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Question/s on Zazen mechanics

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A place to share and discuss the practice of Zen Buddhism without teachers. Debates about whether practising without teachers is possible or desirable are not appropriate here, nor are criticisms of Zen Buddhist practice with teachers.

Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Basaltic on Wed Aug 26, 2015 7:08 am

I'm not sure that this is the right place to post this thread and its questions; but if it isn't I invite the mods to move it to the most appropriate discussion forum. Here goes, anyway:

I've been practising zazen for some time now, some years, in fact, but, regrettably, not continuously in that time, and I have noticed a couple of persistent problems.

I continuously sit for 40 minutes twice a day, every day, now, and while concentrating hard on watching the breath and counting the exhalations and relinquishing any extraneous, discursive thoughts, I have a tendency to pre-empt or anticipate counting the next exhalation while drawing in the preceding inhalation. I can usually let go of any wandering thoughts by letting them wander in and wander out, thereby disregarding them, while watching and concentrating on the breath, except for this tendency to anticipate and count the next outward breath while still breathing in. Will this change with continued practice or is there some method or way I can use now to change this?

Another question I have is that I also have a tendency to tighten the shoulders while I sit. When I notice that they have tightened up, I consciously relax them, however, after a short time they are tight again and I have to relax them again, and so on. Once more, will this problem eventually change with continued practice or is there some method or way I can use now to change this?

Over to you.
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Linda Anderson on Wed Aug 26, 2015 7:24 am

B-
I never thought I could say this... find a teacher who can teach you to be kind to yourself.. you have posted this in the area of practice without teachers ... but, you have said you are trying to practice zen... so that's not quite what this section is about.

Zen, in my view, is much more than breath and posture tho they may assist. Zen is not about relinquishing thoughts, Zen is about life, what thoughts are present, being present... stick to it with no escape. After a while... well, find out. As far as the shoulder tension, I know this well.... notice, relax... BUT do not ascribe any meaning to this... if anything, it is an aid to noticing when it happens .... it has nothing to do with awakening. Love your tension, that would be a start. You better know that most of us have tension whether we see it or not. Love is noticing, nothing more.
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Chrisd on Wed Aug 26, 2015 9:16 am

Relax :)
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Michaeljc on Wed Aug 26, 2015 10:12 am

I agree with Linda. What you describe is not Zazen. You need to have your posture checked by someone knowledgeable first-off

I feel that you body is tensing up because you are trying to force things. If this persists over 40 min than man you have some problems to sort out

I don't say this very often either: You need to visit a Zen/Chan center and get the basics right. If you really CANT visit a centre let us know and maybe us hacks can make some worthwhile suggestions

There are a number of methods, none of which correlate with what you describe

Sorry

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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby partofit22 on Wed Aug 26, 2015 4:05 pm

Basaltic wrote:I'm not sure that this is the right place to post this thread and its questions; but if it isn't I invite the mods to move it to the most appropriate discussion forum. Here goes, anyway:

I've been practising zazen for some time now, some years, in fact, but, regrettably, not continuously in that time, and I have noticed a couple of persistent problems.

I continuously sit for 40 minutes twice a day, every day, now, and while concentrating hard on watching the breath and counting the exhalations and relinquishing any extraneous, discursive thoughts, I have a tendency to pre-empt or anticipate counting the next exhalation while drawing in the preceding inhalation. I can usually let go of any wandering thoughts by letting them wander in and wander out, thereby disregarding them, while watching and concentrating on the breath, except for this tendency to anticipate and count the next outward breath while still breathing in. Will this change with continued practice or is there some method or way I can use now to change this?

Another question I have is that I also have a tendency to tighten the shoulders while I sit. When I notice that they have tightened up, I consciously relax them, however, after a short time they are tight again and I have to relax them again, and so on. Once more, will this problem eventually change with continued practice or is there some method or way I can use now to change this?

Over to you.


Focus on your breath, not the next- You've already noticed you've formed a habit of anticipating the next breath and perhaps a habit out of your response to noticing it- Do you think it's possible it's the cause of, or part of, the cause of shoulder tension?
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Basaltic on Thu Aug 27, 2015 2:18 am

Linda Anderson wrote:B-
I never thought I could say this... find a teacher who can teach you to be kind to yourself.. you have posted this in the area of practice without teachers ... but, you have said you are trying to practice zen... so that's not quite what this section is about.

