Iling: I asked very lightly, but I was still so focused
—- Retreat Sharing, 7-day retreat (TP7R1), June 4- 11, 2016
For me, 7-day retreat was a precious chance to advance my Zen practice intensively and quickly since I had a heavy workload during weekdays. By following Shifu Linda’s direct instructions, I could correct my mistakes immediately and keep doubting in the right way. It was a shame that I had to work and leave the retreat on the fourth day, ask for a leave on the fourth day. Even though, I made up my mind before the retreat that I would ask myself to do my best to keep doubting every day during the retreat, hoping that I could “enter the stream” and keep doubting on the basis of this.。
Before checking in, I recalled Shifu Linda’s words─ “You must make seven days as one session. You keep doubting whenever sitting on the cushion, leaving the cushion, having meals, or taking a break. Keep doubting until you go to sleep. Start asking immediately when you wake up. Make only you and your doubt left in your entire world.” I tried my best to keep doubting whenever walking outdoors or indoors, doing clean-up jobs, taking breaks, having meals, taking showers. I kept doubting until I went to sleep, and started doubting whenever I woke up. When I was aware that I dropped my doubt, I continued to doubt. I had done my best to keep doubting all the time.
During the first three days of the retreat, at first I asked “No-self?” very hard at every second in order to stay focused instead of being distracted or falling asleep. As long as I was aware of thoughts or sensations, I asked. Even though I could stay focused this way, my body would move all the time, and my head would nod forward until Shifu Linda put her fingers on my shoulders and adjusted the position of my head. At that moment, I finally knew I put my whole body’s strength to ask. That made my entire body very tense during practice.
Shifu Linda told me that I didn’t have to use so much strength to ask the doubting question. When I fell asleep or distracted, I just kept asking as soon as I was aware of the distractions or drowsiness. If I lost my doubt, I kept asking. After hearing Shifu Linda’s instructions, I felt confused and worried. Aren’t we supposed to asked loudly and wholeheartedly? How can I ask loudly without using my strength? Would my meditation get worse if not using strength?
But I told myself to follow Shifu Linda’s instructions, to correct my method, and try not to put so much strength while asking. Then I gradually realized that I could doubt when my body was relaxed. However I would go back to my old habit to make myself focus on my practice so that I felt more safe and make myself feel safe in the sitting sessions right after breakfast and lunch when I felt drowsy or distracted easily. I also evaluated my concentration by degrees of pain. If I felt more pain, I would consider myself not focused enough. I knew using old habit and evaluating pain was wrong, and I also understood I could do nothing when I felt drowsy and pain. The only thing I could do was keep asking “No-self?” immediately when I was aware of drowsiness, distractions, or pain.
By doing my best to follow Shifu Linda’s instructions and adjusting myself not to put so much strength while focusing on doubting, I could gradually keep asking with relaxed body. Though I still felt severe leg pain during consecutive sessions, I could be focused on doubting even more. I didn’t want to waste all the pain I had experienced. So whenever I heard bell ring in the middle of consecutive sessions, and whenever I thought about and struggled shifting my legs or not, I decided to keep doubting since I was aware that leg pain was still endurable for me.
On the fourth day, I went back to work after finishing the first sitting session. I was distracted while sitting because I still couldn’t control myself not to put too much strength. I felt depressed after the bell rang. When I got back to the office for work, I found I could be aware of changes of my thoughts and emotions, and I asked “No-self?” immediately. I also kept doubting “No-self?” when I finished my work and took a bus back until I fell asleep.
In the fifth day morning, thinking about only three days left and I didn’t achieve my goal yet, plus taking one day-off from practicing on the cushion, I was worried if I fell behind or not. During the first session, I still put more strength on doubting than I did on the third day. I used the strength of my head to ask “No-self?”. I wasn’t aware of this until the bell rang, and my left ear ached. Shifu Linda told me again that I still put too much strength, and not to grab the feeling of concentration. I just had to ask “No-self?” and keep asking whether I felt something or not. But Shifu Linda reminded me the same thing about my practice situation of the second session. I felt very confused and didn’t know how to doubt correctly. I asked Shifu Linda again. Shifu told me to ask “No-self?” with the strength from my heart, reduce the frequency of asking from every second to every two seconds, but not fix the frequency deliberately, not remain the feeling of concentration by asking at every second.
