Good morning. I have been having a little bit of trouble with my knee,
so I think I'm going to talk
about pain today. I was having trouble with my knee even before I came down to Tassajara for
Practice Period, but this morning after a day of sesshin and after sitting in seiza (kneeling position)
yesterday for a long time having tea with people, it was feeling particularly unstable. So I
thought, "I'll rest it a little bit, I'll sit seiza during breakfast." That was a big mistake. Seiza used
to be a resting posture for me when I first started sitting, but somehow I felt extremely unstable
and uncomfortable perched up in the air on that cushion, so I changed my position. What I
experienced was very interesting to watch: my mind was sort of like, "Idiot, you should have
known better than that, and now you're stuck with it for fifty minutes." Every time I leaned over,
I felt like I was going to fall over on my head, so I put the cushion down so I could sit lower, and
then I started having sciatic pain, and lots of irritation came up.
My mind was this big mess, and then the soup wasn't hot and the servers
were slow. That was
breakfast this morning for me. I got back to my cabin and, of course, I don't have any chairs in
there. I sit and study in seiza, so it was more of the same.
Jack Kornfield has really worked out a very, very well presented discussion
of meditation on
mindfulness of the body and pain, and a meditation on pain which I would like us to do together
today. Don't change your posture, perhaps you've already gotten into a little of your painful
areas by now. I hope so, this will help you with this mediation.
"Because our acculturation teaches us to avoid, or run, from pain, we don't
about it. To heal the body, we must study pain. When we bring close attention to our
physical pains, we will notice several kinds. We see that sometimes pain arises as we
adjust to an unaccustomed sitting posture."
(For those of us who are fairly new to sitting, we, in fact, do have to
help our bodies become
flexible enough to sit in a stable sitting posture. During that time, we may have to make a lot of
adjustments in posture, and we may have to change from one posture to another. We may
sometimes have to sit in a chair to help ourselves become accustomed to a stable sitting posture.
There's nothing in this meditation, and there's nothing that I'm suggesting, to indicate that you
should ignore the difficulties that arise from becoming familiar with an unaccustomed posture.)
If something arises that's too intense, or too painful, or too difficult
to stay with, our mind will
wander away. We needn't be worried that somehow we're going to get locked in a room with
this thing and we can't get away from it. Our mind will wander away or we will fall asleep. But
each time it arises, just stay with it for as long as you can. Little by little, it will lose its potency to
frighten us or upset us. Sometimes, very slowly, there are aspects of who I am that are very
difficult for me to accept. But just to give careful and kind attention to whatever arises is what
our practice is. Sitting facing the wall in sesshin, most of what arises is just our own body, mind,
and feelings. We're not interacting with one another so much just now, though we bow with
careful and kind attention to each other as we pass, and as we serve and are served. But mostly
what we are giving attention to during sesshin is our own stuff. So I want to read you this
meditation on healing the body that Jack has in his book.
"Sit comfortably and quietly. Let your body rest easily. Breathe gently.
Let go of your
thoughts, past and future, memories and plans. Just be present. Begin to let your own
precious body reveal the places that most need healing. Allow the physical pains,
tensions, diseases, or wounds to show themselves. Bring a careful and kind attention to
these painful places. Slowly and carefully feel their physical energy. Notice what is deep
inside them, the pulsations, throbbing, tension, needles, heat, contraction, aching, that
make up what we call pain. Allow these all to be felt fully, to be held in a receptive and
kind attention. Then be aware of the surrounding area of your body. If there is
contraction and holding, notice this gently. Breathe softly and let it open. In the same
way, be aware of any aversion or resistance in your mind. Notice this, too, with a soft
attention, without resisting, allowing it to be as it is, allowing it to open in its own time.
Now notice the thoughts and fears that accompany the pain you were exploring: `It will
never go away.' `I can't stand it.' `I don't deserve this.' `It's too hard, too much trouble,
too deep,' and so on.
