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Buddhadharma : Fall 2014
FALL 2 0 1 4 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 59 Being Shaken EARLY IN MY ZEN PRACTICE I could not sit still in meditation, as I was besieged with invol- untary movements. I didn’t stop sitting—no, I kept meditating right on schedule—but my pelvis rocked and bucked, and if I managed to hold it still, my shoulders would break loose and rotate energetically. My head would also whip back and forth and from side to side. An intense fight was going on inside me, and I could not find a way to hold everything in place. Suzuki Roshi, Kobun Chino Roshi, Katagiri Roshi—nobody knew what to do with me. Sometimes the movements were violent enough to shake the tatami mats in my corner of the zendo (this was in the original Tassajara zendo that burned down in 1976), and for a while I was asked to sit outside in the entryway where I could shake without disturbing others. Gener- ally speaking, the other students were bewildered by my behavior, and if anything, annoyed: “You could stop that shaking if you wanted to. You’re just trying to get attention.” At the time, I wondered why more people didn’t shake while sitting, as I simply could not help it. I didn’t get it, and I still don’t. Years later, I read Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger and began to suspect that my meditation had been a haphazard attempt to release traumatic energies previously held inside. Without the benefit of any instruction, support, or direc- tions from sensory-experiencing practitioners or therapists who might have had some famil- iarity with my predicament, I underwent being shaken. And questions kept cropping up: Was something fundamentally wrong with me? Did no one else experience trauma when they were growing up? Did most people simply find a place to keep the traumatic energy tucked away, and then call what they were doing “meditation”? I knew I could never do any kind of meditation that involved keeping everything problematic buried daeep inside. Maybe I was crazy, or perhaps irredeemably full of faith, but Suzuki Roshi thought it was good to sit, so I sat. Faithfully. I kept bringing my everyday energy and my traumatic energy to the cushion day after day, period after forty-minute period—two, three, four, five times a day, plus the three meals when we also sat cross-legged (I shook very little during meals). There were more hours of sitting during sesshin: twelve or four- teen forty-minute periods along with three meals daily, lasting forty-five to fifty minutes each. We sat from early morning to late at night. One sesshin epitomized what I was going through. During our Rohatsu sesshin, the first week of December, I sat facing a stone wall in the last seat of the row, farthest from the altar. To my right was a waist-high partition and then the door to outside. We sat in thin gray robes, and as the fall progressed we would add layers (Opposite) A page from Edward Brown’s photo album. In the top photo, taken at his wedding, he is standing next to Suzuki Roshi. The photo of him below was taken in 1969. When Edward Brown first began meditating, his body shook and rocked on the cushion. But he refused to give up. Instead, he found a way to release the childhood trauma at the root of it.