This morning I was reflecting on this:
I don’t seem to sit more than 50 minutes. I’m right-handed, and the left knee is definitely a whole different ball of wax than the right, even just when I stretch my legs (which I do one at a time, sitting on the floor, grabbing my toes and bringing my head to my knee). I believe this has to do with pivots and stretches at the sacrum. Here’s my guide, lately:
I was struck by Gudo’s description of an awareness of the back of the neck and head, and a stretch that is engaged when the chin comes down and in. The stretch, Gudo said, is at the back of the head, and is critical to dropping mind and body. Am I remembering that right?
Now from my research into cranial-sacral osteopathic theory, the stretch he’s referring to is not only from the extensors along the back of the spine and neck to the mandibular bones of the skull (behind the jaw), and thence to the temporal bones, parietals, and occiput, but also to the sphenoid from the same base as the occiput but running forward and upward in the center of the skull finishing as outer portions of the eye sockets. The occiput and the sphenoid flex and extend as the volume of fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord (down to the tailbone) changes, ten to fourteen times a minute. Now the key point is how a stretch from the tailbone to the top of the head (one of Cheng Man-ch’ing’s three preliminary relaxations, by the by) facilitates dropping body and mind.
There are parallels to “visual thinking”, attending to information coming to awareness before any discrimination of intent, in disciplines other than psychic healing. Dogen the Japanese Soto teacher emphasized “non-thinking” as the pivot of zazen, for instance (in Fukanzazengi).
I myself am coming to the conclusion that the ability to sit zazen depends on the hypnogogic state (between waking and sleeping, as it were). My effort in “waking up and falling asleep”, as I’m referring to the induction of the hypnogogic state, is simply to be where I am as I am where I am. In effect, there may be a reciprocity between the state of mind and the ability to feel, that opens the necessary ability to feel and the necessary state of mind to channel the future into a sense of location in three dimensions in the present, a sense of location from which action appropriate to the future can take place. Might be a sense of location in mind, or in the head anyway, some of the time.
On sitting the lotus, here are some instructions I find very useful, every day almost:
An empty hand grasps the hoe handle
Walking along, I ride the ox
The ox crosses the wooden bridge
The bridge is flowing, the water is still.
I remember Blanche Hartman from S.F. Zen Center talking about one day when she was on her way to a day of mindfulness and she buttoned her shirt backwards or something. I do revere some of the teachers I met from Japan, whom I thought had a certain grace and poise, and sometimes I think I should be concerned to practice hard and be more like them; in the end, though, I think Blanche has the right approach, to laugh at herself and be what she is.
I would say that I have a compass, and that compass comes out when I feel like I’m starting to walk in circles, and I use that compass to sight the next landmark in the direction I want to go before I put it away. The compass is the cessation of volition, in speech, in inhalation and exhalation, and in perception and sensation, and the landmark is the combination of disparate elements at the instant of cessation. The landmark is always right where I am, every contact of sense including the sixth sense enters into where I am even before I know it, and the ability to feel that arises with each contact informs where I am. When I am waking up and falling asleep, I can witness the action that arises out of where I am as I am where I am. That action is wu wei.
It is possible to act without intent, and to do so in the course of daily life; this is wu wei to me. As soon as there’s intent, there’s discrimination of good and bad, and there’s nothing natural about that.
I think the best is to accept falling asleep with waking up, and waking up with falling asleep; too much emphasis on waking up, and we can’t sleep. Too much emphasis on falling asleep, and we can’t wake up.
I continue to work with the description in “The Mudra of Zen”, and in “Translations of Motion in the Lotus”. This morning I was able to correlate a feeling for the ilio-lumbars with relaxation in the extensors, and a certain uprightness in the area of the low back. Interesting, for me, as I have never followed the advice to “keep your back straight”, in part because I don’t seem to have the feeling to make that possible (yet). My take is that activity in the sartorius and gluts (caused by stretch in the ilio-tibial tract and sacro-spinous/sacro-tuberous ligaments) and similar involuntary activity in the psoas and extensors acts up the spine as the ilio-lumbars engage in inhalation and exhalation. Sitting today I recalled the Gautamid’s description of the feeling of the first meditative state, like a bowl with a dusting of soap powder that is gathered, rolled and kneaded until it no longer oozes- !- my consciousness occurring in the area of the pelvis, letting the painful and pleasant feelings in and mindful of the sleepy wakefulness.
I, too, feel a deep sense of gratitude to the Zen teachers who came to this country, and to some of the teachers who became authorized to teach here and have kept the practice going for anyone who is interested. The real question is how do we inspire ourselves to sit the cross-legged pose for thirty minutes or forty, once or twice or several times a day? I guess one way that it’s been done in the past, intentionally or not, is with the promise of the respect and authority of the title of lineage holder, and unless you can communicate very clearly why anybody would want to practice, this will be your problem.
On the other hand, if you can communicate very clearly, maybe nobody would listen unless you had the title and authority. But then, if you were really trying mostly to communicate to yourself, it probably wouldn’t matter.
I guess the question for us both is how the chi comes to be “stored” in the tan-t’ien. Chunyi Lin seems to encourage you to think the long sitting will work the trick for you; his remark about looking at how long someone can sit the lotus to see if they’ve mastered energy says it all, in that regard.
I realize that there can be a feeling of absorption occasioned by impact when consciousness occurs in the vicinity of the tan-t’ien, and this is a pleasant thing, which informs my sense of location along with the feeling of near-pain occasioned by other impact of consciousness at stretches away from the tan-t’ien. I think I have a natural affinity for this feeling of absorption, and that affinity constitutes the storing of ch’i at the tan-t’ien in the parlance of Chinese martial arts. We’ll see!