Tuesday, June 20, 2006

SITTING IN CHAIRS Part A Million

Long time readers will note that I now have a video on the page. This is the trailer for my movie Cleveland's Screaming. Watch it and make it more popular than that chick who complains about everything...

A couple people have written about the sitting in chairs thing. I probably shouldn't even say this because plenty of able-bodied people will read it and use it as an excuse to be lazy. But here goes anyway. It's been my observation that anyone who's somehow truly physically disabled and absolutely cannot sit on a cushion, will find some way to create a Zazen style that works.

But I've also observed that plenty more people just want to take what is already an easy practice and make it even easier. Like asking if they can listen to New Age music while they sit or what have you. I'm waiting for the day someone asks if it's OK to watch TV while doing Zazen in an easy chair and drinking beer.

So while some people may really need to do it in chairs, chances are that you, dear reader, are not one of those people. And if you aren't, what I said before goes. Doing Zazen in a chair is, for you, like trying to jog while driving in a car. You may cover the same distance. But it won't have the same effect. OK?

47 comments:

Pupster said...

HAHAHA! Comments are BACK BABY!

Where do I sign up for the "watch TV while doing Zazen in an easy chair and drinking beer" retreat? It's like you are looking directly at my soul, man.

Lone Wolf said...

Welcome back Brad. I'm glad you decided to open the comment section back up.

Is there a special way to do Zazen for fat people? My belly gets in the way of my mudra. (Just kidding)

Jinzang said...

My teacher once encouraged everyone to sit in lotus position, but not many people listened, so he gave up trying. He said that America is different than Tibet. In America if you tell someone to sit in lotus and they hurt themselves, they might sue you. Personally I've found that sitting in lotus makes a big difference to my practice and I think anyone who can and doesn't is cheating themselves.

Bobby Ray said...

Brad,

I've read your book a couple of times now. Next, I read Dharma Punx, some Osho stuff...and now I'm back to your book. I am going to get the series you suggested on Amazon. Is ok to practice alone? Keep up the good work man...were're listening.

me said...

But here's the question: is there any point to going to full lotus if one is happy with half lotus? I've tried full lotus a few times and, man, it's uncomfortable! The pain is very distracting. I suppose if I stuck with it the pain would eventually subside and it does seem to result in a more 'stable' sitting experience - you feel more grounded... But half lotus seems fine to me now.

Lone Wolf said...

My anatomy at this time, doesn't even allow me to sit in the proper half lotus(I have big thighs), so I just sit in what I heard one call the Burmease Position, with one leg/foot tucked in and the other leg/foot tucked in front of the other. I keep my spine straight vertically, let the mudra rest in front of my big belly, and keep the tounge, shoulders, eyes etc. in the proper postion. This is the best I can do, so I think people should shoot for the best they can do. I shall keep trying to attempt the half lotus from time to time. I can excersise and eat right to lose some weight which will be helpful. But what ever circumstance one has, I think they should shoot for the Full Lotus Posture to the best of their ability. But one shouldn't be wimpy about the Zazen Posture.

Jinzang said...

But here's the question: is there any point to going to full lotus if one is happy with half lotus? I've tried full lotus a few times and, man, it's uncomfortable! The pain is very distracting.

Yeah, there's a difference and, yeah, you only see that when you can sit comfortably in full lotus. You're best off practicing it outside normal meditation until it is, like when watching television or listening to music.

earDRUM said...

I agree. I think it is important to get beyond being "happy" and unhappy about things. I find that part of the challenge and benefit of zen is in letting go of my ego and its selfish desires (for comfort, and such). Comfort is overrated. So sitting in a relatively uncomfortable position (full lotus) seems to keep my mind focused and awake. And after a while, the lotus position just feels right.
I think there is something important about keeping the spine straight, and the body balanced. It is more efficient, since sitting crookedly takes more energy. And I think that sitting in the most efficient manner might do something to clear blockages in our nervous and circulatory systems.

Having said that, I cannot do the full lotus anymore, because of a damaged ligament in my knee. Very frustrating.

livebyte said...

I'm planning on just showing up at the Saturday Zazen class tomorrow. Please let me know if it's canceled, if I should bring my own cushion, or if I should bring beer and peanuts.

Drunken Monkey said...

At first my legs were under some pain when forced into the half lotus position. The many years of running and walking made my legs quite rigid and lacking in suppleness.
However my newly founded practice of chi kung (like tai chi) and some yoga has helped my body become more supple and I can now practice zazen in half lotus position without any hassle.
Sooner or later I will attempt the full lotus position.
You will find that an excercise like chi kung will complement your zazen practice and help your body move with more fluidity.