Zen, in my view, is much more than breath and posture tho they may assist. Zen is not about relinquishing thoughts, Zen is about life, what thoughts are present, being present... stick to it with no escape. After a while... well, find out. As far as the shoulder tension, I know this well.... notice, relax... BUT do not ascribe any meaning to this... if anything, it is an aid to noticing when it happens .... it has nothing to do with awakening. Love your tension, that would be a start. You better know that most of us have tension whether we see it or not. Love is noticing, nothing more.
linda


Well, Linda, as the title of the thread says, my questions are on the mechanics of zazen, the nuts and bolts of doing zazen, not the attitudinal, philosophical, or religious basis of the practice. Also, I said that I invited the mods to move the thread if I had opened this thread in the wrong forum. If you are a mod, by all means, move it to a more appropriate forum. Thank you for you input.
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Basaltic on Thu Aug 27, 2015 2:22 am

Michaeljc wrote:I agree with Linda. What you describe is not Zazen. You need to have your posture checked by someone knowledgeable first-off

I feel that you body is tensing up because you are trying to force things. If this persists over 40 min than man you have some problems to sort out

I don't say this very often either: You need to visit a Zen/Chan center and get the basics right. If you really CANT visit a centre let us know and maybe us hacks can make some worthwhile suggestions

There are a number of methods, none of which correlate with what you describe

Sorry

Michael


I disagree. I have started this practice in accordance with the instructions or directions laid down by Katsuki Sekida in his 1975 book Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy. And I am not forcing anything. I have applied and am applying the principle of right effort. You have misunderstood what I have written. And I was taught by a teacher when I took refuge in 1991.
Last edited by Basaltic on Thu Aug 27, 2015 10:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Basaltic on Thu Aug 27, 2015 2:25 am

partofit22 wrote:
Basaltic wrote:I'm not sure that this is the right place to post this thread and its questions; but if it isn't I invite the mods to move it to the most appropriate discussion forum. Here goes, anyway:

I've been practising zazen for some time now, some years, in fact, but, regrettably, not continuously in that time, and I have noticed a couple of persistent problems.

I continuously sit for 40 minutes twice a day, every day, now, and while concentrating hard on watching the breath and counting the exhalations and relinquishing any extraneous, discursive thoughts, I have a tendency to pre-empt or anticipate counting the next exhalation while drawing in the preceding inhalation. I can usually let go of any wandering thoughts by letting them wander in and wander out, thereby disregarding them, while watching and concentrating on the breath, except for this tendency to anticipate and count the next outward breath while still breathing in. Will this change with continued practice or is there some method or way I can use now to change this?

Another question I have is that I also have a tendency to tighten the shoulders while I sit. When I notice that they have tightened up, I consciously relax them, however, after a short time they are tight again and I have to relax them again, and so on. Once more, will this problem eventually change with continued practice or is there some method or way I can use now to change this?

Over to you.


Focus on your breath, not the next- You've already noticed you've formed a habit of anticipating the next breath and perhaps a habit out of your response to noticing it- Do you think it's possible it's the cause of, or part of, the cause of shoulder tension?


I am focusing on the breath. But anticipating the next breath is still a persistent problem. Although I have only recently returned to practice and I am inclined to think that problem will resolve itself if I persist on a regular basis.
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Avisitor on Thu Aug 27, 2015 2:34 am

Basaltic wrote:I've been practising zazen for some time now, some years, in fact, but, regrettably, not continuously in that time, and I have noticed a couple of persistent problems.

This is where a good teacher would come in handy .. to ask these types of questions

Basaltic wrote:I continuously sit for 40 minutes twice a day, every day, now, and while concentrating hard on watching the breath and counting the exhalations and relinquishing any extraneous, discursive thoughts, I have a tendency to pre-empt or anticipate counting the next exhalation while drawing in the preceding inhalation. I can usually let go of any wandering thoughts by letting them wander in and wander out, thereby disregarding them, while watching and concentrating on the breath, except for this tendency to anticipate and count the next outward breath while still breathing in. Will this change with continued practice or is there some method or way I can use now to change this?

