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Newbie Soto Zen Observations
Answer
6/27/10 1:13 PM
Hi Guys,

I'm back again with some more ill informed musings.

The story so far:
Our hero does lots of unsupervised Goenka Vippasana and freaks himself out. Has lots of unsatisfactory conversations with teachers how tell him to keep going even though he is getting lots of bad physical stuff happening. Gets very ill and cannot work or practice for three years. Blames lots of things, including his practice.

Recovers and returns to work (hooray!) Reconnects with Goenka practice and gets some of the “bad physical stuff” + unstable rapture type stuff (boo!) Becomes a real problem and has to stop. Seeks advice from this venerable web site and reads Daniels' book. Tries “noting” but gets the same story as Goenka (sorry Tarin, I did try)

Finds a local Soto Zen group. Lineage transmitted by Taisen Deshimaru, now deceased. I go and sit for an hour and feel right at home. So at home in fact that it all feels a bit too easy. I appear to make good progress. Zazen posture feels very comfortable walking practice also feels natural. The teacher is keen to correct peoples' posture, as you would expect in Zen, but leaves me alone. I can only assume I am doing it correctly.

The next instruction concerns the breath. We observe the breath mostly at the belly chakra, I forget the Japanese expression. Most emphasis is placed on the observation of the out breath, especially the pause at the bottom between in and out. The instruction is to wait for a clear physical impulse to breathe in before doing so. Fairly straight forward. I have been doing this for two weeks off and on, maybe every other day, only a half hour a day, one formal one hour sit at the dojo per week. Because of my history I have been cautious.

Observations:
During the last 15 mins of my first one hour sit I got a very intense but not unpleasant burning sensation over the heart and solar plexus chakras back and front.

Next morning woke up to a foul smell in my bed, sad to say it was me. Past experience suggests it is related to the experience above. Any thoughts?

As I settle in to observing the breath at the belly chakra I notice a strong tingling sensation in that area. The teacher says that this practice draws energy to the belly chakra, I assume that this sensation is evidence of this.

The impulse to breathe is particularly interesting. There appears to be a lot of anxiety around the actual “trigger”. The impulse to breathe appears automatic and physiological and is not forced but is preceded by a fair amount of mental anxiety. This obscures the clear observation of the trigger itself. My instinct is to observe the physical sensations that accompany the anxiety. This has the effect of delaying the in breath. I have observed this carefully and there appears to be no deliberate or volitional delay of the in breath, it just that this observation appears to slow it down a bit.

The next breath is deep, full and relaxing. However the next two or three are anxiety free but much more shallow. The cycle then repeats.

Something else. The anxiety and the tingling at the belly appear to be related in some way.

Okay, I doubt that this is a big deal or anything, but any comments would be more than welcome.
Any thoughts about switching traditions? I've been doing Goenka for a long time, am I missing an opportunity?


Thanks Guys

Howard

RE: Newbie Soto Zen Observations
Answer
6/27/10 2:20 PM as a reply to Howard Maxwell Clegg.
switch!

RE: Newbie Soto Zen Observations
Answer
6/27/10 3:03 PM as a reply to Mike Monson.
Yes, it does sound like I'm on to a good thing. Thanks for your vote of confidence. I only went looking for a bit of dharma company, Funny how things turn out.

RE: Newbie Soto Zen Observations
Answer
6/27/10 11:35 PM as a reply to Howard Maxwell Clegg.
Howard Maxwell Clegg:

Recovers and returns to work (hooray!) Reconnects with Goenka practice and gets some of the “bad physical stuff” + unstable rapture type stuff (boo!) Becomes a real problem and has to stop. Seeks advice from this venerable web site and reads Daniels' book. Tries “noting” but gets the same story as Goenka (sorry Tarin, I did try)


'sorry tarin'..? i didn't advise you to try noting practice. what i did suggest, however (which you also quoted in your next reply thanking me for my feedback), was the following:

tarin greco:

sounds to me like you need to learn to open your abdomen and ass more, so that the surges, rather than travelling upward and throughout your system (which actions are currently frying you), will have a larger place to go (the lower abdomen, below your navel), where the energy can collect, and percolate, and build a stable, tranquil (unproblematic) bodily bliss, and from where excess energy can travel out your pooper (root centre) into the ground. practice relaxing those areas (you may get a bit of gurgling and tenderness in these regions from doing this, particularly at first), and if the surges start showing up, make a habit of directing them down there (in order to build that really nice, calm, deep bodily bliss).

in short, connect the ground with your butt with your lower abdomen with the energy surges and everything will probably be fine.


i have here bolded one bit the middle of that text to emphasise my reason in recommended this to you.

*

Howard Maxwell Clegg:

As I settle in to observing the breath at the belly chakra I notice a strong tingling sensation in that area. The teacher says that this practice draws energy to the belly chakra, I assume that this sensation is evidence of this.


your assumption is correct.