"Let these thoughts rest in your kind attention for a time. Then gently
return to your
physical body. Let your awareness be deeper and more allowing now. Again, feel the
layers of the place of pain, and allow each layer that opens to move, to intensify, or to
dissolve in its own time. Bring your attention to the pain as if you were gently comforting
a child, holding it all in a loving and soothing attention. Breathe softly into it, accepting
all that is present with a healing kindness. Continue this meditation until you feel
reconnected with whatever part of your body that calls you until you feel at peace."
"Other times pain arising signals that we are sick or have a genuine physical
These pains call for a direct response and healing action from us. However, most often
the kinds of pains we encounter in meditative attention are not indications of physical
problems. They are the painful physical manifestations of our emotional, psychological
and spiritual holdings and contractions. Reich called these pains our muscular armor, the
areas of our body we have tightened over and over in painful situations as a way to
protect ourselves from life's inevitable difficulties. Even a healthy person who sits
somewhat comfortably to meditate will probably become aware of pains in his or her
body. As we sit still, our shoulders, our backs, our jaws or our necks may hurt.
Accumulated knots in the fabric of our body, previously undetected, begin to reveal
themselves as we become more open. As we become conscious of the pain they have held,
we may also notice feelings, memories, or images connected specifically to each area of
tension. As we gradually include in our awareness all that we have previously shut out
and neglected, our body heals. Learning to work with this opening is part of the art of
meditation. We can bring an open and respectful attention to the sensations that make up
our bodily experience. In this process we must work to develop a feeling of awareness of
what is actually going on in the body. We can direct our attention to notice the patterns
of our breathing, our posture, the way we hold our back, our chest, our belly, our pelvis.
In all these areas, we can carefully sense the free movement of energy or the contraction
and holding that prevents it. When you meditate, try to allow whatever arises to move
through you as it will. Let your attention be very kind."
"....Grief, longing, rage, loneliness, and sorrow can all first be felt
in your body. With
careful and kind attention you can feel deep inside them. Stay with them. After some
time, you can breathe softly and open your attention to each of the layers of contraction,
emotions, and thoughts that are carried with them. Finally, you can let these, too, rest, as
if you were gently comforting a child, accepting all that is present until you feel at peace.
You can work with the heart in this way as often as you wish. Remember, the healing of
our body and heart is always here. It simply awaits our compassionate attention." (From
A Path With Heart© by Jack Kornfield, Bantam Books.)
Kind, compassionate, and careful attention is the work of a Bodhisattva.
It is the work that
allows us to reveal the compassion of the ancestors in our life. Without this compassionate
acceptance of "this, just as it is," right here where we are, it's very hard to accept "just this, as it
is" in what surrounds us, in those that we meet moment after moment. As we open to accept
more of what is here, quite naturally we continue accepting more and more of what is around us
until it is all right here.
The first three years I was doing zazen, I didn't sit through a single
period for forty minutes
without changing my posture. I hated myself every time I did it because there were always
macho guys sitting, guys and women, and I felt like a wimp over here that kept changing my
posture until I got to the point after three years where I didn't have to change my posture. It was
during my first sesshin I did at Tassajara, during the middle of the night of the seventh night, that
I discovered that, even though I was in pain, I didn't have to move, and there was something
else to do with it. In fact, it began to change when I was able to stay with it. It didn't necessarily
always go away, but it did begin to change, and then some of the precise location of the
persistent pain seemed to be related to particular attitudes of mind that I was holding.
Sometimes I would discover what attitude of mind that point of tension was expressing. It was
sort of like that point of tension was going to stay there until I got the information about the
attitude of mind that was causing it. Then it could also relax, and, in the opening of it, the attitude
of mind that I had been holding revealed itself. Actually I don't know exactly how it worked. I
just know that there were a number of situations in which particular points of very intense
physical discomfort were connected to particular attitudes of mind.