One is taught to count breaths and let thoughts come and go
Counting breaths allows one to calm the mind and focus its concentration
Letting thoughts come and go allows for the mind to be unfettered by the attachment to thoughts (A clarity develops from this practice)

The anticipation is just another way of the mind to avoid being unified
It is a distraction which takes away from the practice
Just like if one experiences bliss, it is just another thing which gives distraction from the practice.
One is unifying the mind and strengthening concentration
Clarity of mind carries over into daily life

Then another practice can be assigned by your teacher ... mindfulness
It all depends on the lineage and their practices and teachings

If you have no teacher then changing to following breath instead of count may help in not having anticipation
Just say in .. on the in breath and just say out .. on the out breath ... focus on following breath

Remember that the effort must be maintained ...
Not too tight and not too loose
But held in a way as it can be held forever


Basaltic wrote:Another question I have is that I also have a tendency to tighten the shoulders while I sit. When I notice that they have tightened up, I consciously relax them, however, after a short time they are tight again and I have to relax them again, and so on. Once more, will this problem eventually change with continued practice or is there some method or way I can use now to change this?

This sounds like a problem with posture but it is impossible to say for sure without actually seeing your practice.
Sit with the back straight and the breaths should flow easily from the belly (hara)
It takes practice to sit right if one has been (regular posture) sitting poorly for a long time



And if you have the inclination .. find a teacher and sangha
Good luck and wish you best practices
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Michaeljc on Thu Aug 27, 2015 3:42 am

Basaltic wrote:
Michaeljc wrote:I agree with Linda. What you describe is not Zazen. You need to have your posture checked by someone knowledgeable first-off

I feel that you body is tensing up because you are trying to force things. If this persists over 40 min than man you have some problems to sort out

I don't say this very often either: You need to visit a Zen/Chan center and get the basics right. If you really CANT visit a centre let us know and maybe us hacks can make some worthwhile suggestions

There are a number of methods, none of which correlate with what you describe

Sorry

Michael


I disagree. I have started this practice in accordance with the instructions or directions laid down by Katsuki Sekida in his 1975 book Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy. And I am not forcing anything. I have applied and am applying the principle of right effort. You have misunderstood what I have written. And I have been taught by a teacher when I took refuge in 1991.


You asked for opinions and I gave one

You still have not answered the question as to your ability to visit a centre

There are different methods to suit different students. The term most used in regards breath training is follow the breath. My understanding is that counting the breath is a very preliminary exercise. Following means that the breath is allowed to operate perfectly naturally. This will change during a sit

There are pro-active and passive methods. I sense that the principle of 'right effort' is screwing you up. There is a method of no effort too. Maybe it would be more appropriate in your case

I am not a teacher and am very reluctant to express any more opinion in this case as my impression is that you need personal help from someone experienced. You have not yet discussed posture - the indispensable heart of Zazen mechanics

m
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Basaltic on Thu Aug 27, 2015 10:12 am

Michaeljc wrote:
Basaltic wrote:
Michaeljc wrote:I agree with Linda. What you describe is not Zazen. You need to have your posture checked by someone knowledgeable first-off

I feel that you body is tensing up because you are trying to force things. If this persists over 40 min than man you have some problems to sort out

I don't say this very often either: You need to visit a Zen/Chan center and get the basics right. If you really CANT visit a centre let us know and maybe us hacks can make some worthwhile suggestions

There are a number of methods, none of which correlate with what you describe

Sorry

Michael


I disagree. I have started this practice in accordance with the instructions or directions laid down by Katsuki Sekida in his 1975 book Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy. And I am not forcing anything. I have applied and am applying the principle of right effort. You have misunderstood what I have written. And I have been taught by a teacher when I took refuge in 1991.


You asked for opinions and I gave one

You still have not answered the question as to your ability to visit a centre

There are different methods to suit different students. The term most used in regards breath training is follow the breath. My understanding is that counting the breath is a very preliminary exercise. Following means that the breath is allowed to operate perfectly naturally. This will change during a sit

There are pro-active and passive methods. I sense that the principle of 'right effort' is screwing you up. There is a method of no effort too. Maybe it would be more appropriate in your case

I am not a teacher and am very reluctant to express any more opinion in this case as my impression is that you need personal help from someone experienced. You have not yet discussed posture - the indispensable heart of Zazen mechanics

m


Yes, I asked for opinions and you gave one with which I disagreed. What is wrong with that? I am not compelled to agree with every opinion I am given.

