zen quaker

A self quanitified zen quaker statistical programmer stumbles through a blog

Tag: meditation

Practice O

One of the things I did early in my Zen practice was write down the Eightfold Path (or rather, my transliterinterpretation of it) on a sheet of paper. I folded the paper three times, so that each leg of the path was on it’s own eighth. I would keep it with me and tried to memorize it.

My faith has become more complicated since then.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Statement DSOO

Derivative 14: We Need to Practice Being Here and Now (The Meditation Derivative)

From the Now Derivative (D12) we have that being here and now is path toward relieving suffering. But several times in this discussion we have come across the problem that it is not easy to be here and now. Our desires are a part of who we are, even if who we are is a delusion. Those desires are what keep us from the here and now. What do we do when something is hard? We practice it.

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Commute II

If you’ve been following this blog you may have noticed a spike in posts the past couple of days. This is fallout from my work on changing my sleeping habits. It’s actually been working pretty well. While I had some problems in the first few weeks, I have gotten up on time without any trouble every day for the past week and a half. I am letting myself sleep an extra hour on the weekends, but only if I feel really tired (which I did last weekend).

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Meditation III

My favorite Zen teacher is Brad Warner (sorry, the Wikipedia page for him is not Scottish). It was his book Hardcore Zen that dragged me from the depths of a spiritual crisis that led me abandon Quakerism for years of Zen meditation that brought me back to Quakerism. Today he wrote a post proclaiming that sitting in a chair is not zazen. According to him zazen is a physical practice, and it requires sitting with your knees on the floor.

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Drugs I

Today makes twenty years since I quit drugs.

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Meditation II

The last few days have been pleasantly surprising to me. Work has just sucked. Nothing new, just the same old BS I’ve been ranting about elsewhere in this blog. But in the evenings at home everything has been totally cool. I’ve had no problem at all just letting work go and enjoying the evening. I think the main reason is meditation. With time pressures and getting rid of my backpack, I’ve been meditating on the train. It’s been going well, and I’ve been having  a lot better focus on the train than I was recently on the cushion. Which in and of itself is odd, considering that I went back to the cushion because I was having trouble with my focus on the train. But such is the ebb and flow of life.

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Habit X

Pushed my Chess problems up to ten minutes today. I went 12 for 18, which is exactly double what I did yesterday. I looked at the graph of my rating progress for the past week and it was pretty much flat. Which is odd. In the past is has slowly climbed for a long time, then spiked downward (which bothers me and is usually what gets me to stop working on my Chess), and then starts slowly climbing again. Read the rest of this entry »

Meditation I

My niece is looking to start meditating for stress relief. Being the main meditator in the family, she asked me for any good books on the subject. The thing is I don’t exactly meditate for stress relief, I meditate for suffering relief. Suffering relief includes stress relief, but at the same time it’s all bound up with Zen philosophy that I don’t really think my niece is looking for. Regardless, I thought I would write up how I meditate for her, and if I’m going to write it up I might as well post it here.

First, find a place to meditate. Especially in the beginning, you want it to be an uncluttered place free of distractions. Meditation is practice for dealing with life. I like to think of it like practice for basketball. When you practice for basketball, you don’t play a game of basketball. You isolate the skills that you need and work on them in their simplest forms. You do shooting drills and passing drills and ball control drills. Meditation is the same way, you are isolating one part of life to practice on it. You don’t want to isolate yourself so much that you are totally divorced from your life, but try to simplify things down to a clean quite room where you won’t be interrupted.

Second, sit down. This may seem simple, and we are isolating sitting down because of it’s simplicity, but it bears thinking about carefully. Meditation is mostly a mental activity, so we need our brain working as well as possible. So the key thing is that your spine is upright with your skull resting comfortably on it. That connects your brain down through your spinal cord to keep it all working together. We think of our brain as being in our head, but it is really spread throughout our entire body. Keep in mind that the natural position for the spine is straight viewed from the front, but viewed from the side it actually has a curve to it.

Getting your spine and skull in the right position isn’t that hard. The problem comes in trying to keep it there for a long period of time. That’s where the rest of your body comes into play. The ancient masters all recommend lotus position. Personally, I’ve tried a lot of different positions, and I can’t really disagree with them. However, if I sit even half-lotus for any significant length of time I get massive and persistent pain in my right knee. So this position is not for everybody. Especially beginners. If you’re not experienced with yoga, research it and work up to it. I go for a modified seiza position, with my rear supported by a cushion and my knees spread for balance. You can use a chair, but keep in mind that chairs are not necessarily good at keeping your spine straight. In a chair you want your knees to be at a right angle and your upper legs to be parallel to the ground.

