Monday, December 06, 2010

I had an itch and didn't scratch it.

I sat with the Yokoji Zen Mountain Center Long Beach group on Saturday morning, and it was good. The reason it was good, besides the sangha aspect, is mainly that once or twice I had really intense itches develop, and I noticed them developing, and didn't scratch them, and then I noticed that they had gone away.

This isn't the same thing as being intensely irritated or angry at something and noticing that irritation or anger, and not lashing out and saying something hurtful or rude or reactionary or counterproductive, and frankly, that's something I'd like to get better at. I'd like to notice my anger and not become anger, not become angry. I think that's something that may become easier as time goes on. I feel optimistic about it because here, a few steps down the path of my journey, I noticed an itch, and didn't become itchy, and didn't scratch it, and experienced what I knew -- whether you scratch the itch or not, it will eventually go away.

This reminds me of a story I read but cannot locate now, that goes like this:

A monk set about raising a huge sum of money for a temple or something, and started by begging for money, and a nobleman came by, and the monk explained how he needed a huge amount of gold, and explained why, and the nobleman refused, and the monk followed him, and reiterated how he needed this huge sum, and begged, and the nobleman refused, and the monk kept following him and begging, reiterating how he needed this huge amount of money, until the nobleman finally grew so irritated he threw a single penny at the monk. The monk became excited and exultant and joyful and happily bowed low and thanked the nobleman, who became confused. he asked the monk why he was so happy when he needed this huge sum, and had only gotten a single penny, and begrudgingly at that. The monk replied that he had been despairing of being able to raise such a huge sum, but now he had seen that he was able to raise even a single penny, he knew that in time, he'd surely be able to raise the whole sum and achieve his goal.

So it is with itches. Physical itches can be overcome? Why, so can emotional and mental itches of irritation, anger, distraction. I just have to keep sitting, and eventually, I will acheive it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Since I can't Smoke, I Sit.

I quit smoking just over 16 years ago. When I smoked, I was a smoker. I identified as a smoker, and I enjoyed smoking. I smoked at least two packs a day. I smoked while showering. I smoked while riding my bike. I loved it. At the time I quit, I had a little baby daughter, and the reason I stopped smoking was besides smoking over two packs a day, I would also be drinking ten cups of coffee or so a day, and my heart was doing things like skipping beats. And it was making me lightheaded and faint. And I was afraid of fainting while driving my daughter to daycare, so I quit. I had the help of nicotine patches, and it worked. I didn't quit because it would kill me, or that the second-hand smoke would injure, or anything like that, although I knew these things to be true. For me, it was the prospect of fainting and killing my daughter in a car crash that motivated me to put down my beloved Zippo lighter and my cigarettes and pipes and quit.

One thing that I didn't realize at the time, but which I have realized many times since, is that when I smoked, I wasn't just smoking. When I was at work, at least, when I smoked, I did other things at the same time. I practiced deep breathing and relaxation. I contemplated. I enjoyed the weather outside (I remember smoking in Denver once, outside in 0F weather, bright blue sky, snowcovered ground. If not for smoking, I'd be inside the building, working.) I met new people and shared with them free of expectation of judgment-- when you are a smoker and someone asks for a light or a cigarette, you tend to give without question, having been in that position of need yourself at some time.

Anyway. It's not really smoking as an intrinsic thing that let me do things like deep breathing, and notice the weather, and meet new people and be generous to them, and allow them to be generous towards me. But it made doing all these things easier.

Since I started doing zazen in my tentative, rank amateur way, I have had some moments where it reminded me of when I smoked-- all the ancillary things that I had as side-benefits. I take time to breathe and tend to breathe more deeply when just sitting. I find myself a tiny bit more aware of what's happening around me, as the sounds of the world, the light, the smells, reach me more clearly when I sit. And I find myself more awake to other people and being compassionate when I sit.

I also notice all my negative anger and resentments and counterproductive procrastination issues, but I already wrote about that. Today is a positive post. In a way, my anger and resentments and negative emotions and behaviors have become clear enough to me, and are affecting me now like my fainting was affecting me 16 years ago. Then, I put down the cigarettes, and now I started sitting. I hope it works. I need something like nicotine patches of zazen to keep me sitting.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mindfulness can be a Pain

I think it's a universal phenomenon after someone starts any sort of new practice-- things start out breezy and wonderful, and then they get difficult.

When someone becomes a Born-Again Christian, for instance, it's an act of faith, but then it's immediately followed by a lot of Works -- living life differently and starting a bunch of new behaviors, and stopping old behaviors. It's common that new believers have all sorts of difficulties manifest themselves. Christians explain this by talking about the Devil not paying any mind to you when you are doomed to Hell, but when you rebuke the Devil and accept Jesus, then you are in Play, and the Devil is going to fight you. It's viewed as a good thing, because again, Satan wouldn't be paying you any mind and making your life difficult and tempting you if you hadn't thrown off his yoke and taken on the yoke of Christ instead.

When I practiced SGI/Nichiren Buddhism, they used a metaphor of turning on a faucet for the first time in a long time -- there's going to be a bunch of old junk in the pipes, and you turn the faucet on, and all this old junk comes out of the faucet. It's a natural result of turning on the faucet, and so rather than getting upset, you should be happy. It's proof things are starting to flow through the pipe. Right now, it's gross and smelly, but the cool and clean water you want is coming down the pipes. Just be patient.

