Wednesday, February 21, 2018

On farting during kinhin

Kinhin is a Japanese word American zen folk use for walking meditation.  Kinhin is usually done with a group of people, pragmatically as a way to move the body without arousing the mind too far out of the contemplative repose of sitting meditation, called zazen.  As a practical matter, periods of kinhin are interspersed with periods of zazen to form long periods of continuous meditation practice.

Traditions vary slightly, but generally it is done at a very slow pace, one short step with every breath, in a circular manner around the meditation hall for ten or fifteen minutes.  Then, one sits back down on the cushion for another session of zazen.  If you need to exit the meditation hall, kinhin is the right time to do it.  We have a protocol for how to leave, and how to return afterwards, that keeps everyone organized with a minimum of attention from others.

In kinhin, one notices that the torso is more stiff and easier to balance when one's lungs are full of air, so one generally takes a slow deliberate step at the top of the inhale and exhales through the transfer of weight from one leg to the other, balancing on both legs at the bottom of the exhale, then finishing the step at the top of the next inhale.

To the uninformed observer, it looks like a bunch of extremely depressed, and perhaps sleepy, people aimlessly wandering around in a state of existential crisis, staring only at the ground in front of them, hands clasped together in position for anticipated bouts of anxious hand-wringing.  People look very sad, and maybe worried, but really probably too sad to be worried.  Or maybe they're just really tired and are doing their best to stay awake by forcing themselves to walk around.

As an aside, all of that's probably true, but I'll get to that in a minute.

For me, on the inside, kinhin is when I'm checking-out women's butts and seeing what the weather is like outside.  Then, I notice I'm doing that, bring my attention back to my breath and posture, and concentrate on not falling over, which is easy to do when you're walking, really, really slow.  A moment later I'm noticing how so and so cuts his toenails and wondering why the people who built this floor couldn't hammer nails in a straight line.  Such is meditation: it's organizing monkeys who are herding cats, all day every day.

It's very quiet in the zendo during kinhin, so if you should rip off even a very quiet fart it echoes through the hall like a dropped metal tray, everyone knows immediately who is responsible, most acutely whomever has been sitting to your left, since they are directly behind you in the kinhin line.  Sometimes, once the echo of fartitude has subsided, you hear someone stifling a giggle, often the person who has been sitting to your right, because they're just in front of you.

The truth is, these moments are gifts to the people around you, along with every other "mistake" made in the rituals of group zen practice.  Every clanked bell, every turn the wrong way, every dropped chopstick during silent meals is met with a sigh of relief by everyone in the room except the person who did it:  Oh, thank God that wasn't me.

But, when you're the gift-giver it's an odd place to be.  Formally, it's part of life, and zen practice is all about attention to life, so there's no cause for shame or any kind of attention to whatever it is.  It is what it is.  Follow your next breath and move on from the fart heard 'round the world.

Right.  That's why I'm staring at a wall for six hours a day, because I have that kind of an emotional center.

So, what did this enlightened zen master decide to try?  Holding them in.  Boy, that was pleasant.  I had not been eating much during this sesshin, which made oryoki simpler and gave me more time to figure out how to tie my bowls, but it also has the effect of making me a little gassy, because we don't drink during meals and that causes many stified burps in my post-surgical stomach, which puts gas into my intestines, which has to eventually find it's way out the only way it can.

It didn't work, of course, so all that it did was rob me of the knowledge of when the explosion of gaseous waste would announce it's entry into the formless emptiness.  Barrrappp!  Oh great, they all hate me now, this is depressing, zen practice is so boring, I wish I could disappear....

See?  We really all are as miserable as we look when we are holding to self-centered views.

Who farted?  Who asks?