One attitude in particular that I was carrying when I came to Tassajara
was spiritual pride. I had
quit my good job and I had come down the mountains to be a monk and save the world. I
thought I was doing something special. As long as I was holding the attitude that I was doing
something special, I had this particular pain. When I saw that I had that attitude, the pain
become more and more intense. It was in a particular point in my back. It was kind of pressing
me down to the floor, and, at a certain point, I was having a conversation with it. I had a notion
that it had to do with pride, and then I suggested something trivial and it just got really immense
and I heard this voice that said, "You had better pay attention to me or I'm going to break your
back." I thought I was really losing it, and then I realized that I had this spiritual pride because I
thought I was doing something wonderful for the world by quitting my job and coming to the
mountains and sitting zazen and being a Bodhisattva, or whatever I thought I was doing. When
I realized that that was the thought I was holding, this particular point of pain just sort of
dissolved. "I got it."
Pain, and the connection between our body and mind, is very interesting.
My knee hurting this
morning was partly a reminder that I was being pretty careless and taking my legs for granted.
I've been practicing along not being careful about how I was bending it and placing it. When I'm
very careful, it doesn't hurt so much. When I push my body around and just say, "Do what I
want you to do and don't give me no lip," it doesn't respond very well.
The phrase "Waiting it out" came up. In many periods of zazen during sesshin,
I get into the
mind set of waiting for the period to end. It brings up the question, "At what point, or points,
does pain, and what comes up with it, pass its usefulness factor?" So, it is an ongoing question
I've had throughout practice.
I think that "waiting it out" has an element of aversion and aggression
in it, as if you're not ready
to give it your kind attention. You just want to grit your teeth and wait for the bell to ring, not
giving as much kindness to your body as you are capable of. Rather than waiting it out, there is
the possibility of attending to the place where the pain is with your kind attention in the way that
Jack described in his meditation. It's the difference between holding still and settling into
stillness. In holding still, there is some kind of grippingyou grip the handles of your seat and just
hold on until the plane lands. When you can actually give the attention of your heart, and some
compassion, to wherever you feel the pain, it may be a different experience than waiting it out.
There is sort of stoic quality to waiting it out, and sometimes stoicism is necessary in our life.
What I'm suggesting, though, is cultivating some compassion for the painful area and having
some feeling of warmth and kindness toward it because it is hurtingyou are hurting: it's you.
I'm suggesting there may be some way you can gently turn the attitude of
waiting it out into
turning toward the pain and caring for it. I recall one period when I was waiting it out and Mel
[Sojun Mel Weitsman, Abbot of the Berkeley Zen Center] was carrying the stick. It was the
last period of the day. All of a sudden I heard in my mind the most amazing blast of obscenities,
language I had not remembered that I knew, directed at Mel because the jerk didn't realize that
the period was over and he should put his stick down so that the bell could be rung. It was
really blue language; it was quite astonishing. I worked for the Air Force as a mechanic for
awhile, and I learned some pretty interesting stuff and it all came out. I was quite amazed.
So, "waiting it out" can bring up a lot of old rage and anger, as well,
which it may also be useful
to take care of in sitting. It's all grist for the mill; it's all the stuff we have to work with. If we see
ourselves being stoic, then we just see that aspect of who we are, and we get to examine
whether or not that's the most compassionate way to take care of this current situation.
Sometimes it may be best to just hang on.
There's more than one kind of pain. As you sit, you begin to distinguish
between when you need
to move in order not to injure yourself, and when it's something that you stay with as long as you
can because it has information for you about your emotional life.
Reb [Senior Teacher Tenshin Reb Anderson of the San Francisco Zen Center]
that the reason that the bugs at Tassajara are so bothersome is because we think they are
optional, and my question is, "Is zazen optional?" No one can answer that question for you.
Obviously not everyone in the world does zazen. Those of us who came here, came because
zazen seemed like a practice that had great value in our life, it had transformative power in our
life. It's totally a personal choice. There's nothing written in concrete that zazen is the only
practice for a monk. It's a practice for which I have a great deal of appreciation, personally, but
I may come to a point in my life when cross-legged sitting at least is no longer possible for me.
Then I have to find out what zazen means in that situation. Thank you.
© Zenkei Blanche Hartman, 1996
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