Attitude of Mind, and Posture

By Gary Enns

Mondo is a question and answer that typically occurs after a session of Zen practice. This mondo with Gary is from Tuesday, 8 June, 2021.

Buddha of the dojoBeing as this is your first time with us, how did it go?

VISITOR: “I need to practice more.”

We all need that! There is a phrase in Zen--beginner’s mind. Longtime practitioners, brand new practitioners, we're all in beginner's mind, all absolute beginners when we come back to zazen because it is always fresh and new, as every moment is fresh and new. In this way, we can all be surprised by practice.

Different things will arise during zazen, always, because the world is flowing and we're flowing. Everything is in flux and changing, so everything is always new. We come back again to the fundamentals: posture first, then breath.

The attitude of mind in zazen is concentration--on just this moment, this here and now, this posture, this one breath. Let everything be as it is, not fighting to push away the bad or gain the good. Zazen is the autotelic experience of being one with this immediate practice of sitting, completely in the present moment. We have everything we need right here.

Yes, we all need to practice more, I think.

VISITOR: “Thank you so much. I noticed that my legs started to lose circulation. Why is that, and what can I do to keep that from happening?”

The first month of anyone's practice will likely be a month of experimentation, and really, we are all continuously adjusting our practice to suit our bodies’ particular needs as they change. This morning, you were sitting in the Burmese cross-legged position that we talked about, so next time try having the other leg in front. That's one experiment.

Another is to give yourself some more height by flipping your zafu on its end and sitting in one of the cross-legged positions, just a bit taller.

You might also try the seiza position. Take your zafu, flip it on its edge and point it forward. Then kneel on the ground and bring the sit bone down on the zafu, kind of like riding a horse. If you can position yourself so that your big toes touch in back, that helps to create a nice tripod base. Seiza is a forgiving position that may alleviate the issue in the legs and feet.

In whatever position you choose, make sure you have that slight curve and your lower back, shoulders back, arms dropped, head presses the sky. Concentrate on the posture.

Now, I will say this: my feet still fall asleep sometimes. I just let that drop off, too. You may or may not be able to “fix” this, but it may not be something that needs to be fixed, so don’t let it discourage you from practicing. Ultimately, it may just be more of the phenomena of life, the topography of practice, that we accept and let come and go, like an itch, a sore back, the meowing cat, the ticking clock. It’s all the same. If we were never challenged with such things, such teachers, we would never be able to grow and strengthen our patience, our acceptance, our equanimity.


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