use all the help I can get, as far as my communication.

    ‘What are the “PC’s”? Are you actually able to recognize and distinguish the actions of these individually-named muscles from each other yourself?’

    That would be the pubococcygeus muscles.

    A lama who lectured at Shambala Sonoma spoke of how his teacher would show him a card with a mandala on it, then turn the card over and ask him to recreate the mandala in his mind (the lama did not say how the exercise applied in his spiritual training, but the lama who was speaking clearly felt it was important).

    That’s what I have with regard to the activity of the muscles I mentioned: an image of my body that I have built up in my mind.

    Yes I do sometimes isolate the action of what I believe are the muscle groups I named, and sometimes I might even contract a muscle slightly to recall how that action affects the stretch I’m in. So, for example, I’m contracting something between my leg and the upper wing of the pelvis that turns the pelvis ; I’m thinking “sartorius”. Is it the sartorius– “nyah, could be”, as the bunny said. Or under the pelvis to the hip bones in a side-to-side motion, activity pulling on the hips that seems to leverage me into the seat– obturators? Got that one from “anatomy in movement”. I tend to forget about psoas rocking the pelvis as it slips across the pubic bones and stretches open the ilio-sacral joints, but if I relax I do believe it does. Ida Rolfe was big on the psoas.

    It’s a trick, because the action of particular muscles described in the texts varies according to which part is held still, and they’re not usually assuming you’re sitting cross-legged or doing one of the poses of Tai-Chi. I have taken my best guess at the names but the places and actions have been fairly consistent.

    The PC is interesting, because it’s not about contraction per se for me (what, no Kegels?)– it’s about the sense of weight and no part of the body left out, and the alignment of the tailbone and spine, that’s the way it seems.

    I built up an image, maybe the names are right, maybe I feel the piriformis rotating the sacrum opposite the gluts and tensors, maybe I just feel more in general when I think I can feel the piriformis rotating the sacrum and so I assume I have the description right when in fact something else is going on.

    I know I’m inspiring confidence (not).

    1. mb
      mb July 16, 2014 at 10:47 pm | |

      Mark:

      I tend to forget about psoas rocking the pelvis as it slips across the pubic bones and stretches open the ilio-sacral joints, but if I relax I do believe it does. Ida Rolfe was big on the psoas.
      ———————————————————————————————-
      Yes, some anatomy-oriented yoga teachers also emphasize the psoas, so I know where that is (deep paired left/right lowest abdominal muscles on the inside of the pelvis).
      ———————————————————————————————-
      The PC is interesting, because it’s not about contraction per se for me (what, no Kegels?)– it’s about the sense of weight and no part of the body left out, and the alignment of the tailbone and spine, that’s the way it seems.
      ———————————————————————————————-
      In yoga, the PC is known as: mula bandha, the perineum. No kegels for guys, but everyone can contract this area. Just as Rolf emphasizes the psoas, Heller body workers emphasize the importance of learning to contract this area. It’s strangely related to lower spine support.
      ———————————————————————————————–
      And good for you for contstructing an artistic approximation of the rest of them. There are probably crazy anatomy-philes out there who have actually learned the feeling and action of each of those other ones…

  31. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 16, 2014 at 10:36 pm | |

    psoas rocking the pelvis as it slips across the pubic bones and stretching open the ilio-sacral joints

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles July 17, 2014 at 4:55 am | |

      Poetry

  32. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 17, 2014 at 8:33 am | |

    Thanks, John, but I want video (of yer band)! :O)

    mb, couple of other things that I think are interesting, you can decide. First is that if you are alert to the three directions of motion where awareness takes place with the eyes open, there can be a sense of continuity; it’s a little less of what humbleone described, and a lot more like tan-t’ien with no part left out (usually). I believe this is because of the tight connection between the vestibular organ and the eyes, the eyes can reset the way the vestibular sense is read (in effect).

