envelope

Monsters Under The Bed 1


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Claudia: Good morning. How’s everybody? We’re going to begin this morning covering some kind of basic ground on meditation. I say basic because it’s a foundation, not because it isn’t rich and it isn’t ground that we all return to on a regular basis, every time we sit.

Ken: Can you hear? Come on up here. Come closer.

Student: [Unclear] [Laughter]

Claudia: Doesn’t want to? So raise my voice?

Ken: Yeah.


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Claudia: I’m going to start by talking about the breath. Everything that you read about meditation, certainly in all the Buddhist literature, you see the focus on the breath, and for shamatha practice this is what we’re doing. We are moving into the experience of breathing. The breath can seem like a very ordinary process. It’s something that, if we don’t direct our attention to it, the body does it anyway. The body knows how to breathe. We don’t have to control it. We don’t have to regulate it. And if we let ourselves just move into that very deep experience of just feeling the breath, everything else tends to follow along.

Sometimes, I know I’ve gone there myself, we sit for a while, and we think, “This is kind of a boring thing, paying attention to my breath, what’s the big deal about this?” But I think if you reflect on it a little bit, you can move into an experience where breath is pretty amazing.


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Any of you have children, in the room? Okay, I wonder if you can remember what that experience was like when you first heard your child take that breath. Anybody want to share what that felt like?

Student: One second.

Student: The interesting thing for me is that I kept waking up at night and checking on him to make sure that he was still breathing.

Claudia: Yes.

Student: And then later when I talked to other mothers, they had all had similar experiences with their children.

Claudia: And monitors make it even worse now because they’re sitting right there, and every breath is coming at you. Anyone else?

I remember it very, very clearly, and very distinctly. I don’t remember much about the pain. I don’t remember much about the process. It’s kind of faded over the years, but I don’t think I will ever forget those first breaths that my children took.


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About a year and a half ago, my father passed away. He was 86, and he was out hiking. He simply collapsed in the mountains. Fortunately I happened to be on an airplane, on my way to San Diego, to go and visit him so I was there when he was airlifted to the hospital.

When I got there, he was on a respirator, which they removed later. I had the deep honor and privilege of sitting with him while he took those last breaths. I will tell you that it moved me so deeply that it actually shifted my practice when I was resting with the breath, because the breath is our life. It means we’re here. It means we’re alive. We have this wonderful opportunity to practice.

The thing about the breath is, to be in that experience, not to be trying to control it or move it or change it. As the breath settles, the entire physiology of the body also starts to change. George is going to be talking about the body when we sit, but everything is carried with the breath.


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Some of you, in fact probably all of you, are familiar with Ken’s wonderful stories of Nasrudin. They’re sprinkled throughout his book, and they’re on all the IPods, I’m sure, and the podcasts.

Sometimes they can be kind of frustrating. Sometimes they can help us point to what is there. There’s a great story of Nasrudin, who’s at the court of a prince. There was a group of nobleman gathered around the prince, and one of them had brought in a beautiful horse, an absolutely beautiful looking steed. They were all standing around, admiring the horse, but there was an undercurrent of grumbling going on.

Nasrudin walked up and said, “Wow, that’s a beautiful horse!” One of the nobleman said, “Yeah, but nobody can ride this horse.” Nasrudin looked at the horse, and he said, “Well, what’s the problem here?” And the nobleman said, “Well, the horse is really jittery. And sometimes it moves forward, sometimes it moves backward. But no matter what it does, we all seem to fall off.”

Nasrudin sat there for a moment. He looked at the horse, boldly stepped forward and said, “Well, let me try. I can ride the horse.” Nasrudin was sitting with his students relating this story. And the students kind of looked at Nasrudin and said, “Well, what happened? What happened when you tried to ride the horse?” Nasrudin kind of looked at them and just kind of shook his shoulders, and he said, “Well, I couldn’t ride the horse either.”

So you might think about that in relationship to the breath. Our attention can move around a lot when we’re sitting. In and out. The idea is you keep moving back to the breath, to the whole body experience of it. You need to reach into your body to where you feel the breath deeply. And that’s not going to be up here. It’s going to be down deeper into your body.

