Friday, June 26, 2009


Charles Tart has a funny blog post about what to do if you feel sleepy during meditation. One tactic he mentions is to have someone hit you with a stick if you doze off. This is what they do in Zen monasteries.

At the Zen center I used to go to they had something like this. The stick was long and wide so the pressure was spread out. It didn't hurt. They hit you on the muscles just to the side of the spine. They said this was an acupressure point.

The guy who wields the stick walks around during the meditation sessions. When he gets to you, if you want a whack, you put your hands together and lean forward. Mostly people do it because they're bored or want an excuse to move. Zen is very regimented, you're not supposed to move during sitting meditating. Historically this is because nobles sent extra sons to the monastery to get good karma for themselves, but their sons were not always enthusiastic monks. They could be disruptive if not kept under rigid discipline. I suppose if one fell asleep, good whack would wake him up.

In Zen group meditation sessions, they alternate sitting meditation with walking meditation. In walking meditation, everyone walks in a line one behind the other with the most senior monk in the lead. Once I was on a retreat and the instructor was nodding off during the sitting meditation. During the walking meditation, he would try to wake himself up by walking as fast as he could. We were at a Zen temple out in a rural area. We did the walking meditation outside where there was nothing to get in our way. The instructor was not a wizened old Zen master. He was a young athletic monk. His could walk fast. It was hilarious - we were wearing meditation robes and they were trailing behind us because we were going so fast.

In Tart's post, he mentions that full lotus is the traditional posture for meditation. In the Zen center I went to, many beginners would use the half lotus which is easier to sit in. The problem with this is that in the half lotus, for some reason, you can't tell when your leg is falling asleep. It was quite common when there were new students to hear them stomping around during the walking meditation (if they didn't fall over) because they started walking and had no sensation in one leg. If you have no feeling in your leg it is very hard to walk. When it happened to me, it was like one leg was walking on a trampoline. Every step with that leg felt like it was sinking into the floor despite the fact that it made a sound like a flamenco dancer.

I tell more about my experiences at the Zen center on my web site, where I also have a page on how to meditate.

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