Sitting, and learning to sit

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In the beginning, many obstacles appeared. My legs hurt. My legs went to sleep. My lower back hurt. I was bored. The boredom tormented me. Dragging myself to the cushion seemed a chore. A burden.

Many people say they cannot sit. Some undoubtedly have a physical disability. But perhaps some of them are exactly as I was.

What happens now? My legs seldom hurt and almost never fall asleep. Boredom no longer plagues me. My back does not hurt. Going to the cushion is a pleasant event (not exactly joyful, but certainly nice).

I will tell you there are two great assets that have helped me: our sangha and our teacher. They have inspired me and encouraged me, not so much with words but by their strong practice. I sat as they sat. My bones and muscles adapted, gradually. I tried different sitting positions. I learned to keep my back very straight. I learned to release tension, to let go, to notice the tightness and open it. No one taught me these things. My own body taught me, right there, on the cushion.

The physical discomfort lessened gradually, very gradually. But finally, someone who could not sit for 20 minutes can easily sit for 45 minutes. It is nothing special. Maybe you can also learn. Be patient with yourself. Don’t be angry. Be still, and listen carefully to what your body tells you.

Breathe.

See also How to sit zazen (sitting meditation).

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11 responses

  1. Thank you for this. I am glad to read this from someone’s “pen.” It’s just the encouragement I need to read that eventually my legs will stop hurting and my feet will stop falling asleep. That is one of the things you’re saying here, right? Good to know. I’ll keep at the practice daily and sitting with the sangha when I can. I’ll confess I am still looking for the right sitting position that seems best for me…

  2. It took me quite a while to figure out what type of cushion and posture worked best for me. Even though I have my posture down now and can sit for a long time without any movement or acute discomfort, there’s still no telling when I sit at places that have different cushions than ones I’m used to…what usually happens is my left foot would fall asleep. To remedy that, if I’m in an extended sitting situation such as a retreat, I’ll bring along my own cushion.

  3. Yes! Slowly, patiently. I have been struggling to get to the cushion lately, and yet I return daily in hopes that something will come of this practice. Deep down I know I am cultivating something very special, something intangible.

  4. My discovery was getting down off that big fat zafu. Now I put just the edge of it under my tailbone, and my legs are flat on the zabuton, Burmese style, not crossed over each other. This works for me.

  5. Thank you, @dharmabum. Many people recommended a bench to me, but while it works great for some, it wasn’t for me. I am happy to know that sitting position has a name (Kua He Zuo, or “straddling the crane”). Many people at my Zen center sit that way on two stacked cushions — which I also tried, and which also did not work for me!

    Thanks to your providing the term, I found these illustrations:

    http://www.chikung-unlimited.com/Meditation-Positions-2.html

    Each body is different, but probably there is a good way of sitting for every one of us.

  6. “…in hopes that something will come of this practice. Deep down I know I am cultivating something very special, something intangible.”

    I think the best way to approach meditation practice is to drop all expectations of resultant gain or cultivation from it; otherwise, it’s another form of ego trip. For me, sitting is a way to let me see things as they are, just the way they are. Usually nothing particularly special happens at all, but that’s the point. As the Korean zen saying goes: “No Big Deal.”