If anyone wants a scan of a few chi kung exercises then I will be happy to help.

nobody said...

I too have experienced many of the benefits of full lotus posture, but over time, I've become less convinced that it is as vital as some people claim it to be.

I used to put myself in full lotus every time I would sit, and appreciated how stable a posture it was. But over time, I got sicker and sicker of my top leg going to sleep every time I sat. I had thought that over time, my legs would adjust and not go to sleep as easily, but after sitting daily in full lotus and persisting as months turned into years with no improvement, I began to accept that I simply have bad circulation. Even more distracting was the fact that half the time, my top leg would start to slide and shift after a few minutes of sitting, which was extremely distracting and unstable.

The final straw was finding out in my first sesshin experiences that consistently sitting in full lotus caused me excruciating, distracting pain, but that sitting in Burmese posture caused none of the pain and none of the numbness, but was just as stable. I honestly couldn't notice any difference between my mind as I sat in full lotus and my mind as I sat in Burmese. (Half lotus is such an unbalanced posture for me that I don't even bother with it.) Since then, Burmese has become my default because I actually find it to be a more stable posture for me, even though I can do full lotus.

I definitely notice the difference between sitting cross-legged in the floor and sitting in a chair. The latter is very unstable and the mind has a hard time settling at all, at least in my experience. It's also actually quite uncomfortable. But when it comes to the different ways of crossing one's legs while sitting on a zafu, I don't think it amounts to as much as is argued.

I honestly found it damaging--well, maybe that's a dramatic word to use, perhaps "distracting" is more accurate--to have taken to heart what Brad said at a Santa Monica discussion that there is a precise balance point when sitting. Before hearing that, I had already obsessively tried to make my posture "perfect," and after hearing it, I became concerned that unless I found that exact balance point, my sitting wouldn't be "right." This became more and more distracting as I spent so much of my time on the cushion making miniscule adjustments to my spinal alignment, trying to find that perfect magic balance that would snap my mind to perfect attention.

Then I thought about it, and realized that most Buddhist teachers over the years and centuries have probably not had the perfect posture. And I remembered that the profound stillness and bliss I experienced some of the first times I sat was probably not a result of my having had a perfect posture. I realized that while finding a balance point and sitting in lotus might have benefits, they are not requirements, and also that as bodies differ, what posture is actually the most stable will differ. I think part of my difficulties with lotus may come from the fact that my hips might actually be "too" flexible and open, which is nothing I can do anything about--that leg is always going to slide on down. So all this time I've been straining to get lotus "just right," I actually could have just been sitting in Burmese and having a more stable posture.

There seems to be this strange obsession with perfect posture in the Nishijima line, and any more, all I see it as being is a quirk, not some profoundly important point. If anything, I think all the drama that has risen from squabbles about posture is very telling. It's been overemphasized to the point that it's become a massive distraction.

I am in total agreement that the attitude "anything goes" leads to some very sloppy zazen. I agree that sitting on the floor seems to work best of all possible postures. I agree that posture is important. But I think that just as bodies vary, the most balanced and stable way of crossing the legs varies from person to person. And though it's not unimportant, I don't think it's important enough to stress over. I generally agree with the way a lot of Zen centers do it--encourage you to sit in lotus, encourage you to sit on the floor with folded legs, but otherwise don't make much of a fuss about it.

gniz said...

Yet another reason why I call BS on Brad.
The idea that he cannot find the same stability sitting in a chair as sitting in full lotus is preposterous.
Anyone who sincerely thinks that the only way to meditate correctly is by having your legs folded a certain way is insane. So people in wheelchairs just have to accept that they cant meditate? Or elderly people? No, they are exceptions...but their meditation wont be "as good" as those who do lotus...or sitting in a chair only "works" if you really CANT do lotus. Than there is a special switch that is flipped that allows sitting in a chair to work...how foolish this all is.
Cmon dude, meditation has NOTHING to do with that stuff.
NOTHING.
Meditation is when you PAY ATTENTION, wherever you are whatever you are doing, it is the same quality.
Your attachment to the lotus position is bizarre and sad.

Aaron

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George W. said...

"I'm waiting for the day someone asks if it's OK to watch TV while doing Zazen in an easy chair and drinking beer."

Wow! Sounds great! I am laughing....

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