Anxiety and zazen

I didn’t feel like sitting this morning, but sat anyway, for fifteen minutes again early in the morning. I slept badly due to pregnancy-related hip pain, so instead of sitting Burmese I sat kneeling which was much more comfortable.

The main thing I noticed today was the presence of anxiety. I was conscious to try and let the thoughts come and go rather than getting swept up in them, but it was  uncomfortable nonetheless. This is the truth of meditation – there’s nowhere to run from yourself. It’s a bit like therapy I suppose in that regard, you’re face to face with yourself, which can be extremely unpleasant.

But what to take away from these strong emotions such as anxiety? This interesting article reminds us that anxiety can be reduced to a fear of suffering, which we know is inevitable in life. Anxiety need not be thought of as a negative state, however the experience of it certainly feels that way. Anxiety is just anxiety, whether good or bad, and the key thing is that it is not permanent – it will pass. This experience of anxiety during zazen can serve as a reminder of the impermanence of all things, and also that we fear suffering, which is part of life.

As this author states, impermanence is one of the three marks of existence, along with no-self and suffering. Another article states:

The meat of the Zen life is unrelenting confrontation with one’s own psychological shortcomings

So quite a lot has emerged from a fifteen minute sit with anxiety today, and for that I am grateful. And the anxiety may even have passed.

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Commit to Sit

So I’ve been into Soto Zen Buddhism for 2-3 years, but have struggled to maintain a regular meditation (zazen) practice for various reasons, but mainly just life generally getting in the way. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the ‘chatter’ in my head, by conflicting priorities and fast pace of life as a part-time working mother. This blog is, I suppose, a way to keep myself on The Path, to track my experiences of trying to maintain a zazen practice in the often hectic modern world.

I was going to call this blog Zazen 365, a kind of project where I blogged my experience of trying to sit every day for a year, but that seems too goal-oriented for Zen. Zen, if it could participate in this debate, would probably say that zazen is the ‘goal-less goal’, that just sitting each day is enough, without logging, targets or counting anything. And that feels right to me. I’m sure there will be days when I don’t sit (I’m due to give birth to a baby at the end of the year), but this is my commitment to sit for at least ten minutes every day. Obviously the general aim is to be more present and mindful all of the time, but formal zazen practice helps to shape that, I find.

Yesterday I found myself awake before anyone else in the house, so escaped to the zafu in the attic room to sit for fifteen minutes. It’s been a few months since I last sat, I’ve missed that moment of peace before the day started. I tend to sit in the Burmese posture, which wasn’t so comfortable yesterday (possibly due to some pregnancy-related hip problems I’ve been having).

Today I woke up early again and managed another fifteen minutes. My mind was much more wandering than yesterday, having come up with the idea of starting this blog during the sit. I felt sleepy, my eyelids felt heavy, but I find it easier to meditate at the start of the day.

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