Try for just a few moments right now if you can. Kind of sink a little bit. See if you can just kind of move into that experience of your breathing. Don’t force it. Don’t try and control it. Just let the body do what the body knows how to do.

[Pause]

If you lost that attention, you lose that experience, just move back into it gently.

Good.

[Pause]

Okay, let your attention come up again.


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What did you notice about sitting with the breath?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Hold the microphone like you would an ice cream cone.

Student: Okay, I’ve been trained on microphone placement.

Student: [Unclear]

Student: I know that. That’s frightening. I’m being brave. I’m getting it over with.

When you use words like letand guideand all that with regards to being present with the breath, that’s a cue word for my mind to take over directing that activity. I don’t know how to translate those verbs into something other than an action of my brain or what that means to just let it go without my mind trying to decide how that works and to direct it.

Claudia: Can you just feel it?

Student: Well, my mind tries to tell me how to do that. I listen to the instruction, and it’s like, whatever guidance I get, my mind tries to translate that into a how-to-do-it list and tries to translate and take over. So, just the letting is kind of a muscle or a verb I don’t understand how to translate all the time.

Student: I have a response for her that I found very helpful for that. One of my yoga teachers actually says feel the experience of being breath. Let your body breathe you. And I find that really helpful. So, maybe that could help you or others in the room. So, my experience. I try to do that, to just allow my body to take over. It definitely takes a minute or two for that shift to occur. At first I start trying to control it and then it takes me a moment to kind of settle into my breath.

Claudia: Did that help?

Student: We’ll see. [Laughter]

Student: [Unclear]…very, very resourceful.

Ken: [Unclear] around please. One of the things that we’ve heard on the podcast is that they really like hearing all of us.

Student: Yes, we do!

Ken: Other questions?

Student: I remember something that you told us last time. You said to breathe with your heart. That’s been helpful.

Claudia: Okay, George.


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George: Okay, the body. Many people tend to approach meditation as a mental or maybe an emotional activity. I know I did for a long time. I learned the hard way that it’s actually more of a physical activity, or at least that’s the piece I was leaving out.

And I’ve discovered that thoughts, emotions, all the drama that’s going on internally, is actually taken care of by attending to my body. And whenever I get caught up in my mind and in emotions, feelings, thoughts, stories then returning to my body, as Ken mentioned that last night, is a really reliable way to cut through that and to come back into what’s actually happening.

So, the first piece of it is how to sit. Your hip bones on the side, the trochanter bones…I think—I’m still learning physiology terms—the bones that stick out on the side. If you follow down and go around the corner under your buttocks, a couple inches in, there are two bones sticking down, inside your buttocks. There’s two sit bones. If you look at a picture of the pelvis, it’s kind of heart-shaped on the bottom. There’s two bony protrusions down at the bottom. That’s what you actually sit on.

If you’re sitting back on your buttocks or almost on the small of your back, your slumping crushes your rib cage. It’s hard to breathe naturally. It also means you start using your stomach muscles and your back muscles to hold yourself back up. If your back is sore after a half hour or an hour of sitting, you’re holding with your muscles.

If you can find those sit bones, it’s actually easier to do on a chair. I’ve just about abandoned sitting cross-legged, but you can do it cross-legged too. You find those sit-bones, rock back and forth until you can find those points, those bony points that sit down. They’re called sit bones for a reason.

You can also rock forward and backward and find the point of balance for you. Everybody’s body is different. So how you actually sit is actually going to be different. But if you can find those sit bones and rest on those, that’ll be the first piece of letting go of muscles, which releases the tension. If you’re sore and burning muscles, you’re holding. So, if you can find those sit bones, rock on those.


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And then we call it the breath as if it’s some thing. But breathing is an activity. It’s something you’re doing. It’s partially voluntary. But if you try to hold your breath, it’ll become involuntary pretty quickly. It’s something your body is doing.

