This introductory letter is taken from Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, by John Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. New York: Delacorte Press (1990). This text explains the meditation program of the stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited in time and space. S/he experiences him or herself, his or her thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of one's consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. (p. 165)"It is this process of coming to terms with things as they are that embodies the process of healing.
"While every living organism is whole in itself, it is also embedded in a larger wholeness. We are whole in our bodies (which) are constantly exchanging matter and energy with the environment. So although our bodies are complete, they are also constantly changing. Our bodies are literally immersed in a larger whole, namely the environment, the planet, then universe. Looked at in this way, health is a dynamic process. It is not a fixed state that you "get" and then hold on to.
"The notion of wholeness is found not only in the meaning of the words health and healing (and, of course, also in the word holy); we also find it embedded in the deep meaning of the words meditation and medicine, words that are obviously related to each other in some way. According to David Bohm, a theoretical physicist whose work involves exploring wholeness as a fundamental property of nature, the words medicine and meditation come from the Latin mederi, which means 'to cure.' Mederi derives from an earlier Indo-European root meaning 'to measure.'
"Now what might the concept of measure have to do with either meditation or medicine? Nothing, if we are thinking of measure in the usual way, as the process of comparing the dimensions of an object to an external standard. But the concept of "measure" has another, more Platonic meaning.
"This is the notion that all things have, in Bohm's words, their own 'right inward measure' that makes them what they are, that gives them their properties. 'Medicine,' seen in this light is basically the means by which right inward measure is restored when it is disturbed by disease or illness or injury.
"'Meditation,' by the same token, is the process of perceiving directly the right inward measure of one's own being through careful, non-judgmental self-observation. Right inward measure in this context is another way of saying wholeness. So it may not be as farfetched as it may first appear to have a clinic based on meditation in a medical center.
"The choice of meditation training as the central and unifying practice in the stress clinic was not arbitrary. Meditation training has unique characteristics that distinguish it from the many relaxation and stress reduction techniques in common use. The most important is that it is a door to direct experiences of wholeness, experiences not so easily tapped and deepened by methods that focus of doing and getting somewhere rather than non-doing and being.
"Meditation is what is called conscious discipline by Dr. Roger Walsh, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the School of Medicine of the University of California at Irvine and a student of the interface between Eastern and Western psychologies. Dr. Walsh emphasizes that the consciousness disciplines are based on a profoundly different paradigm from that of mainstream Western psychology.
"From the perspective of the consciousness disciplines, our ordinary state of waking consciousness is severely suboptimal. Rather than contracting the Western Paradigm, is rather an extension of it beyond Western psychology's dominant concern with pathology and with therapies aimed at restoring people to "normal" functioning in the usual waking state of consciousness.
"At the heart of their perspective lies the conviction that it is essential for a person to engage in a personal, intensive, and systematic training of the mind through the discipline of meditation practice to free him or herself from the incessant distortions characteristic of our everyday emotional and thought processes, distortions that can continually undermine the experiencing of our intrinsic wholeness." (p. 163f)
The human being who studies the Wisdom of Direct Knowing (prajna) should first arouse the thought of great compassion, ... and then carefully cultivate Presence (samadhi). Vowing to save sentient beings, s/he seeks not liberation from suffering for him or herself alone.
Even though a human being may be proud of his or her understanding and full of insight, able to know at a glance, having attained the way and clarified the mind, s/he may have reached only the courtyard. S/he still lacks something of the vital path of liberation.
Even in the case of that old one, Sakyamuni Buddha, innately wise though he was, there remains the mark of his six years sitting erect; even the great master Bodhidharma, though he succeeded to the mind seal, we still hear of his nine years facing the wall at Shao-lin. When even the ancient sages were like this, how can human beings today dispense with sitting when pursuing the way toward liberation from suffering.
Therefore, stop the intellectual practice of investigating words and chasing after talk. Take the backward step of turning the light and shining it back. Body and mind will drop away of themselves, and your original face will appear. If you want such a state, urgently work at only-just-sitting (zazen). Studying Zen is only-just-sitting (zazen). To only-just-sit (zazen), one makes a quiet place. S/he spreads a thick mat, perhaps a folded soft blanket, on the floor. S/he does not let in drafts. S/he keeps one place where s/he practices only-just-sitting. The place where s/he only-just-sits is bright, both day and night; and is warm in winter and cool in summer.Before only-just-sitting, s/he casts aside all involvements and discontinues all affairs. Good is not thought of; evil is not thought of. It is not a matter of mind, intellect or consciousness; nor of thoughts, ideas or perceptions. S/he does not intend to gain anything, and is not even attached to sitting still. S/he is moderate in food and drink.
When a human being only-just-sits, s/he uses a cushion or pillow as well as the soft mat. S/he sits down on the front portion of the cushion and sits either full cross-legged, half cross-legged, or legs folded horizontal in front. For the first position, s/he places the right foot on the left thigh; then places the left foot on the right thigh. For the second, s/he simply rest the left foot on the right thigh. For the third, s/he sits as described.