The sitting position I have adopted is the so-called Burmese position, as illustrated below:

https://zmm.mro.org/teachings/meditation-instructions/

ImageImage

As for visiting zen centres or other like places of zen practice, this is difficult in the situation I am in currently. That is why this thread was placed in the "Practicing Zen Buddhism Without a Teacher" subforum.

Otherwise, Michaeljc, thank you for your input.
Last edited by Basaltic on Thu Aug 27, 2015 10:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Basaltic on Thu Aug 27, 2015 10:44 am

Avisitor wrote:
Basaltic wrote:I've been practising zazen for some time now, some years, in fact, but, regrettably, not continuously in that time, and I have noticed a couple of persistent problems.

This is where a good teacher would come in handy .. to ask these types of questions

Basaltic wrote:I continuously sit for 40 minutes twice a day, every day, now, and while concentrating hard on watching the breath and counting the exhalations and relinquishing any extraneous, discursive thoughts, I have a tendency to pre-empt or anticipate counting the next exhalation while drawing in the preceding inhalation. I can usually let go of any wandering thoughts by letting them wander in and wander out, thereby disregarding them, while watching and concentrating on the breath, except for this tendency to anticipate and count the next outward breath while still breathing in. Will this change with continued practice or is there some method or way I can use now to change this?

One is taught to count breaths and let thoughts come and go
Counting breaths allows one to calm the mind and focus its concentration
Letting thoughts come and go allows for the mind to be unfettered by the attachment to thoughts (A clarity develops from this practice)

The anticipation is just another way of the mind to avoid being unified
It is a distraction which takes away from the practice
Just like if one experiences bliss, it is just another thing which gives distraction from the practice.
One is unifying the mind and strengthening concentration
Clarity of mind carries over into daily life

Then another practice can be assigned by your teacher ... mindfulness
It all depends on the lineage and their practices and teachings

If you have no teacher then changing to following breath instead of count may help in not having anticipation
Just say in .. on the in breath and just say out .. on the out breath ... focus on following breath

Remember that the effort must be maintained ...
Not too tight and not too loose
But held in a way as it can be held forever


Basaltic wrote:Another question I have is that I also have a tendency to tighten the shoulders while I sit. When I notice that they have tightened up, I consciously relax them, however, after a short time they are tight again and I have to relax them again, and so on. Once more, will this problem eventually change with continued practice or is there some method or way I can use now to change this?

This sounds like a problem with posture but it is impossible to say for sure without actually seeing your practice.
Sit with the back straight and the breaths should flow easily from the belly (hara)
It takes practice to sit right if one has been (regular posture) sitting poorly for a long time



And if you have the inclination .. find a teacher and sangha
Good luck and wish you best practices


Thanks, Avisitor. And I, too, wish you good luck and best practices. Thank you for your input.
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Basaltic on Thu Aug 27, 2015 10:51 am

partofit22 wrote:
Basaltic wrote:I'm not sure that this is the right place to post this thread and its questions; but if it isn't I invite the mods to move it to the most appropriate discussion forum. Here goes, anyway:

I've been practising zazen for some time now, some years, in fact, but, regrettably, not continuously in that time, and I have noticed a couple of persistent problems.

I continuously sit for 40 minutes twice a day, every day, now, and while concentrating hard on watching the breath and counting the exhalations and relinquishing any extraneous, discursive thoughts, I have a tendency to pre-empt or anticipate counting the next exhalation while drawing in the preceding inhalation. I can usually let go of any wandering thoughts by letting them wander in and wander out, thereby disregarding them, while watching and concentrating on the breath, except for this tendency to anticipate and count the next outward breath while still breathing in. Will this change with continued practice or is there some method or way I can use now to change this?

Another question I have is that I also have a tendency to tighten the shoulders while I sit. When I notice that they have tightened up, I consciously relax them, however, after a short time they are tight again and I have to relax them again, and so on. Once more, will this problem eventually change with continued practice or is there some method or way I can use now to change this?

Over to you.


Focus on your breath, not the next- You've already noticed you've formed a habit of anticipating the next breath and perhaps a habit out of your response to noticing it- Do you think it's possible it's the cause of, or part of, the cause of shoulder tension?