So, breathing—what is the experience of breathing? There’s sensations. There’s movements. There’s things going on in breathing. It’s not an object to be looked at, it’s something your body is doing. So, as you inhale, rib cage expands, not only to the sides but forward and back as well. Your abdomen comes out a bit, extends a bit as the air comes in. That pushes your diaphragm down. That moves your internal organs. Your pelvis, if you’re not holding it still, will rock forward as you inhale. That means that your torso is moving.

As your belly comes out, the small of your back actually arches a little bit. That means your sternum and your shoulders, the upper torso, actually has to go back a little bit to compensate and balance. If your shoulders are moving and your neck is moving, that means your head has to roll a little bit to compensate for that. So as you inhale, your spine is undulating.

You were probably trained to sit straight. Well, the spine isn’t straight. You can’t make it straight. The spine has several curves in it. And as you breathe, the spine is undulating. So, as you inhale, as you exhale, it’s not so much following the air and imagining it going into your body. As you inhale and exhale, what is your body doing? How is it moving? If your pelvis is moving forward and backward as you inhale and exhale, that means your thigh bones are moving. If you don’t have your knees locked up, that means your knees are moving, your knee joints are moving. That means your lower leg is moving.

The same thing with the arms. If your spine is undulating and your rib cage is expanding, then your shoulders are moving. That means your arms are moving. When you inhale and exhale, if you’re actually balanced and centered and releasing muscular tension so that you’re actually just rocking on those sit bones as you breathe, it’s not just your rib cage or your lungs you can feel moving. You can actually feel your arms, your fingers, your toes moving as you inhale and exhale. If your torso moves, the rest of your body’s going to move, unless you’re holding it still.


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So, there’s an incredible sequence of sensations and movements, just as you sit resting, breathing. Of course, sensations and movements go on all day long. So if all that’s going on when you’re breathing, imagine what’s going on when you’re walking around. When you come into the dining hall. When you sit down to eat, what’s going on with eating? Incredible sensations and movements! There’s a lot to experience.

To the extent that you’re caught up in stories and emotions, usually the first thing that disappears is the body, sensations. There’s a Tibetan saying about sitting meditation, but I think it also extends to standing, walking, working: Body on the cushion, and mind in the body, and relaxation in the mind. Another maybe even more direct way of experiencing it is, “Do I have a sense of my body or am I thinking about lunch two hours from now?” If I’m thinking about lunch two hours from now, where’s my body? Does it disappear?

The body is an amazing biofeedback system, so one of the first indications that you’re not present is that you’re not in your body anymore. Another indication is that your body is not in the space that it’s actually in. So, if you’re not aware of your body sitting here, if you don’t feel the weight of it, if you don’t feel the sensations and movements of it, and you’re not aware of your body being in this space, then you’re probably caught up in stories and emotions. So, the body is the first foundation of Four Foundations of Mindfulness The body’s the first one. And that’s not accidental or by chance. The body actually is the foundation of attention and awareness. So, I would urge that you return again and again to the body.


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A couple things happen when you meditate. Lots of things happen when you meditate, but they can all be kind of brought down to two things: You either get busy, get distracted with thoughts, emotions, stories and so on, or you become dull. You sink into dullness, numbness, sleepiness.

So, if you get busy with emotional dramas and stories and thoughts, a quick way of cutting through that is to return to the sensations of the body. If you get sleepy or kind of blank out, start to get dull, a way to cut through that really quickly is to return to the details, the sensations and movements of the body.

So, keep returning to the body. You don’t need to hold your attention there, because as in Claudia’s story about the horse, the horse is going to throw you! The breath is the horse. The horse is moving. The body’s going to breathe whether you’re controlling it or whether you’re letting it happen. Whether you’re paying attention or not, the body is breathing. So the horse is galloping all the time. So, ride the horse! You’re going to get thrown off, and you get back on. Sometimes the horse is walking slowly, sometimes the horse it’s trotting, sometimes it’s galloping wildly. But the horse is there all the time. You can cut through a lot of the problems in meditation, especially the mental and emotional ones by returning to riding the horse.

