August 31, 2013

Explore the New (x2): A Lesson in Shikantaza.


Week 20: Share My Path Series.

How we practice is, many times, simply a by-product or adaptation of how we were originally taught. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this but there are those times when even the most disciplined needs to step outside of their practice and explore something in a different way, or from a varied angle.

So, in wandering down the project’s spoke of instruction, this week’s installment will feature a practice. It may be new to you. It may not. If it’s not, just delve into Travis’s unique angle and see what sifts out for you. And, if it is, why not give it try.

Share My Path first featured the role of discipline though the path of Travis Eneix; a forthright man and one whose commitment to his practice(s) would be difficult to question: If math serves me right, Travis should be on his 2269 consecutive day of meditative practice.

Here, in his own written words, Travis offers us instruction in shikantaza.

Meditation is not a singular thing. There are many traditions and styles and goals to the practice of meditation. Here are some tips about the particular style of meditation I do. It’s from the Zen tradition, and it’s called shikan-taza. There is a key to the flavor of this practice in the name. Literally translated, it means, “just sitting.” But the lack of inherent accent in Japanese causes a bit of loss of intent here. The best version I have heard is more like, “JUST!!!!! Sitting.” Picture me shouting forcefully at the word “just”. Not a scream, but more a forceful bark from the diaphragm. That gives you a better feel.

There are concentration practices in meditation, such as counting the breath, that are designed to sharpen your focus and clarity. Then there are mindfulness practices that get you into a more relaxed state of generalized awareness. Shikantaza fits into the second category. The important thing to remember is that, while it may be relaxed, it’s not lazy. It’s not “doing nothing and seeing what arises.” It is just sitting, actively. You settle on your cushion, compose your posture and mind, and then you sit. That’s all. When thoughts come and whisk you away, you recognize that has happened and go back to just sitting. You are actively sitting, right there, right now. That is your focus of what is happening, and where you return to.

Part of why I like shikantaza so much is that it bypasses a couple of the common places you can get stuck in meditation practice. The first is seeking some particular experience or state. That’s not what you are doing. You are not seeing through your heart chakra, or opening to the vastness of being. You are just sitting. Neither of those things is bad, of course. I am not suggesting that. It’s just that if you aren’t just sitting, you aren’t just sitting.

The other common trap that shikan-taza avoids is trying to duplicate a previous experience form meditation. Meditation is terribly cool. It’s pretty easy to get blown away by what is going on while you are on your cushion. That’s not a bad thing. But, if you get into the habit of trying to have the same cool experience every time, you are missing out on good practice. If you are trying to have the same voluminous awareness as you had yesterday then you are not sitting here and now, doing that alone.

That’s what I like about this particular practice. It is starkly simple and inherently avoids these sidetracks of practice.

It is probably best to really go for this type of meditation after you have some experience with concentration practices so you have sharpened the attention a bit. However, meditation is one of those things that is both universal and incredibly personal. Your mileage will vary.

So, give it a try and see if it’s your cup of tea. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.


Share My Path is a journalistic archive of the paths taken by practitioners of meditation. Through community sharing of our paths we’ll help others find theirs. 

Share My Path would love to feature your path! e-mail me.

Follow the project here!

Last week’s installment of Share My Path: Overcoming Fear: A How-To.

The installment that started it all: Your First Time: Sometimes it Hurts.

A random installment: Explore the New: A lesson in Japa Mantra.

A list of all previous weeks: Share My Path.


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Ed: Sara Crolick

{photo: via Patrick Dinkfeld/ model: Ashleigh}

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