Sitting Instructions
Posture Instructions: The Breath PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 11 May 2018 14:31


My first teacher said that we should have a long, deep, complete exhalation, pushing our belly out as we press down, and a short natural inhalation. I am sorry to say that I believe these instructions to be completely mistaken.

Dogen said hardly anything about the breath. He just said to let a short breath be short and a long breath be long. At first glance, these instructions aren’t exactly comprehensive, but I think the import is clear: we shouldn’t try to control our breath.

Sometimes this is rendered as an instruction to just breathe naturally. Note the word. Not breathe normally, as you would when slumped over your computer, or slouching in a chair, but naturally.

Naturally for the zazen posture. When we are balanced, it is as if there is a vast cavern of breath inside us. There is nowhere it doesn’t reach. Sometimes it is breathing the bones of our pelvis. Sometimes our belly. Sometimes our intercostal muscles. Sometimes our clavicle. Sometimes our head. This natural breath breathes us, and as long as it does so, the body is no longer ‘the body’. It is no longer an object in our consciousness. It - everything - is free.

 

 

 

Last Updated on Friday, 11 May 2018 14:37
 
Practice Instructions PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 12 October 2017 18:52


If our intention is sincere, it doesn't matter if our mind is busy or quiet. Nonetheless, if we are very distracted, it is often helpful to bring our attention back to our body and breath. But what does this mean?

For myself, I often find it's helpful to focus initially on the head: the lips, the tongue, the musculature of the eyes, the pressure of the forehead, the muscles of the jaw, and so on. The attention then seems to flow quite naturally to the rest of the body. We use the unspoken equivalence of head/brain/mind/self to re-embody.

Likewise with the breath. We can start by feeling it in the nostrils, then the throat, then flowing down into the chest, the stomach, the pelvis, so that the whole body is breathing.

This feeling-being-body is the ground of practice.



Last Updated on Thursday, 12 October 2017 18:55
 
Kusen Practice Instruction PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 05 August 2017 13:08


There is a general instruction in many meditation schools that we should allow our thoughts to come and go freely, but what is meant by "thoughts"?

We are aware - all too aware - of what we might feel as the noise of our mind, but what we are less aware of is what lies behind this noise. If we reflect carefully, it appears that there is a 'something' which - as it were - endeavours to keep us in a familiar state, and usually a negative one : fear, dissatisfaction, boredom, dissociation, dullness.. the list is endless, and different for each of us, but it's there. There, but difficult to see.

Rather than focus on purifying consciousness, what is essential for us is to be thoroughly grounded in the dynamic, living body, which means to be grounded in the breath, and to experience the breath as permeating the whole body. Everything moves with the breath: the bones of the pelvis, the bones of the head, the face, the legs. That movement from 'mind' to body loosens and liberates us, and is "beyond thinking".

 

 

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 05 August 2017 13:14
 
Practice Instructions PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 23 May 2016 14:22


The different aspects of practice are different facets of non duality.

When we sit, we are just sitting. The mind, body and universe are this single piece of just sitting.

We completely exert ourselves, moment to moment, to cease this mental fabrication. Exertion is illuminated. The ground is equanimity.

When we do kinhin, we completely experience ourselves. We feel our feet on the ground, the push of the earth travelling through us, our intimacy with all beings, our complex aliveness. Experience is illuminated. The ground is joy.

When we chant, together, we are completely focused on wholehearted expression. Everything is illuminated. The ground is redemption.

Last Updated on Monday, 23 May 2016 15:30
 
Practice Intructions PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 14 April 2016 21:13

 

For a long time, I've given this instruction to people coming to Zen for the first time:

 

"When you sit just try your very best to maintain a present awareness. Your mind will wander. If it does, don't be harsh on yourself. Just bring yourself back to this moment. Sometimes, it's helpful to focus on the breath, or on the various aspects of your posture.."

 

I'm not sure if these instructions, although they might appear helpful, actually are. They might suit someone who is prone to distraction or dissociation, but are less useful for someone prone to strong feelings or sensations. But more generally, I think the instructions match up with a 'mindfulness' perspective, giving great weight to 'presence' and 'awareness', setting that up as a kind of standard [against which practitioners will tend to judge themselves, and judge badly] but without really encapsulating what buddhism is about.

 

So I now prefer to say something like:

 

When you sit, just allow your experience to completely be. Don't judge it. Don't interpret it, Don't make a story of it, just allow it to be. You'll notice that your mind always wants to do something with this moment to moment experience. It wants to define it ['now I'm feeling sad']. It wants to locate it ['I'm doing zazen looking at a wall']. It wants to interpret it ['I'm feeling sad because..']. It wants to judge it ['I'm very distracted']. Your experience does not come to you packaged as thoughts and emotions. This is construction too.

 

This endless activity of the mind is what buddhists call samskara, which is often -and clumsily- translated as 'mental fabrication'. Nirvana is, moment to moment, ceasing to do that, allowing something other than the constructed world and self to swing open and shut

 

Last Updated on Monday, 18 April 2016 17:02
 
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