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Lions Roar : November 2018
PAIN IN THE... EVERYWHERE As I get older, I feel more pain when I sit. It’s in my knees, in my back, and even in my jaw, which ends up clenched from sitting through the other pains. I’m getting discouraged. MUSHIM PATRICIA IKEDA: I’m sorry to hear about the increased pain and discouragement you’re experienc- ing during sitting meditation practice. It might be helpful for you to reflect on and share more about norms, assumptions, expectations, and perhaps archetypes that you’ve internalized as a result of how you’ve been trained and the environments in which you’ve practiced. My experience is that many Vipassana teachers in the U.S. emphasize that both physical and mental ease (which is not equivalent to being totally pain-free) are important in medita- tion practice as an antidote to overstriving. On the other hand, some lineages of Zen emulate a warrior archetype in which “more pain, more gain” and transforming pain through concen- tration are upheld as part of the path to awakening. Just know- ing that there is a diversity of Buddhist meditation techniques and attitudes toward pain during sitting meditation might offer you some additional choices to investigate and explore. It also might help for you to remember that, prior to his enlightenment, Sakyamuni Buddha almost starved himself to death, didn’t bathe, and gave ascetic practices his all. This did not work. Only after he accepted some nourishing rice pudding, bathed in the river, and put on some nice clean clothes was he in good enough shape to attain awakening. In artistic depictions of the Buddha, he’s pretty much a hot mess before the Great Enlightenment. After it, he looks radiant, serene, and at ease. My advice to you would be to find a really good bodyworker and take some restorative yoga classes, in order to connect with how it feels to be deeply relaxed, rested, and alert in the body. MUSHIM PATRICIA IKEDA is a Buddhist teacher, activist, and consultant who works with underrepresented communities at East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, California. SLEEPY MIND, MONKEY MIND When I’m meditating, I mostly flip- flop between trying not to fall asleep and getting lost in my thoughts and fantasies. How do I stop going back and forth between drowsiness and monkey mind? ANITA FENG: Whenever you wander into the stupor of sleepiness or the labyrinth fantasies of the monkey mind, just note this occurrence. There is no need to be distracted further by imposing any ideas about the quality of your practice. Just come back, and recognize these “obstacles” as helpful guideposts along the way. You are on the path, which is wonderful! Furthermore, you see what your mind is doing—this is essential! Just imagine how many human beings are lost in a dream, utterly controlled by delusions and perpetuating pain for themselves and others. Therefore, when you notice thoughts that say, “Drowsiness quicksand over here, watch out!” or “Chasm of demonic fan- tasies over here!” return with kindness and compassion to the path, which is nothing other than this very moment. On this you can rely, always. To return to present moment reality is an act of tremendous faith, courage, and resilience. Over time, your skill will improve. So what are those skillful means? First, rest in open, spacious awareness. Then, like a cat poised in front of a mouse hole, be attentive and alert to what is, just now, emerging. Without picking or choosing, without elaborat- ing on likes or dislikes, just see (hear, taste, smell, touch) what appears. Then, moment by moment, you will have this beautiful and perfect opportunity to find your fitting place in our long- suffering world. ANITA FENG (Zen Master Jeong Ji) is a sculptor, writer, and the guid- ing teacher for the Blue Heron Zen Community in Seattle. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2018 55