I felt very confused about this at the moment because I already felt that I didn’t have any strength to cary on, then how could I ask “ No self?” powerfully and stay focused? Shifu Linda told us again that we could not do anything to our pain because pain was just pain. However, we could face “the fear” of pain by “keep doubting”. If we hoped not to feel pain during sitting practice, our goals became to chase “No Pain” instead of building the “No-self?” main stream. At that moment, I finally realized I wanted to remain the feeling of concentration, and my goal became to chase “concentration” instead of building up my “No-self?” main stream. So why should I keep grabbing the feeling of concentration?
I tried to follow Shifu Linda’s instructions, and tried not relying on my old habit. I adjusted myself not to use too much strength (even though I didn’t know how to do it, but just tried), to doubt “No-self?” from my heart, and not to fear losing my concentration. Then I realized it didn’t take so much strength to keep doubting. Although there were some thoughts emerged, I could still keep doubting. However, I felt myself slackening and my power of doubting weakened gradually as I was so focused on asking “No-self?” like there was nothing else but me asking. Then leg pain came. It ached a lot during consecutive sessions. But I could be even more relaxingly focused on asking. Though I still had struggles to shift my legs or not when I heard the bell ring in the middle of consecutive sessions, I decided to keep doubting immediately.
On the sixth day of retreat, I was aware that I could be concentrated soon with relaxed body and even face. During the first session, I even felt that I asked very lightly, but I was still so focused. My whole body was so relaxed that I could not even feel it. I still felt I breathed a little bit hard. Then I tried to make it lighter. I felt comfortable during this process, and there was just me and “No-self? left. I kept asking sentence by sentence, but I still went slackening. I gained my concentration back when it ached more and more severely. I also wanted to find my former status back, but I could not make it.
During another session, I was aware that my tongue was moving, I was using strength on my mouth unconsciously, and my legs were very tightened. I could be focused on asking “No-self?”, but I was still distracted little by asking myself to relax my mouth and legs, and to control my tongue. I was in between focusing on asking “No-self?” and relaxing my mouth and my legs. After the session, I felt confused because there were too many focal points, and I couldn’t just concentrated on “No-self?”. Shifu Linda taught me that I could place my tongue between upper teeth and gingiva slightly, and then my tongue would not move around and disturb me. Shifu Linda also asked us to put all the strength to ask “No-self?”. And the past had already passed. No matter how good or bad our practice situation was, just kept asking “right now”. Each “No-self?” was as unknowing and powerful as our first “No-self?”. I felt relieved then. It didn’t matter I was entangled with how good or bad my practice situation was, or I wanted to find my former status back. All these had passed. What I should do was asking “No-self?” sentence by sentence “right now”.
On the seventh day, also the last day of retreat, I asked myself to do my best till the end, not to waste time. It was the moment to break through. In the lecture, Shifu Linda asked us to doubt “No-self?” hard from our hearts and let us ask out “No-self?” one by one. Shifu Linda reminded me that I still asked too fast and needed to slow down a little. When I heard Shifu Linda’s said to others─ You would feel like your heart pinched slightly when you ask from your heart, I misunderstood it and thought I needed to use the muscles around my heart to ask “No-self?”. During four-consecutive sessions, though I was focused soon in the first session, my stomach kept wriggling and distracted me all the time. I realized it was wrong to use the muscles around my heart and corrected it immediately. At the same time, my leg pain became more and more severe, but I still kept doubting, no matter good or bad, I just kept doubting.
Though I was still distracted by instructions Shifu Linda gave to other classmates, I kept doubting, knowing that the past had passed. Just ask “No-self?” right now. My legs ached extremely during the third session, but I could still feel my upper body relaxed. I kept doubting, and put my all strength on asking “No-self?”. I was aware that my legs were tightened, and sometimes I paid attention to relax my legs. When I found my face became tense, I ask myself to relax. I thought about giving up, but there was a voice told me to continue doubting immediately and not to waste my pain. When I heard the bell ring before the fourth session, I struggled a little to shift my legs or not again, but I decided to keep doubting since I didn’t feel that painful. Then I was less focused because I was disturbed when Shifu Linda’s gave instructions to others. When I was aware of this, I kept asking “No-self?” sentence by sentence. Although there were some more thoughts emerged, I was still focused on keep asking “No-self?” sentence by sentence.
When the last bell rang, Shifu Linda told us this was the last session of the retreat, I was shocked. Suddenly, my tears dropped within few seconds because I knew I didn’t achieve my goal of “getting into the stream”. I was afraid if I could get progress without Shifu Linda’s immediate instructions since Shifu Linda would go back to the States. During the last sharing session, Shifu Linda told me that she had some breakthrough moments without her Shifu around. As long as I keep doubting with right method, I will get progress continually even though Shifu Linda is not in Taiwan. **** check more Student Sharing ****