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I'm a Terrible Sitter

I'm feeling attached. Not everything is bothering me but a lot of things are. It's like somehow the things of the world are leaving a residue across my senses and shrouding existence in a darkness. It's lingering into the next moment and beginning to accumulate.

I think this is natural for all people who practice the Way. Whatever the tradition. Everything in the universe ebbs and flows. Sometimes it's flowers and sometimes it's weeds.

One struggle for me is that I have a very annoying condition called cervical dystonia. It causes the muscles to be constantly tight and tense around the right side of my neck and shoulder and down my back. It feels like my head is being pulled down to my shoulder and and my scapula is in constant tension being pulled up and even away from my back. All around the base of my skull gives me tension headaches most of the time. The only time it is relieved is when I'm asleep. I take anti-seizure medication and I get Botox shots deep in the muscles every three months that helps. Nothing cures it. I'm starting to accept that.

I really want to be a straight up sitter. With knees firmly on the cushion and my hips tilted forward slightly and my back upright. Chin pulled in slightly to keep the top of my head toward the sky and shoulders relaxed. Tongue on the roof my mouth and jaw relaxed. I can accomplish this for few minutes until my distonia takes over.

So, I bite my collar and pull with my teeth. It's a super bad habit. It's the only thing that calms my nerves enough to sit. It helps to find some stillness in my body. The first few years was such a struggle. It's always a struggle really. Yet, I keep doing it.

It's also a struggle to be with the self-consciousness of how ridiculous I must look. Never mind a Dharma Holder (training to be a teacher) sitting like that.

I'm on a Facebook group with fellow "dystonia warriors" as we call ourselves. Often people in the group talk about their hopelessness and even talk about suicide. I often wish I could just cut those muscles out of my neck. On bad days I think about suicide and how nice it would be to just be done with it. I wish I could just relax for a moment or two.

Everybody has something. I have to keep reminding myself. I know my condition is not severe. It's scary for me to see the severity it causes. Some have bad tremors that won't quit others are like me but 100 times worse. I feel so much compassion for everyone suffering afflictions.

So, I'm a terrible sitter really. Only in a sense that there is a correct way to do it. The way we sit is not the practice. The practice is being awake to the true reality of this moment. All of the forms in zen are part of the path toward awakening but the forms are not important once we wake up. It's obviously not the only way either. Even after we wake up we must keep working at it. Whatever form that takes.


Brad Warner (a favorite zen teacher of mine) shared the following quote on his facebook page. It's a great reminder. It really is giving me encouragement me as I struggle through this valley.

quote from Katagiri Roshi:

“Religion usually requires you to believe first and then act. But in Buddhism, to act is simultaneously to believe. So, day by day your zazen must be refined again and again. Pass through the first stage, the second stage, and reach the third stage: zazen is zazen. At the third stage, zazen is called sitting Buddha. This is the pure sense of activity. You are a flower, blooming in the whole universe, and you understand very deeply the meaning of practice related with enlightenment, or truth. This is real zazen. At that time, zazen becomes Buddha. This is called inmo. Inmo usually means ‘what’ or ‘how,’ but Dogen uses it to indicate truth itself, being as it really is. Sitting Buddha is wonderful! But even though you want to stay with that wonderful moment, you cannot stay. You cannot stay because the universe is constantly changing, and that moment has already gone. So you have to go through the three stages constantly. This is Buddha’s expedient method.”

- Dainin Katagiri in Each Moment is the Universe

This might end up being a zendo. It was my framing room and it stored many books of old photographic negatives and boxes of photos. It was a zendo for the last zaznkai we did last week. A zazenkai is a daylong or half-day retreat. Lots and lots and lots of zazen.

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