Third, sit there. The whole point is to just sit there. I practice a type of meditation called shikantaza, a Japanese term which means “nothing but precisely sitting.” So you just sit there. As I said this is a mental thing, your mind should just be sitting there too. That is, your mind should just be paying attention to just sitting there. Now your mind doesn’t like to do this. You mind wants to go wandering off into all sorts of fantasies, and will throw all sorts of thoughts at you to try and distract you. Now the goal here is not to stop thinking. You can’t stop thinking. Trying to stop thinking is like standing in a rain storm and yelling “Stop making me wet!” at the sky. The key is not to feed the thoughts that your mind gives. Don’t follow that first thought with a second related thought and a third related thought until you are lost in thought. When your mind gives you a thought, acknowledge that thought, and then just let it go. Let it go and go back to paying attention to just sitting there.

I admit, this is really hard. I’ve been doing shikantaza daily for five years, and I still have trouble with it.

Say you are sitting there and find that you have let yourself get lost in thought. That’s fine. It happens. A lot. Just go back to just sitting. Most especially, don’t beat yourself up about it. The point is to pay attention to it, pay attention to what it is, and accept what it is. If you lose your attention, accept it and go back to paying attention.

I often pay attention to particular things when I am having difficulty meditating. I sometimes count breaths. I count each exhalation, counting up to ten and then back down to one. Where I usually sit I can hear a clock ticking, so I sometimes count seconds. I will count 20 seconds three time. Sometimes I won’t even count. I once heard that we can only pay attention for one breath. So I breathe in, pay attention to sitting. Breathe in, pay attention to sitting. Breathe in, pay attention to sitting. But these are all just crutches to get you back in focus. Once you are back in focus, just sit there.

People sometimes complain about noises distracting them. I’m not sure what it’s distracting them from. Part of just sitting there is noise. You can no more get rid of noise than you can get rid of thought. So just pay attention to it, and accept it as it is. I find that what noise is distracting me from is being lost in thought, and it brings me back into focus. So I welcome crying babies, busted mufflers, passing trains, and praying Muslims.

The fourth thing you do is do it again. Not right away, but meditating once isn’t going to do you any more good than exercising once. I find that people are often more concerned about how long they should meditate for than how often they should meditate. I think how often you meditate is more important. I think meditating five minutes every day is better than meditating a half hour once or twice a week. Of course, meditating a half hour every day is better than either of those. But if doing a half hour is so hard that it keeps you from doing it every day, don’t do a half hour. Start with five minutes every day. When you are cool with doing five minutes every day, do ten minutes every day. When you are cool with ten minutes every day, do fifteen minutes every day. Eventually you reach a limit, if only because your legs are stiff and you need to get up and walk around a little. The recommendations I’ve heard from Zen teachers for the maximum sitting time are 25 to 40 minutes. I do a half hour. YMMV.

Now, that’s sort of meditation in isolation. But I don’t think meditation really works in isolation. It’s a mental thing, but your mind does not work in isolation from your body. If your body is not healthy, your mind will not work well. Meditation in isolation will only help meditation. Most people seem to think that once you have a daily meditation practice down, the next step is to go on extended meditation retreats. I disagree. Meditation to me is practice for life. The next step is not to retreat from your life. The next step is to bring the attention and acceptance of meditation into your life. IMHO.

Commute I

I could vent some more today. Work was insane. We found more things wrong. I had more of my emails responded to without being read. We got more non-answers from IT and the contractors. But the commute home was much more interesting.

I slept a little late. Normally I try to catch the 7:55 bus. That usually gets me to work about 8:40. I have to be at work at 9:00, so the extra 20 minutes works as a cushion for commute problems. If I sleep a little later, I have to catch the 8:15 bus. That gets me to work right at 9:00, but any little delay gets me there late. This is not a big deal. My boss is mellow about it as long as I get my eight hours of work in. However, it cramps my evening, so I don’t like to do it.

