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Buddhadharma : Summer 2013
SUMMER 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 55 with our dullness will make us retreat into dullness even more. So he advised using a light-handed approach—for instance, if you keep falling asleep on the cushion, just let yourself fall asleep; you’ll jerk awake, and that kind of natural return to wakefulness works best. I’ve always loved that because I began in Zen practice, where it was the stick that woke me up, and when I became a student of the Vidyadhara, it was my almost falling off the cushion that woke me up. EZRA BAYDA: Yes, in Zen practice there is an actual physical wake-up stick, a kyosaku, which is used in retreats. But when you hit someone who’s sleeping, they usually wake up for a minute and then fall right back to sleep. So it doesn’t really help. We haven’t used the kyosaku here in San Diego for many years. The practice we recommend now is very similar to what Judith was just mentioning. However, if someone is experiencing dullness, I don’t think they’re going to want to go out to a cemetery and contemplate death because they’re not motivated at that point—there’s dullness in their moti- vation as well. So what we recommend for students, and what I’ve done for myself many times over the years when I hit what I call a “minor dry spot,” when everything is dull (which could last anywhere from one sitting to many weeks or months), is to have the curiosity to study dullness itself. We tell people to just let themselves fall asleep and to study as best they can what it feels like to be dull or tired. JUDITH SIMMER-BROWN: That’s great. EZRA BAYDA: How often do we spend time honestly studying what dullness or sleepiness or boredom is? I don’t mean study- ing analytically, but really feeling the experience of dullness or laziness. When you’re sleepy on the cushion, it’s fun to investigate the experience of sleepiness. Feel what it’s like in those last few moments before you close your eyes. When you wake up, maybe just a few seconds later, feel what it’s like to wake up from sleep. In doing so, even though there may still be residual dullness, you’re actually being present. I think that’s the best solution, rather than trying to push yourself into a “better experience.” KAMALA MASTERS: I want to echo what Ezra was saying about curiosity as the antidote to dullness. According to the Ther- avada tradition, what causes dullness to arise is a lack of investigation. One thing that’s helpful is to ask yourself what other conditions are present. Is there heaviness, lightness, or confusion? Just be aware of whatever the experience is. Also dullness often has a physical component. Standing up helps because we tend to be more alert in that position. JUDITH SIMMER-BROWN: In the Mahamudra tradition, the approach to practice is to sit for very short sessions, as short as five minutes, to keep the mind engaged and fresh. Mahamu- dra is taught to meditators who have practiced for a very long time and are used to experiencing cycles of dullness. There’s something wonderful about introducing really short sessions as a way to reinspire the mind. Making sure that you never sit long enough to get dull begins to ignite a new kind of fresh- ness in the practice, so even if you go back to longer sessions, the quality of freshness remains. It’s a very interesting way of relating to dullness in practice. EZRA BAYDA: When I’ve experienced periods of dullness, the first question I always ask is, Can I see this as my path? If we can actually understand what it means to reframe our experi- ence in this way, to see an opportunity instead of thinking something’s wrong, dullness is not the same thing anymore. Dullness actually offers a way of seeing what we might be attached to—beliefs and attachments that are usually way ➤ continued page 84