S/he then arranges the clothes, and places the left hand in the palm of the right hand. S/he lightly touches the thumbs of both hands together. With the hands in this position, s/he places them lightly against the body, so that the joined thumb tips align with the navel. S/he slowly raises the torso and stretches it forward. S/he then swings to the left and right; then straightens then body and sits erect. S/he does not lean to the left or right, forward or backward.
S/he keeps the hips, back, neck, and head in line. But S/he does not strain the body upward too far, lest it make breathing forced and unsettled. S/he keeps the ears in line with the shoulders, and the nose in line with the navel. S/he presses the tongue against the front of the palate, closing lips and teeth. S/he keeps the eyes slightly open in order to prevent drowsiness. S/he breathes gently through the nose.
Once s/he has settled posture and has let breathing regulate itself, s/he relaxes the abdomen. Whenever a thought occurs, s/he is be aware of it. As soon as s/he is aware of it, it will vanish. If s/he remains for a long period unattached to thoughts, s/he will naturally become unified. S/he continues only-just-sitting "without thinking"**. This is the essential art of only-just-sitting (zazen).
If a human being grasps this essential point of only-just-sitting, the four elements of the body will become light and at ease, the spirit will be fresh and sharp, thoughts will be correct and clear; the flavor of realized experience (dharma) will sustain the spirit, and the human being will be calm, pure, and joyful. Daily life will be the expression of your one's natural state. S/he will realize that when right thought is present, dullness and agitation cannot intrude.
One who has already achieved clarity of the truth may be likened to the dragon gaining the water or the tiger taking to the mountains. And even one who has not yet achieved it, by letting the wind fan the flame, will not have to make too much effort. S/he just assents to it; s/he will not be deceived. Nevertheless, as the path gets higher, demons flourish, and agreeable and disagreeable experiences are manifold. Yet, if s/he just keeps right thought present, none of them can obstruct any human being.
When a human being arises from sitting, s/he moves slowly and arises calmly; s/he is not hasty or rough. The human being is peace.
If not an elaborate, formal sitting practice, then only-just-sit in a chair, with your back straight, head slightly tilted down, eyes open, feet flat on floor for a period of time EACH day (no matter what!). The Key: consistency.
Act. When one is grounded in only-just-sitting, without thinking operates as the direct source of thinking and not-thinking. Unless it is the motive force behind activity, without thinking cannot infuse thinking and not-thinking. The presence (genjo) of every occasion (jisetsu) is the koan. Each life situation must first be confronted directly on its own terms without coloration by reflection. Then, and only then, can one be truly responsive and, consequently, spontaneously moral. Only after the situation has been clearly apprehended will it be clear whether, and in what way, reflection is necessary. (p. l02)
But what if the unreflective response is rage? Accept the fact that rage has been elicited and examine it. Does it arise from the situation itself or from preconceptions underlying one's conceptually constructed worldview? Appeal to the touchstone of the practice of only-just-sitting. It might be the rage of a peeved and selfish child or it might be the rage of Jesus in the temple. No ethical principles or reflective weighing of values come into play. It is this act that makes one a person in this sense of the word.
Only when an individual is practicing Without-Thinking can that person be Present to self and another. S/he is not clouded by the way s/he thinks or hopes or denies the way s/he is, another is, or a condition, situation, or circumstance is. S/he is present and hence able to be more responsive to life and less reactive by choice.
|Considering with intention of weighing ideas.||Not considering, without intention of weighing ideas.||Beyond Thinking and Not- Thinking.|
|Affirmation.||Denial.||Merely accepting the presence of ideation without affirmation or denial.|
|Thinking.||Denial of thinking.||Absolute Emptiness/Fullness.|
|Perceptual experience, judgmental thought carnal desires, delusions, etc. :: knowledge, emotion, will.||Cutting off of consciousness and nihilation: may be problematic as this, too, is thinking.||Sublates thinking and not- thinking; not a negation without content, but an affirmation between thinking and not-thinking.|
Positional (only -)
Non-positional ~ (-/- +/+)
Thinking (as objectified)
Pure presence of things as they are.
|Taking stance toward an object: emotional, judgmental, believing, remembering, assumptive.||Like thinking, and a negating, denying/rejecting attitude, intentionally turning-off thought.||Assumes no intentional attitude whatsoever, neither affirming nor denying, accepting nor rejecting, believing or disbelieving.|
How it works:
from an early Buddhist text: MILINDAPANKA 139-40
Meditation preserves the human being who meditates,
The psychology underlying uses of meditation basically focuses on the harmonizing of the surface mind and the sensory-motor powers, which if left in their infantile state defeat the deep mind's ability to guide us through life and to help us achieve our deepest desires and finest goals.
Without meeting and reducing the powerful negative affect associated with events in our early years, going beyond the infantile ways we achieved security and the satisfaction of our desires in childhood, we remain throughout our adult years mere children though physically adult. In personality and motivation we remain in the mental world of our infantile fantasies and gratification forms.