As it turns, a bad previous day at work seems to be a pretty good indicator that I will sleep later. So I slept in late and caught the 8:15 bus today. Knowing that my evening would be cramped, I decided to meditate on the train coming home. I generally think of that as the back-up form of meditation that doesn’t work as well, but it ensures I actually meditate rather than skipping it to make sure I get dinner on time. Today it was actually very good, and better than much of the on the cushion meditation that I’ve been doing lately. Maybe that has to do with the fact that my condo is damn cold because DMV is in the middle of a cold snap and they haven’t turned on the heat yet.

Now, the stretch between Grosvenor and the tunnel to Medical Center is my favorite stretch of the commute. The train is elevated above the interchange between 270 and 495. On one side you have all these great views of different levels of traffic cruising in different directions. On the other side (the side coming home) you have some of that, plus a really good view down into some forested medians, one of which is half covered in ivy. Making sure I have a good view of all this is often a consideration when picking a seat on the train.

So as we left the tunnel from Medical Center today I could feel the urge to watch. Thinking about it, I decided what the hell, it’s not like staring out the window is going to be much worse than staring at the door light. It was the usual nice view, plus a family of deer. We cruised to a stop south of the platform and next to an apartment complex because there was another train unloading on the platform. Normally I don’t pay much attention to the apartments, but today I was in a meditative frame of mind. I was just looking out the window taking in whatever was out there. So for the first time in seven years of taking that train I got a good view of where the parking garage connects to the apartments. There’s this square little park area. Two sides are apartments, with limited windows because who wants to look at a Metro station? One side is the parking garage, with a meter high concrete wall. The fourth side is a walkway connecting the garage to the apartments with a metal railing on each side. The point is, there is a square grassy area with some trees and bushes that is completely surrounded with no way to walk onto it. You could easily hop over the pole or the concrete wall, but I didn’t see any gate in either one to access the area. And there in the middle of it, attached to a pole stuck in the ground, was a garbage can. Why have a garbage can were people aren’t supposed to go? I mean, it’s not like they even use the ones in the areas where they are supposed to go. I don’t know, and I didn’t really worry about it too much, since I was meditating.

As I turned my view back into the train, I realized someone else on the train was meditating. There was a guy in a blue jacket and baseball cap who had taken off his sneakers and was sitting lotus style on the train bench. His hands were on his knees and his eyes were closed (I generally meditate with my eyes open, but to each his own). He seemed to be having some trouble with it. He kept shifting around, shrugging his shoulders, readjusting his legs, and taking deep breaths. He got up and moved to the door closer to the escalator as we pulled into the station, and I always (when meditating) sit there until the train stops, so I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. But it was interesting. I’ve meditated on the train many a time, especially during periods of intensive meditation. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else meditating on the train. Of course, I can’t due lotus due to knee pain, so I just sit there normally. I don’t think anyone realizes I’m meditating.

The rest of the commute was pretty uneventful except that the driver was one of the fast ones that makes you think the bus is going to tip over when he goes around curves. For a while I was so obsessed with the idea of the bus rolling over that I would sit on the side that would be uphill on most of the turns. That way I would fall on someone else, rather than the other way around. The bus didn’t roll over, thankfully. But he hit the first speed bump on Girard St. so hard that I (in the far back) was literally knocked a foot out of my seat.

Now, I have set up the categories on this blog for different kinds of posts. The Log category is for what happened today type stuff, and toys from Blammo. The Spirit category is for thoughts on Zen and Quakerism. But here, I’ve been talking about both: my daily commute and my meditation. Should I choose only Log for the category, since that is the style of this post? Or should I choose both Log and Spirit, so that the spirit related discussion here can easily be found? And it only gets worse, since this paragraph here really belongs to the Meta category, which is posts about how this blog works.

I have thought of a compromise, and I’m going to go with it for now. I will only use the Log category, since that is the style of this post. But to catch the Spirit and Meta content I will use those as tags. We’ll see how that works. Me and the Thai woman who liked one of my blog posts and is apparently my only reader so far. I tried to read her blog, but it’s all in Thai (or something else I neither recognize nor understand).

Some of you (I’m not sure who beyond me and the Thai woman) are probably thinking, “Craig, you are over analyzing this way too much.” To such I would respond that not only are “over” and “way too much” redundant, but also just deal with it. I analyze. It’s what I do. It’s why I’m a statistician. If you really have a problem with it, I’m sure we could sit down and have a conversation about your problems, after which I could dissect them into discrete chunks and demonstrate their interactions. 8)