You can also entertain yourself endlessly for some of those sessions that seem like they’re going on for hours. The main entertainment going on is sensations and movements in the body. So, Ken is fond of saying that Buddhism is not about making your life better, but I would offer the suggestion that there can be a lot of delight and adventure in feeling the sensations, the raw, juicy sensations of the body. It’s entertaining, at least.


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So, again, sit bones, moving, balance. Find a way to sit so that you can let your weight drop onto the seat. In the qigong instructions last night, I talked about when you’re standing, letting your skeleton hold you up, not your muscles. Let your weight rest on the earth. The earth is plenty large enough to hold you up. You don’t have to hold yourself up.

But to let go of that holding, you need to find a balance, you need to find your center of gravity, you need to find those sit bones. They’re just about the only thing that you can actually pivot on, swivel on, and not bring a lot of stomach muscle, back muscle, shoulder muscles into it. See if you can let go and relax and let your weight be held up by your seat.

And I would also suggest that you alternate a little bit. At least try it. Between sitting cross-legged on the cushion and sitting on the edge of the platform. The advantage of sitting on the ground is that you’re grounded, you’re stable, it’s very solid. It’s a good way to sit. It also locks up the pelvis and the hips. It makes breathing completely freely and naturally a little bit more difficult, so that stability and groundedness comes at a bit of a cost.

The advantage of sitting in a chair or on the edge of the platform in the zendo—you open up your abdomen. You free up the pelvis so that it can rock on those sit-bones. If you can take the sit-bones and move them about three, four inches from the edge of the seat. Don’t get too close to the edge of the seat that you might slip off, but don’t be sitting back like that.

If you can get those sit bones three, four inches from the edge of the seat, you can rock. Practice rocking your pelvis a little bit forward and back until you feel your belly kind of hanging in space. It’s a bit of a weird feeling if you’ve been holding your gut for a number of years. But if you can find a way to kind of hang your body off of those sit bones and let it just relax, then inhaling and exhaling becomes a lot fuller, a lot easier, a lot more sensation.

It also opens up the solar plexus area. You may find it a little disorienting or a little exciting at first. But what’s happening is that you’re opening up emotions. One of the reasons that we hold the stomach, and we bend at the solar plexus and slump is to hold emotions which are taking place in the body.

All the thoughts and emotions that you’re wrestling with are actually arising and happening in the body. And if you can sit in a way that’s open, relaxed, and let go of muscular tension, that flowing of emotion will happen more naturally and more easily.

If you’re sitting cross-legged, well, bless everybody who’s practiced and worked at Mount Baldy over the years, but these cushions maybe provided some support in the 1980’s. They’re really soft. [Laughter].

Ken: [Unclear]…support.

George: Even then they didn’t? Okay. [Laughter]

These are actually marshmallows with black covers on them! There are two big white bags under the platforms just inside the zendo, with some cushions that we brought that are filled with buckwheat and provide a lot more support. Bright blue cushions. They weight about five times what these do. They’re filled with buckwheat. So grab one of those cushions out of the bag and try sitting on that.

If you sit cross-legged, your knees basically are like this. That means you’re actually leaning back. And that requires your stomach muscles to engage, and then you start feeling like you’re falling backward. So then you engage your back muscles and try to hold yourself up like that. And pretty soon you’re going like this, and your stomach’s getting sore and your back’s getting sore. And it doesn’t matter how strong you are, the tension will win in the end.

So if you put a cushion under you the knees start to come down, that’s why we sit with a cushion. The back starts to have it’s natural curve. You can start to find some balance and your back muscles and stomach muscles will be able to release.

But the knees are still off the ground for most people. If you put a couple of these under the cushion, now you actually get your hip bones above your knee bones. Your knees are going towards the ground. If your legs are like this, you’re holding them up with your stomach muscles and your psoas muscle which has all sorts of physiological and emotional consequences. So if you can get your legs to let go, then you can let go with your muscles. But that requires a little more height behind.