(Meditation) leads to maturation experience wherein one becomes intimately acquainted with a basic underlying two-sidedness of experience, counteracting the one-dimensionality which we ordinarily assume exhausts all the possibilities of reality and experience—too balance the characteristics of self-indulgent infantilism we have taken in from our culture. Through meditation one tames the immature sensory-motor & surface mind expressions of our personality. The "goal" of meditation is ... uniting all the mental and sensory-motor functions of consciousness into a single present awareness. Completeness occurs when the vehicle is tuned well and is running smoothly. The mind, once withdrawn from its ordinary sensory experience and attending to sensory motor activity function, wells up with all kinds of inner contents, worries, stray thoughts, recurrences of attention to sensory input (sounds, smells, etc.) or even flights of imagination or fantasy; or, as many know, it descends into sleep. (p. 113) (We wake up!)
From science we know:
An extreme description:
When persons remain immature, they make other people and the world into instruments for their uncorrected selfgratification. Such a person sees everything as an opportunity for or as a deprivation of that fragile self`s supposed fulfillment of habitual needs. S/he does not see other persons as people, but as potential things which can be exploited by the desiring self, the world becomes merely a source of products required by the self for its pleasure. Such people have no empathy, no sense of or concern for the feelings of others, or for the well-being of their mother earth. Everything merely exists to evoke inner fantasy-oriented responses. Everything is evaluated solely on the basis of how well it can serve as the instrument for the self's fantasy or anxiety gratification.
And what is only-just-sitting? (From Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Shunryu Suzuki ISBN #0- 8348-0079-9):
The important thing in our understanding is to have a smooth, free-thinking way of observation. We have to think and to observe things without stagnation. We should accept things as they are without difficulty. Our mind should be soft and open enough to understand things as they are. When our thinking is soft, it is called imperturbable thinking. This kind is thinking is always stable. It is called mindfulness.
Thinking which is divided in many ways is not true thinking. Concentration should be present in our thinking. This is mindfulness. Whether you have an object or not, your mind should be stable and your mind should not be divided. This is only-just-sitting. It is not necessary to make an effort to think in a particular way. Your thinking should not be one-sided. We just think with our whole mind, and see, hear, or sense things as they are without any effort. Just to see, hear, or sense, and to be ready to see, hear or sense things with our whole mind, is practicing only-just-sitting. If we are prepared for thinking, there is no need to make an effort to think. This is called mindfulness. Mindfulness is, at the same time, wisdom. By wisdom we do not mean some particular faculty or philosophy.
It is the readiness of the mind that is wisdom. ... Wisdom is not something to learn. Wisdom is something which will come out of your mindfulness. (p. 115)
Only-Just-Sitting, like everything else, has its dropouts, but the cause of the tragedy is usually different than in broken marriages or collegiate failure. Sometimes, the tyranny of old habits is still too strong, and resistance to change is greater than the commitment to enrich life. Soon, the person is finding elaborate excuses for not only-just-sitting regularly—for not facing the issues before him or her. In other cases, the sitter has been too zealously schooled in the passive approach to meditating. Instead of taking charge and putting only-just-sitting to work, s/he waits for the higher powers to make themselves known and take control of his/her life. Very quickly, the only-just-sitting experience stagnates and loses its appeal.
For some people, the problem lies in misunderstanding the nature and purpose of meditating. They think of it only as a technique for relaxing and reducing stress. As a result, they are soon bored by the "meditative" experience and abandon it.
There are also people who use only-just-sitting actively and successfully for a while, achieving a number of important breakthroughs and improvements in their lives. Yet at a certain point, these people seem to assume that the gains they have made represent the full meditative experience. And so they stop—and the growth they have been making stops, too. Such people are very much like the couple who decided to vacation at the seashore. And so they started driving toward the coast, and drove several hours, but then stopped at a motel. Because the motel had a pool, they decided they had reached their goal, and went no further.
Only-Just-Sitting is not a start-and-stop proposition. It is meant to be a progressive experience which brings us almost unlimited possibilities for enriching our self-expression and serving humanity —as we continue to use it. Only-just-sitting is designed to stimulate growth. This is not an accidental by-product of only-just-sitting—it is the central purpose of only-just-sitting. The mere fact that people will tend to have other motives for using only-just-sitting does not alter this basic condition.
Only-just-sitting flourishes in a climate of growth. Where the willingness to grow is lacking, only-just-sitting will quickly stagnate. The "creed" of only-just-sitting is to live life with a maximum of wisdom, love, dignity, beauty, courage, skill, —and compassion. If we able to keep this principle in mind, then the true purpose of only-just-sitting will always be self-evident. We will never be tempted to abandon it—or our responsibilities, relationships, and creative opportunities, for that matter—because we will always be looking forward to the next improvement in consciousness and maturity.
Yet for real growth to occur, our commitment to growing must be something more than just a lovely philosophy. It must be an active feature of our self-expression, embracing all of consciousness. (p. 357f) Then we realize that there is never a moment when we are not but only just sitting. We are free to be and do as we are.
Peace and joy. Thank you.
Please contact Father Abbot if you have any questions or if you wish just to talk about this information. Thanks. Be happy and prosper! The White Robed Monks of St. Benedict>
Return to Part I: Why We Marry: The Merry Dance of Life (Only but One View)
Return to Marriage Packet: Index.