I attended the five-day Denko-e sesshin at Jikoji Zen Center, two weeks ago.

Vanja Palmers from Switzerland, who led the sitting, suggested in his opening talk that everyone should try to include everything in their awareness (with nothing left out): although he acknowledged there might be difficulties in the posture, he suggested that by including everything, a soft spot where relaxation is appropriate might come forward.

In my last post, I wrote:

Gautama spoke of thought applied to the experience of the whole body of an inhalation or the whole body of an exhalation; in such an experience, activity in the body that responds to relaxation to allow a feeling of ease can emerge.

I felt very much at home with Vanja’s advice (I hope I have quoted him correctly).

I wrote the following to a friend of mine, after my return from Jikoji’s sesshin:

Wednesday night (in sesshin) the stuff I write about came forward more or less in order as I was sitting the lotus, in one of the half-hour sittings (it was usually 40 minutes followed by thirty, followed by a meal or tea and a break). Proof of concept.

My friend wrote back:

So glad your retreat experience seems to have validated your own thinking. Hard for me to understand the importance of form when sitting… I don’t get why what’s going on in your head isn’t as or more important than how your legs are folded.

I replied:

When I sit, my mind is one of the senses, and gradually I find my breathing necessitates the experience of the sense of equalibrium more and my mind less. The mechanics (of sitting) are really just a way of letting that happen.

The more I sit, the more accustomed I become to a rhythm of the senses out of the necessity of breath. The lotus sort of forces the issue, but the same necessity is there in regular daily living, because the necessity of breath is there. I presume that’s why Gautama found mindfulness to be so closely linked to inhalation and exhalation, in the way of living he espoused.

I personally find that I need the sitting practice to force the issue, but I don’t need to be in pain to do it (in fact that doesn’t seem to help me, though it may help some others). Sitting the lotus is a way to sit without pain, if the mechanics are right. So it’s a big deal for me when my understanding of the mechanics can deliver me to a rhythm, and it’s the appropriate thought that arrives, without pain. That’s why I’m excited about the mechanics, and not so much about the state of mind, although in the end there is peace of mind in the experience–and you could argue (you did argue) that peace of mind is more of what it’s all about.

2 Replies to “Denko-e”

  1. Commentator Zafrogzen offers this:

    ‘Vanja said to “…try to include everything in your awareness (with nothing left out).

    I think it’s impossible to include everything in awareness all at once–except perhaps as an idea or an image. Awareness of everything would amount to awareness of nothing. When some “thing” engages awareness, awareness becomes that thing, which excludes all other things from awareness.

    When I talked with Vanja at Kobin’s memorial he advocated “openness.” That’s a better way of saying it, since, like emptiness, openness includes everything that comes and goes within awareness, whether its a thought, an image or whatever, without sticking to anything. With that view there’s no difference between “…what’s going on in your head” or “how your legs are folded.”‘

    My thanks to Zafrogzen.

  2. My response to Zafrogzen:

    ‘I guess to me the point of “with no part left out” is that the proprioceptive awareness that makes it work is not a generalized awareness or continuous openness to everything, but an awareness that takes in one thing, then another. I think that’s what you were saying, when you wrote “When some “thing” engages awareness, awareness becomes that thing, which excludes all other things from awareness.”.

    I play a lot with letting my awareness be in one place, and my relaxation be another place, which “other place” (especially in the context of the dan-t’ien) may not have any particular muscle or muscles immediately associated with it.’

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