Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Physical Challenges of Sitting

Since the beginning of my sitting practice, what has been most challenging for me is the physical aspect of zazen. Most of the time, I am mentally able to sit fairly easily. I enjoy the quiet, and feel refreshed after a sit period.

But I struggle with my body. My feet go numb, and tingly. I worry that the sit period will end, and I will be unable to stand to do kinhin, the walking meditation. So I am forced to move, once, sometimes twice, to allow the blood to recirculate in my limbs.

I resist it. It seems that I should not have to move, not have to interrupt my zazen to respond to this physical demand of my body. I have tried numerous tactics: tightening and loosening my buttocks, flexing and curling my toes. But still, my legs fall asleep. Still, I must succumb to this uncooperative body of mine.

At all-day sits, the physical challenges become even more noticeable. There is the persistent problem with my feet falling asleep, now accompanied by a steadily growing pain in my back as the day progresses. For at least one of the afternoon sit periods, I am in agony, unable to get comfortable.

I beat myself up about it. I think it is a reflection on my practice. I think it is an indicator that I am not a "good" Zen student. It makes the noise in my head get louder and more obtrusive.

But still, I persist. I continue to attend the all-day sits. I no longer have "scheduling conflicts" when my Tuesday night sangha plans a double sit instead of a dharma talk. I show up.

And I have found that, as is so often the case, my recalcitrant body, stubbornly resisting my efforts to control it, has become a gentle teacher. I cannot master this situation through will alone. I am forced to come face to face with my limitations, my imperfections. The only way to silence that critic in my head is to be gentle with myself, to quietly sit as long as I can, and then give myself permission to move.

I am slowly coming to realize that "good" zazen is simply zazen: however it manifests itself, it shows me who I am, where I am. Begrudgingly, I am even coming to the realization that I am thankful it does not come easily for me. I am so attached to seeing myself as a "good student," that were I to have perfect, uninterrupted zazen, I would be feeding that delusion, that striving and attaining. Instead, I am given this reminder: I have limits; I am a beginner.

So, imperfections and all, tingly feet and all, critical mind and all: I sit.

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