Anyway. I seem to have a bunch of junk in my pipes or something. I have been tired after a full night's sleep, being more ADD than usual, and feeling more stressed than usual, and finding myself in funks for no good reason. I think it's partially because being Mindful more often means more noticing of how I am distracted or engaged in negative thinking. Then I'll distract myself from this noticing and then catch myself doing this. Etc. And there's a lot of negative emotions that come up for no reason. Noticing there's no reason is a good thing, but still. It's all stuff that makes it more challenging to be mindful enough to sit. I still need to develop a routine to practice every day, because my ADD-tendency makes me avoid this sort of discomfort rather than just sit with it.

Monday, November 08, 2010

It's a good day.

It's Monday.

This weekend was really nice -- my daughter was down and it's always good to have her around, and we met her boyfriend, and we went to an Argentine night fundraiser at The Infinite, and danced the Tango. And yesterday we saw Lana's cousin and her husband and daughter, who is on that cusp between baby and toddler, and how can you go wrong playing with a baby?

It was raining when I woke up, but a fine mist of a rain-- tiny, tiny drops, like it was sprayed from an atomizer, all side-lit by the sun rising in the cloud free East. It was pretty and pleasant to walk through when I took Baby out.

My coworker has been out for months after surgery and has been working from home, and today she came in to the office, and is starting to work here again. This is a big deal, since most days I'm alone, and I have a hard time working alone for too many days at a time. We work together online and over the phone, but being together in person is a much different experience. So that's good.

And we went for an early lunch, which worked out well, since I hadn't eaten breakfast. And my boss paid. Which is awesome. :)

So it's a good beginning to the week. And tonight is Zazen at The Infinite. Just as having my coworker back in the same place as me is a powerful thing, it's easier practicing Zazen with other people in the same place. It works this way for me with things like marathons... when I walk alone, I feel I am at my limit when I am walking a pace that's one or two minutes slower than my marathon pace. When I am doing a marathon, I end up going faster. This is even true in marathons like Catalina, where there were stretches after 15 miles or so when I was the only person in sight on long stretches... just doing something with 800 other people made my pace much faster. Likewise, I've found when I am sitting at home, it is a lot harder to sit for 15 minutes alone than it is to sit for 25 or 30 minutes with the group. There's such motivation that comes from the energy of the group, and also, not wanting to come off as horrible at sitting still in the eyes of other people. I am competitive in weird ways, so I am motivated to sit still and keep my back straighter much more in the group. It's very silly, but there it is.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Work Practice.

Having an ADD Brainstyle makes it challenging for me to do tedious clerical things. And part of my job involves doing tedious clerical things.

Starting to do Zazen over the past four weeks has made me a little bit more aware during the time I am not sitting, and I notice my getting distracted a bit more easily. But it's really hard to get my mind back on my work when there's no mind required as much as doggedly sitting there and comparing the contents of one Excel cell with the contents of another Excel cell and copying things from one sheet to another, all the while wishing I knew enough about macros and VBA programming to somehow automate the process.

I have read suggestions of just committing 15 minutes to projects you are procrastinating about, or which you hate... just commit to 15 minutes, and then, if you want, you can stop and go on to something else. Just give it 15 minutes. And since I have been sitting at home for a modest 15 minutes at a time, I decided to use the same timer, and slap the experiment with a 'Workzen' label, and just do the same thing I'd do with work as I did when sitting down. Do the work, while focusing on my breathing and staying present. It works. And after 15 minutes, I get up, walk around, then sit down, and try another 15 minutes. It makes it more fun.

Except that here I am blogging about how much it works, instead of actually doing it. This is a problem I have found myself having about the big picture of taking baby steps in doing a Zen practice. Rather than being content to practice, I have to read about it, find out more about the lineage associated with the people I am sitting with and want to learn from, discover controversies, etc. Hopefully this excitability will calm down and I can just practice more and do study when I should be studying.

Off to do 15 minutes of work practice.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

DST will soon be over. Thank goodness.

It has been so hard for me to get up in the mornings and get to sleep at night. I am looking forward to Sunday, when we set our clocks back and regain that precious hour stolen from us last Spring.

It feels like this eagerness for DST to be gone is coming from the bones and sinews of my body as much as from my mind. My body is feeling out of alignment with the world, and needs to snap back into alignment, and perhaps going back to standard time will accomplish that.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Zazen and the Cricket

Today I went to the Saturday zazen for the first time. There were twenty of so people, and it was good, aside from me forgetting to turn off my cellphone and having it go off, full volume, with the old-fashioned-phone ring, about a minute into the first sitting session. That was pretty mortifying. So I had to turn that off, and sit back down and calm down...

Each of times we started zazen, we'd be quiet for a couple minutes, and then a cricket in the room would start chirping and keep it up for a few minutes. It was as if it had been waiting for the silence. Perhaps it associated the silence with safety. Or perhaps it knew that only in the silence could its chirping be heard by other crickets. And now I think about it, perhaps it was there the whole time, but I couldn't hear it when everyone was settling down.

If it had started chirping 15 minutes into zazen, I'd be seeing it as a reminder to be present, pulling us back to the present, or that guy with the stick giving us a whack. But as it was, chirping within a minute or two of us starting to sit, I just saw it as a cricket chirping.

I am sure there's a deep meaning in the cricket speaking in the silence. But I don't know what it is.

After zazen, the leader of our group today, Chigen, talked about a koan from the Book of Equanimity, Case 20, where Master Jizo met Hogan, and asked Hogan where was going, and Hogan said he was on pilgrimage aimlessly. Jizo asked him why he was on pilgrimage, and Hogan said I don't know. Jizo said not knowing is most intimate, and Hogan experienced some awakening. Chigen talked about the importance of not knowing, being open to not knowing, and the practice of being there with your discomfort in not knowing. And we had a good discussion about it.

So there was a cricket today, and it chirped, and I don't know why this feels worthy of me retelling, but there you go. There is intimacy in not knowing. Perhaps. Or perhaps not.