When I finally sat down to write something about zazen, I wrote an essay about “the mudra of zen”. I didn’t know what I was going to say about that, but I wrote anyway. As it happens, I still use the practice I wrote about even today, six years later. And yet, it’s an oddball thing!
So here it is. As consciousness occurs, we have a sense of our location in space. This sense is keyed to the three motions possible in space; these motions are pitch, yaw and roll, just like with an airplane:
As regards the mudra commonly employed in Soto Zen practice, here’s what I wrote:
“If the little fingers leave the abdomen, awareness of the forward and backward motion wherever consciousness takes place and relaxation of the activity of the body in awareness can restore the little fingers to the abdomen.
If the elbows lose their angle from the body, awareness of the side-to-side motion wherever consciousness takes place and relaxation of the activity of the body in awareness can restore the angle.
If the shoulders lose their roundedness, awareness of the turn left and right wherever consciousness takes place and relaxation of the activity of the body in awareness can help restore the round to the shoulders.”
So that’s a bit different, it says that the correct mudra just depends on an awareness of pitch, yaw, and roll wherever consciousness takes place and relaxation of the activity of the body in awareness. The trick is the recognition that consciousness moves, and has place, and activity follows out of that sense of place even in the absence of volition, yet this is as simple as a feeling for pitch, yaw, and roll where I am right now. And I have that feeling without trying, but I think it’s also possible to bring mindfulness of this feeling forward to good effect, especially in relationship to our form/posture/carriage at the moment.
(“At the Zendo” illustration by Clay Atchison, used by permission)