It also means that your cushion’s going to be leaning forward. The reason for having a tilted forward seat, either on a chair or on the cushion, is that that allows the pelvis to move forward into a more natural position, as if you were standing. This is how you would stand, your pelvis is forward. If you don’t have enough height, your pelvis goes back and then you’re fighting all the time to try to figure out how to get yourself to sit up.

So try with the buckwheat cushions and try sitting on the edge of the platform. See if you can experiment with balance and with allowing your body to move, rather than holding yourself up.


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We could do a whole session on this, but we don’t have time this morning. If you’re finding yourself sore or muscles getting tired anytime over the weekend, feel free to set up a time with me, and we can sit and I can help you work directly with your posture. I’ll put some times on a sheet or something so people can sign up. But there’s no reason to be fighting the whole time, you know, fighting your body, ’cause that just builds up tension and confusion and it’ll be a lot more work than it needs to be. I think that’s good for now. We can take up questions at the end.


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One more thing: water. You may not feel thirsty, but we’ve already got people that are dizzy to the point of feeling like passing out. So drink water. We got excited about the bears last night, but actually dehydration is a much worse. It’s not a risk, it’s a certainty! And like all good monsters, it’s a shapeshifter.

Some of the signs of dehydration: headache, muscle tension, nausea, dizziness, constipation, constant hunger, disorientation, confused thinking. There are lots of reasons for that, but those are all signs of dehydration. One way to look at it: take your body weight in pounds, divide it in half—that’s the ounces of water you should drink every day, at home! We’re in the desert, so add a quart or two because we’re in the desert, and then add another quart for being at high elevation!

Ken: Okay.

George: Thank you. Plus, if you pass out in here, it’ll be a joke cause it’s cushioned. If you pass out in the zendo, it’s a long ways down to the hard floor. And if you pass out on the path, it can be dangerous! So, please drink water.

Ken: [Laughing] Okay.


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So, Claudia’s talked about the breath, about breathing. George has talked about the body. They very kindly left me with nothing to talk about. I mean, they said, “You can talk about the mind, Ken,” but there’s nothing to talk about there, so…[Laughter]

Two young boys were talking one afternoon. One said to the other, “Here we are, we’re sitting on the earth. The earth supports us. What supports the earth?”

And the second boy thought for a few minutes, and he said, “I talked to my father about that. He said there are four elephants. And the earth is supported on the backs of those four elephants.”

The first boy said, “Okay, but what supports the elephants?”

And the second boy lit up and said, “Yeah, I asked that from my father too, and he said, ‘They’re on the back of a giant turtle.’”

“Oh,” said the first boy. And they sat in silence for a while. And then the first boy said, “What supports the turtle?”

And the second boy stopped. He thought for a long time, and he looked at the first boy, and he said, “I think it’s turtles all the way down.” [Laughter]

I could stop here and say that’s all I had to say about meditation. [Laughter]

In a sense, that would be true. Within what Claudia and George were both saying are two qualities which are extremely important in meditation. And actually in our lives, but we first begin to form a relationship with them, or many of us do, in meditation.

The first quality is resting. Claudia talked about resting in the experience of breathing. We just tried that for a few minutes. And some of you noticed that you barely start resting in the experience of breathing and the horse kicks you off its back. Just like that. What’s your your name?

Cathy: Cathy.

Ken: Cathy. I thought you were one of the Cathys! Yes, you’re the C, right? Ah. Okay.

So, you notice how what you say is your mind—I’m not quite sure what that is, so I may ask for some elaboration on this—but some thing jumps in and starts trying to control the whole process, telling you what to do. “Well, do this. Stand up. Sit down. Lean to the left. Lean to the right. Breathe a little more deeply.” And all of that stuff. How many of you in your meditation practice have this little commentary that goes on the background, “Okay, hey you’re not doing badly right now.” [Laughter]

“Now, just ease up a little bit there—you’re getting a little bit tense. Oh, cool, cool—that’s it! Just—oooh, nice move! Ah, a little dullness here, better sharpen it up. Oh, come on, you got lost in a thought! What kind of an idiot are you?” Anybody else have this?