[My bold]

Indeed, partofit22, they could well be connected. I shall persist and see if resolving one problem helps in lessening the other. Thank you for your input.
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Michaeljc on Thu Aug 27, 2015 11:10 am

Remember that the effort must be maintained ...
Not too tight and not too loose
But held in a way as it can be held forever


I would like to bring attention to a method where effort does not need to be maintained. My immediate reaction to the OP was, "heck, someone is sitting 2 x 40 minutes/day and still tensing up, maybe the effortless method would be more appropriate" To learn more about it go to Jundo's site "Treeleaf Zendo" This does work for some students

In reality (according to reports) most students do not find the 'just sit' method particularly easy. A tug-o-war goes on between doubt and faith. 'Just sit' sounds extremely simple yet thousands of words are written about it

Geo Gu writes about some techniques he uses to encourage relaxation on a topic I started a month or two back. I often check my facial muscles as I find that if there is any tension, here is where it shows. It is amazing just how much more these muscles can be relaxed when there is a degree of tension. There is also the technique of belly breathing taught by Meido

I still sense that by forcing the counting of the breath you are creating tension. Its not working for you. You should really post your OP (unedited) in ask a teacher to get some verification

As I see it

cheers

m
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Seeker242 on Thu Aug 27, 2015 11:26 am

Basaltic wrote:
I am focusing on the breath. But anticipating the next breath is still a persistent problem. Although I have only recently returned to practice and I am inclined to think that problem will resolve itself if I persist on a regular basis.


Why do you consider that to be a problem? I ask because sometimes when we experience something and put the label of "problem" on it, that labeling itself, is giving it more attention and more energy causing it to persist, thus it persists. Deprive it of that attention and energy, and it stops persisting. I would bet that if you were to stop thinking "this is a problem", it would stop by itself. :rbow:
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Chrisd on Thu Aug 27, 2015 12:12 pm

Hi Basaltic :heya:

I've had the same problem(s). I know it's a pain in the ass :lol2:
I asked all my teachers but that wasn't much help.
It's something you work through yourself.

What I've learned:

Notice the problem or inconsistency (you already have), allow it to be.
Adjust or continue to practice.

If you notice it again, the problem or inconsistency, allow it to be.
Continue to practice.

Repeat.

Then at one point you've trained your mind to already allow the "inconsistency" and then it transforms.
That's insight.

It definitely changes with continued practice and developed skillfulness in dealing with your own system.
At one point you'll be doing this spontaneously, it's become second nature.
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby fukasetsu on Thu Aug 27, 2015 12:22 pm

I can usually let go of any wandering thoughts by letting them wander in and wander out, thereby disregarding them, while watching and concentrating on the breath, except for this tendency to anticipate and count the next outward breath while still breathing in. Will this change with continued practice or is there some method or way I can use now to change this?


Hi Basaltic,

All you have to realize is that thoughts are temporary because they arise due to conditions.
For instance you wouldn't anticipate counting the next outward breath if you wouldn't sit in the first place.
This might sound simpel but it's very important to be constantly aware of that during everyday activities,
you will see that because they are conditioned they are void of own being and find that they liberate themselves into their own condition,
similair like clouds in the sky, there is no effort on your part nor is 'letting go' something you can do.
They are just conditioned thoughts (feelings, etc) it has nothing to do with you.. i.e. they aren't your thoughts.

I wouldn't have thought/typed this if you wouldn't have made this thread, I never lose sight of this dependent arising.
You will find yourself non-vexated in all daily activities with this insight, all you need to do is pay attention, off the cushion as much as on the cushion, in daily activities wandering thoughts will liberate themselves, remember you cannot let go of what you don't understand.

So yes it will change with continued practise, if that practise is 24/7, not just when you sit on the zafu.
It will happen spontaneously and natural, not by effort, all effort should be on simply paying attention nothing more.
Then in time that will become effortless too. So understand dependent arising, that's is all.
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Chrisd on Thu Aug 27, 2015 12:26 pm

It won't do you good changing method. If breath counting works for you, stick with that. I've been doing it for years and having tried and struggled with all the other methods, it still works best for me.

I drop into a state of concentration quickly and easily, coming out refreshed. I never reflect on it any more actually :PP:
It just works so once you figure that out you don't need to think about it again.

Many teachers say you can go all the way with it, I don't see why not.
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby fukasetsu on Thu Aug 27, 2015 12:29 pm

Chris, do you also count breaths when you're doing the dishes, getting groceries, talking to people etc?
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Re: Question/s on Zazen mechanics

Postby Chrisd on Thu Aug 27, 2015 12:49 pm

of course not
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