    “Chan Chou asked T’ou Tzu, ‘How is it when a man who has died the great death returns to life?”

    T’ou Tzu said, ‘He must not go by night; he must get there in the daylight.’”

    (Blue Cliff Record, case 41, trans. T. Cleary pg 297)

    Other thing would be Raymond Richard’s assertion in “Lesions of the Sacrum” that the ligaments and fascia that connect the sacrum to the pelvis, and the articulations of the sides of the sacrum and the edges of the pelvis, allow the sacrum to not only pivot forward and back, but on the diagonals and around the vertical plumb line. He further asserts that in the normal course of affairs the sacrum can move to a lower, more open pivot on the pelvis, and in one of my writings I mention that this is fundamental in a slight vertical stretch of the extensors so that action of the sacrum can be carried upward through the three sets of extensors to the head bones.

    Is it so? Maybe. I don’t really feel the sacrum moving to a different pivot, but if I am mindful of the action of the psoas loosening the fascial connections between the sacrum and pelvis then the weight of the body (in whatever part comes to mind, no part left out) does seem eventually to set me upright, like a dunking Chinese chicken toy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drinking_bird#mediaviewer/File:Sipping_Bird.jpg).

    The main page of my site concerns the notion that being alert to the three motions at the location of awareness and allowing the location of awareness the freedom to move can allow the sense of gravity to perform a cranial-sacral osteopathic adjustment of sorts, to open the body to the action of the cranial-sacral fluid. In that theory, the body is constantly flexing and extending with changes in the volume of cranial-sacral fluid, I think Upledger put it at 10-14 times a minute, and by adding 5 grams of pressure (the weight of a nickel) to the movement where the movement is good Upledger said it is possible to open the places that are stuck (in the body). The nerves that control the changes in volume of the cranial-sacral fluid are located on the sagittal suture, at the crown of the head.

    “You should realize that on the crowns of the heads of the buddhas and enlightened adepts there is a wondrous way of ‘changing the bones’ and transforming your existence.”

    (“Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu”, trans. T. and J.C. Cleary, pg 61)

    ‘When you enter into enlightenment right where you are, you penetrate to the profoundest source. You cultivate this realization until you attain freedom of mind, harboring nothing in your heart. Herre there is no “understanding” to be found, much less “not understanding”.

    You go on like this twenty-four hours a day unfettered, free from all bonds.’

    (Ibid, pg 21)

    “Be aware of where you really are twenty-four hours a day. You must be most attentive.”

    (Ibid, pg 53)

  33. Fred
    Fred July 17, 2014 at 2:16 pm | |
    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles July 17, 2014 at 4:28 pm | |

      Huge bummer. We tried to book him a few years back, but the plans never gelled. I saw Edgar Winter & White Trash when “Frankenstein” was a beeg hit, but never caught Johnny, who was a hero of mine.

      1. Fred
        Fred July 17, 2014 at 5:37 pm | |

        Markie says
        Its motion in the sacrum
        Pitch, roll and yaw

        Get there in the daylight
        Night time is a flaw

        Motion in the sacrum
        Pitch, roll and yaw

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMClreF1zyY

      2. minkfoot
        minkfoot July 17, 2014 at 6:13 pm | |

        Gettin sleepy
        Fallin awake
        What’s the diff?
        Who is it who cares?

        All I know is ZAP!
        When I sit up straight

        When I forget to want
        To forget to want

        Imee Ooi is pretty cool

  34. Steve
    Steve July 18, 2014 at 9:15 am | |

    To my earlier point on Brad’s diss of koan introspection, I saw this posted today which I think sums up my point better than I did:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildfoxzen/

  35. Daniel
    Daniel July 21, 2014 at 1:31 pm | |

    its so funny how some soto teachers still try hard to make something magical of sitting meditation. it confuses many students all the way because they believe theres something special theyre missing. but its just very bad teaching of very simple meditaion practices to pretend soto zen is different then your average mbsr course. funny!

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