I suppose that’s what you’re referring to as your mind. Ah, okay. Well, so you start resting in the experience of breathing, and most of us get caught up in thoughts immediately. This is where what George is saying comes in It’s very important.

We may not notice this at this point, but every one of those thoughts is actually a reaction to a physical sensation. People are looking like, “What?” It’s a physical sensation with an emotional charge, and we don’t want to touch it so what we do is we start thinking. This is why I said last night, and George reiterated this this morning, that the most reliable way to cut through the thinking process is to bring your attention to what you are experiencing in the body. And you say “Well, I came here to meditate. I came here to be quiet and peaceful. I didn’t come here to feel all the aches and pains and little stuff, you know, I just want to sit and just have a really quiet mind.” But it doesn’t work that way.


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George also talked gave us some very, very useful pointers on sitting. I want to take it step further here. I said there are two important components to meditation. First is resting. The second one now comes in—listening. And this was implicit in what both Claudia and George talked about: You listen. Your body knows how to breathe. Can you listen to your body and let it breathe the way that it knows how? Or do you have some half-ass idea about how it should all be done. And you just go ahead and breathe that way?

You know the most difficult people I find to teach? Yoga teachers. Not all of them. But a good number of them have got so used to controlling their breath that they can’t actually let the body breathe. And it’s fair enough because in Hinduism/Yoga, it’s a different approach. And you learn to generate experiences through working with the body and working with the breath in ways. But they come to Buddhist practice and they sometimes find it very, very difficult because they can’t actually just rest and let the body breathe. It feels like everything’s going out of control.

Now, in that sensation of everything going out of control, there are a whole bunch of physical sensations. And that’s where you start in your practice. Okay, so, I feel like things are out of control, what am I experiencing physically? I feel like I am going to sleep, what am I experiencing physically? I’m feeling angry and upset, what am I experiencing physically? We do this over and over again.

In other words, you listen to the breath. You listen to the body.Your body will tell you how to sit. It will tell you when you are straining too much. It will tell you when you are slumping too much. It will tell you what it can do. It will tell you what it can’t do.

As you sit with the body, then you’ll find all of these different sensations. You listen to them very deeply, you will know how to sit. You listen to your breath and your breath will tell you when it’s out of sync with the body. And you will know, or your body will know, how to breathe. As you listen to all of that, you’ll find that you will know how to rest.


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Resting in this way may feel a little different, because as Claudia said in her comments, there isn’t this sense of control that many of us are used to. And so, the moment we start actually resting, our emotional reactions to the lack of control start to arise, and now we just go through the same cycle again. What do I experience in my body?

And so meditation practice in this way of resting and listening is a dynamic process of adjustments in our posture, in our breath, in how we’re placing our attention. But the net result of all of those adjustments is an increasing sense of both rest and balance. That’s what we mean by such terms as shamatha. It’s not a case of just holding everything still. That just produces suppression and that generates other problems.

Rather, when sitting this way, practicing this way, we’re listening to our whole experience and finding a place of balance in it and resting there. Now, as we rest there, the place of balance will naturally shift because of all of the movements that George was describing. And so we find ourselves resting in a constantly moving balance.

Now as time goes on and we gain more experience and understanding, that becomes more and more subtle. So, from the outside, it will look like we’re doing nothing. But inside, we will sense this constant movement out of balance and then the adjustment to move back towards balance. And I’ve said on other occasions, it’s a bit like riding a bicycle. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going on a bicycle, the bicycle is always moving a little bit from side to side. And you’ll find the same thing in meditation: It’s always moving a little bit. And the moment you try to hold it still, you actually stop the process. But if you just rest in this movement and keep listening and listening, you’ll find that the adjustments become smaller and smaller and you rest more and more completely.

Now, if you’re like most people, you’ll want to rest on something. And I ask you to remember, it’s turtles all the way down! [Laughter]


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Okay. Questions for any of us, on any of the things that we’ve discussed?

All of you understand this perfectly, no questions? I don’t buy it for a moment. Leslie? [unclear] your mic.