Howard Maxwell Clegg:

The impulse to breathe is particularly interesting. There appears to be a lot of anxiety around the actual “trigger”. The impulse to breathe appears automatic and physiological and is not forced but is preceded by a fair amount of mental anxiety. This obscures the clear observation of the trigger itself. My instinct is to observe the physical sensations that accompany the anxiety. This has the effect of delaying the in breath. I have observed this carefully and there appears to be no deliberate or volitional delay of the in breath, it just that this observation appears to slow it down a bit.


i think this practice, as you are reporting doing it, will gradually decrease the anxiety that precedes the impulse to breathe.


The next breath is deep, full and relaxing. However the next two or three are anxiety free but much more shallow. The cycle then repeats.


were the focus of your attention to be elsewhere, say, higher up your body at your chest or your nose, you may find these anxiety/breathing patterns problematic as more energy builds in your exercise. however, as the focus of your attention is at the most stable and calm-inducing place of your body, your abdomen (specifically, the hara), this will not be the case.

Howard Maxwell Clegg:

Something else. The anxiety and the tingling at the belly appear to be related in some way.


how have you observed them to be related?

Howard Maxwell Clegg:

Okay, I doubt that this is a big deal or anything, but any comments would be more than welcome.
Any thoughts about switching traditions? I've been doing Goenka for a long time, am I missing an opportunity?


one door closes, another opens.. if this is working for you, switch away.

tarin

RE: Newbie Soto Zen Observations
Answer
6/28/10 2:47 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
Hello again Tarin,

Sorry, was not you who suggested Noting but Florian Weps, my bad, profuse apologies.

Further to my observation "Something else. The anxiety and the tingling at the belly appear to be related in some way."

You said "how have you observed them to be related?"

Truth is, I have not. I was inferring this from previous meditation practice where persistent physical sensations that are observed carefully enough eventually dissolve and release energy.

I have not observed this to be the case with my current practice. May be I should rephrase this comment as a question. Do you think they are related?

Also you said:

"sounds to me like you need to learn to open your abdomen and ass more, so that the surges, rather than travelling upward and throughout your system (which actions are currently frying you), will have a larger place to go (the lower abdomen, below your navel), where the energy can collect, and percolate, and build a stable, tranquil (unproblematic) bodily bliss, and from where excess energy can travel out your pooper (root centre) into the ground. practice relaxing those areas (you may get a bit of gurgling and tenderness in these regions from doing this, particularly at first), and if the surges start showing up, make a habit of directing them down there (in order to build that really nice, calm, deep bodily bliss)."

Looks like that was a good call, as that is pretty much what I am doing with my Zen practice. When you mentioned the gurgling and tenderness that might result, I must admit that I laughed out loud. I have had Irritable Bowel Syndrome for about 2 years and both the gurgling and tenderness are pretty much par for the course with IBS. But the practice does seem to be easing that a bit. Early days though.

I have noticed a greater mental stability and improved cognitive process since starting practice again. But this has always been one of the more reliable consequences of my regular meditation.

So thanks for that.

Howard

RE: Newbie Soto Zen Observations
Answer
6/28/10 5:07 PM as a reply to Howard Maxwell Clegg.
Hi Howard,

I hope that my inappropriate advice didn't cause too many problems for you.

I'm really glad you're onto something that works well for you.

Cheers,
Florian

RE: Newbie Soto Zen Observations
Answer
6/29/10 7:24 AM as a reply to Florian.
Hello again Florian

Don't worry, I had to start somewhere, and I seem to have found a niche in the end. Its funny how much that I remember about my experiences in mediation from before my illness, turned out to be exactly were I left them. What I mean is that it feels that I was never away. It does'nt matter that i'm doing Zen, it all feels very familiar.

In fact, I'm revisiting familiar sensations in rather quick succession. Today for example, I had some of the breath anxiety, but also a deep throbbing in my Hara, behind my breath sensation but in front the spine. Its just my pulse, but amplified. I let my attention on the breath loosen, and the sensation wandered. It rapidly strengthened and spread to my left side from top to toe but my front only. It got rather uncomfortable so I resumed my attention to the breath and it retreated back to my Hara. It then strengthened again and spread up the front of my body to rest just under my armpits and across to my central chest, forming a diamond down to my Hara. My attention to the breath was fairly consistent at this point.

That was the end of the session. But it left me feeling warm but groggy. The throbbing also persists a bit, particularly in my head, its not unpleasant but I feel I will have to be careful not to get a head ache.

I've had this on and off for years and never thought much about it, when I was doing a lot of Goenka this sensation became much more "interesting", but I will refrain from detailing this as it was a long time ago now.

Any thoughts?

Thanks

Howard