Someone who I have been working with for a while, who has been having some changes come about in their zazen practice, wrote me this question today:
“So this morning I got to the point where now I’m feeling more outside than in, so my exhalations were inhalations. Is that a valuable perspective for sussokukan? So now I’m looking in instead of out”
First of all, please read my previous blog post about Tanden (also known as lower Dantien). This will give you a sense of what we mean when we say Tanden. Two our three centimeters below the belly button. In the center of the belly. It is the main focus of spiritual transformation for certain lineages of Zen, but one does not have to be Buddhist to benefit from the internal alchemy process of Tanden.
When the Tanden starts to develop, the breath begins to do weird things. Disappear, implode, go in strange directions, become very subtle, go on forever, stop completely… These can be confusing, odd, suffocating. But these are a very normal part of developing the Tanden and the sussokukan.
After people have been sitting a while, and their system begins to fill up, there is a very interesting switch that happens for them. Where they had been reaching out or exerting an outward focus, suddenly, in daily life, their process turns 180 degrees and it is as if their awareness implodes. Where they were reaching out, they then begin to receive. To receive life. To receive everything around them. Everything starts to come to them.
It is as if they are the center of the universe. Not in an egocentric way, but in an awareness orientation. They walk around and they are the center of all that is happening. Everything is coming to them. They are full and taut, but not by force or effort. In this internal alchemy process, what was outside of them, outside of their perceived perception of themselves, now is inside of their awareness. So they meet reality, and in meeting that, a change occurs. A cellular change occurs. They are suddenly deeply supported by everything around them. This is completely counterintuitive at first!
As this full and tautness happens in the system, it is as if they are not reaching out for energy anymore, but like a great mountain, they make their own weather. No longer a slave to situations, their awareness, their interaction with space is bigger, centered, unwavering. And in the middle of this experience is Tanden. So it is not just an awareness of being the center of all that is happening, it is also a location of awareness in the lower belly. It is possible to discover this awareness centering without Tanden training, but the Tanden is a wonderful tool to refine this experience physically for a lifetime. It is something to use as a physical constant returning, which ripens over time.
At first when we are doing Sussokukan, we are exhaling, extending our breath out as far as we can, without force. This process deepens over time, and it becomes our natural way of breathing. Over time, our awareness and our breath become the same thing. Looking at the flower, our focus aligns with the exhalation, they become a one-pointed awareness. Looking at something, moving the body, focus of any kind is an expression of this exhalation and of Tanden.
And as the Tanden develops, in deep zazen, it seals. The belly fills up and stops moving, and a much more subtle breathing and momentum takes over. Deeper states are samadhi are a matter of course as we get the energy flowing.
Seeing someone who is not reaching out as they move through the world, who is not diving out with their awareness all of the time, is so shocking. They are like a vacuum. Like the eye of a hurricane, with everyone and everything spiraling around them. Being in their presence is transformative. We might think that they would just be invisible, but instead their presence is electrifying! And it is just this not reaching out, just this allowing the Tanden to develop, which allows this process to develop, ripen, and mature.
When you talk to someone like this or are around someone like this, instead of them speaking from a place of calculation, by not reaching out, but staying connected in the tanden, keeps them in a constant place of interconnectedness. Their speech, actions, spring forth from the context of being connected to everything around them at all times. The very aspect of feeling everything around them as them, as their internal world, leads them to move and function from this unified place.
They seem to emanate light. As if they do not need to seek light elsewhere, but light emerges from this Tanden, this not reaching out, this receiving.
We are afraid to not reach out. To not control life. To let go and let the light emerge from within. We think we’ll be worthless in the world, or fools, or ignored. And honestly this process is a very strange transition. It takes a long time. But then we will function in a way that is so unique, so needed in this world. We’ll just be our silly selves, still. We won’t be perfect. But we’ll shine in a way that does not go away depending on circumstance.
There are so many theories out there about Enlightenment, Kensho, Satori, Zazen… There is so much talk about experiences, realizations… But mostly that is just ideas, just talk, nothing real or helpful in the long run. Maybe you have not gotten a glimpse of your true nature yet. Or maybe you had a huge transformation you can’t seem to integrate into life. What and who is it that is sitting or standing here, filling up the space, the center of the universe? Diving into this, over and over, continually being fascinated by this process. Refining it, and through that becoming a stable vessel in this world for peace, a useful person who won’t be moved around by circumstance or drama. A true person of no rank. A person with nothing to do.
Thanks for reading! You can do it! Keep going! Stay fascinated!