Leslie: This is about the body. And because I’ve had troubles with my back and I’m working on my posture and how I hold myself to be healthier in my back, I notice that when I’m sitting to meditate a lot of my tension goes onto adjusting my posture.

I guess I’m afraid, in a sense, that if I just rest and say my body knows how to sit that in fact it doesn’t, because it’s gotten me in this trouble. So, I don’t know how much it’s a distraction or how much it’s just being aware, but there’s often this sense of correcting my body. So I’m in my body, but there’s this correcting of the right way to sit. I’m just not sure how much to hold that and how much to let that go.

George: Yeah, that’s the game: Figuring out how to rest. The body knows how to breathe. It knows how to rest. It knows how to sit. It knows how to walk. What gets in the way of that are ideas about how we should sit and walk and breathe. And also physical traumas. So, those aren’t to be discounted. Rather, now you’ve got another set of variables that you get to work with.

I would beware of any holding. You don’t need to hold yourself up. If you do, if your injury is such that you need to hold yourself up, then sit in a chair and rest back. The problem with resting back is now your rib cage cannot expand to the back so you’ve just cut off at least a quarter of natural breathing. But if you have to do it, you do it. Some people are worried about moving in the zendo. It’s not about fidgeting and like trying to get comfortable and moving all the time because you won’t come to meet what’s arising. But, the other hand, I would say if your body is not moving, you’re holding!

As I’m sitting up here now, my body’s rocking from side to side. My head’s rolling back and forth. When we sit in the zendo, especially if we get our eyes fixated, we tend to think that everybody in the zendo is just like a statue. There’s no movement going on. There’s movement going on! And to the extent that there’s not, there’s holding and tension. So, if you need to shift in the zendo, just do it! And if other people get irritated, then they can work with that! [Laughter]

I’d be happy to do a session with you later if you want to talk about a specific physical injury or something, but just do whatever you need to do. Balance, like Ken says, is moving. It’s not a finding the place and then… The body knows how to sit. It finds it and it stays there, balances, moving. So…

Claudia: Another comment I would make is when you use the word correcting that’s like a red flag. I know it very well, it’s one of mine!

George: Can you turn the mic on, Claudia?

Claudia: So, although you may think you’re in your body, when you are correcting, you’re not. You’ve actually moved out, and you’re actually judging—and that’s all thinking. So, in that moment of analysis and correcting and “I’m not doing this right,” you’ve actually moved outside your body. So, you know, in that moment when those thoughts come up, go back to the breath. Just drop into the experience of breathing. Your body will probably relax into whatever position it needs to go into. So you might try that.

Ken: Do we have another? I can give you one more.

One of the facets of Buddhism I’m paying a lot of attention to these days comes from a colleague, a friend of mine, Stephen Batchelor: In its institutional forms, Buddhism provides very powerful answers to questions of the spirit. But sometimes the power of the answers overwhelms the stammering voice which is asking the questions.

There’s a lot of emphasis in Buddhism on correct posture, particularly in the Zen tradition, where posture is everything. But, we also have that in the Tibetan tradition with the Seven Pointed Posture of Brilliant Manifestation and so forth. And so we have this idea of what correct meditation practice or sitting should look like. That’s an answer. What’s the question? So that’s something you might explore.


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Other questions? We have time for one or two more. Valerie, microphone up here.

Valerie: A lot of the time I’m not breathing. [Laughter]

Valerie: I guess you could say that when I’m not breathing I am breathing. But there’s that space when nothing is happening in my body, it would seem.

Claudia: So, there’s gaps between breaths. Are you aware that you’re controlling that?

Valerie: Is that a question?

Claudia: Mmm-hmm.

Valerie: No.

Claudia: Does it feel like that?

Valerie: No. It feels like I’m very relaxed, and I really don’t need much breathing.

Claudia: And that’s okay. So, why are you worried about that?

Valerie: Well, I’m just, you know…so, when that nothing

Claudia: Rest in that space.

Valerie: Great. [Laughter]

Ken: Can somebody hand the microphone back to Kim, please. Just leave the microphones on. That’s fine, yeah.


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Kim: Does that judging, analytical little background commentary ever go away? [Laughter]

Ken: Claudia?

Claudia: I knew you were going to do that!

It gets better. And it gets better because you catch it before you’re lost in it. So, when you notice, for example, that your breathing pattern has slightly shifted, that’s usually a cue that you’re moving into some form of thinking that is starting to run. And for me, that’s often moving into thinking, analyzing what should I be doing, what’s coming next, whatever, which is where I get lost.

And, that shift, before you ever get there, happens actually in the body. So, if you’re really resting and experiencing the body, you will start to get sensitive to that shift that actually precedes the thinking kicking in. Now, it isn’t always perfect, you can still get lost, of course, but it does get better.

Ken: Do you remember learning how to drive? Could you pass the mic back to Kim, please?

Kim: I do. It was in a parking lot right on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. And if I accelerated instead of braking, I would go right into the Bay!

Ken: Okay, so you remember learning. And do you remember the first time you went out on a street, driving?

Kim: Actually, no. No, I don’t.

Ken: I have certain vivid memories, particularly when I was teaching somebody else how to drive, once upon a time. Ugh!

Kim: Okay, that I remember. [Laughter]

Ken: Okay. Now, when you’re first driving, how many things are you thinking of about? I mean, what I remember is, “Ah, red light, green light. Oh, okay that’s the one facing me, stop sign, cars there.” Things like that. Oh, and I was learning on a shift, so, okay, “Which gear am I in, clutch, brake, accelerator, oh no, that’s the accelerator, that’s the brake, that’s the clutch, steering wheel, flickers, windshield wipers, etc.” [Laughter]

You know, I went to New Zealand a few years ago, and you’re driving on the other side of things. How do you know someone’s not from New Zealand? Because they go round and round and round about with their windshield wipers on when it isn’t raining! [Laughter]

Okay. So, you have all of this stuff to think about. How much do you think about all of that stuff when you’re driving now?

Kim: It’s almost fully automatic. It’s amazingly automatic. Frighteningly automatic.

Ken: Well, you’ve developed a skill. And it’s just like Claudia’s saying you don’t have to have that running commentary telling you what to do all the time because you’ve developed a skill so that when you see a certain light that has a certain color, then your body just starts putting the foot on the brake. You don’t actually think, “Oh, that’s a red light, I meant to put my right foot on my brake. Yes, okay, not too hard. Oh, better push out the clutch, otherwise we’re just going to stall.” You know, we don’t do any of that. It’s just [snaps finger] like that.

I was back in Ontario a couple of years ago and I’d rented a car. Now, in California, the background for all of the traffic lights are dark green, you know or black or you know what I mean? In Ontario, they’re all yellow! It actually makes them more visible, but my brain wasn’t cued to that. So I kept going through red lights! I didn’t see them. My mother was saying, “Ken, that was a red light.” “Oh, you’re right.” Fortunately, no accidents, but we’re developing a skill here. As you develop that skill, then the adustments to disturbances just start taking place naturally You experience that as resting. Okay? Now the other question I have for you is why do you want to get rid of this?

Kim: That is the sense that I have of my little self, which is very annoying to me.

Ken: And how does your little self feel about being gotten rid of? [Laughter]

Kim: It doesn’t go that far.

Ken: Well, if you ask your little self, you know “Would you mind just exiting the scene?” What does it say?

Kim: I don’t think I ever talked to my little self. [Laughter]

Kim: I think it’s the little self always talking! [Laughter]

George: Monster number one!

Ken: Well, this tells you, now if somebody’s always talking, why do they talk all the time?

Kim: Trying to be sure they’re there, maybe?

Ken: Yeah! Because, they’re feeling threatened. Nobody’s paying any attention to them. It’s just an idea. This is what I mean about listening. Okay?


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We need to close here. We’re at ten thirty’s meditation, right? Ten thirty or ten fifteen?

Student: Ten thirty.

Ken: Ten thirty, okay. The han will sound in about ten minutes.


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