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Barbara O'Brien

Beyond Anticipation

By November 12, 2013

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I just came back from a three-day meditation retreat. After more years than I want to count I finally go off to retreats without anticipating what will happen. Well, maybe there are still a few flickers of anticipation. But I used to have big, roaring T-Rex-sized anticipation, and now it's more moth-sized anticipation.

People often hear they are to practice without goals, and they wonder how that is possible. I mean, if you don't have goals, if you aren't expecting something, why would you even bother? And is practice without goals even possible?

It's a fact that you can't will yourself to stop anticipating, any more than you can will yourself to stop growing hair.  As long as that greedy "I" is grasping for pretty shiny things -- like, maybe, getting enlightened --  there will be expectations and anticipations and desires. And anticipation is a big barrier to being in the present moment.

Some of you may remember a Carly Simon song from 1971 --

Anticipation, anticipation
Is makin' me late
Is keepin' me waitin'

The song isn't about meditation, exactly, but that refrain could be. It's saying that anticipating something that could happen in the future (in this case, love) is causing the singer to miss out on the relationship she has now. She ends with the lines, "So I'll try and see into your eyes right now / And stay right here 'cause these are the good old days."

Just so, practice is right now. So if anticipation is in the way and keeping you waiting, but you can't make it stop, what do you do?

I don't have any tips for quick and easy anticipation-dropping. I do know that if you keep practicing, eventually it wears itself out. That can take awhile, though.

You might consider anticipation as a form of uddhacca-kukkucca, one of the Five Hindrances. This is usually translated "restlessness and worry" or "restlessness and remorse," and I don't think any of the commentaries I have read mentioned anticipation as part of it. But seems to me it could be. Working with uddhacca-kukkacca requires being mindful of the worry, acknowledging it, and observing it. This brings focus back to the present.

I now can say from my own experience that the anticipation-dropping thing does happen, even though you can't make it happen. It just happens.

November 12, 2013 at 11:42 am
(1) Neti-Neti Yeti says:

I recently had an experience about this very same thing.

Today, as I was reading into the nature of the Tathagatagarbha, I returned to the Lankavatara sutra, which I am nowhere close to penetrating even its superficialities. So, in a kind of Jungian way of synchronicity, the OP discusses what I have been discussing with the Buddhas this morning through this sutra.

The Lankavatara speaks early on of the agitations of mind and some of the primordial concerns of seekers along the way about the meaning of the path, and the remedies to agitation:

“People grasping their own shadows of discrimination become attached to this thing and that thing and failing to abandon dualism they go on forever discriminating and thus never attain tranquility. By tranquility is meant Oneness, and Oneness gives birth to the highest Samadhi, which is gained by entering into the realm of Noble Wisdom that is realizable only within one’s inmost consciousness.”

I think there is far more to it than this, but very briefly, what I take away from this is that the breakneck pursuit of spiritual growth forgets that the gem of Buddha nature is found within. There is no external reaching or achieving. Knowing this, we can be calm.

November 13, 2013 at 2:10 am
(2) Hein says:

“I now can say from my own experience that the anticipation-dropping thing does happen, even though you can’t make it happen. It just happens.”

Regardless of one’s degree of eloquence or mastery of language there is just no way to decsribe the experience of “anticipation-dropping”. At best one might be able to give a glimse or a flavour of it…the secret (if it is one) lies in practice…just do don’t try.

After reading this article i can’t wait for my end of the year retreat!

November 15, 2013 at 2:04 am
(3) Franklyn says:

I’ve always liked the way Yasutani Roshi categorized Zen practice into five varieties in the book “The Three Pillars of Zen” edited by Phillip Kapleau. The five categories are Bompu, Gedo, Shojo, Daijo, and Saijojo.

This approach avoids many pitfalls, criticisms and problems for bothbeginners and long time practitioners.

Too briefly and too simply –

1. Bompu Zen is meditation practiced in the belief that it can improve physical and mental health and can improve concentration and sensitivity. There is no particular underlying belief system,

2. Gedo Zen refers to meditation practices associated with other religions and philosophies.

3. Shojo Zen is a “small vehicle” practice. This is the vehicle or teaching that takes you from delusive thinking to “enlightenment”. This small vehicle zen is so named because it is designed to accommodate only one’s self.

4. Daijo, means “great vehicle”. It has as its initial purpose is kensho, obtaining a glimpse into one’s true-nature and then actualizing the Way in daily life.

5. Saijojo Zen is said to refer to the highest expression of Buddhist Meditation where one has the firm conviction that diligent zazen practice is the actualization of your True-nature, and that the day will come when you will unmistakably realize your True-nature.

Yasutani said that good practice has both Daijo Zen and Saijojo Zen. It was just that the good Rinzai practitioners commonly place Daijo Zen uppermost whereas the Soto practitioners place Saijojo uppermost.

One needs does need to be aware that “goal-less” practice can become day-dreamy, mechanical, and without dynamic vitality. While a very goal oriented practice can become self-conscious, judgmental, and discouraged.

So, depending on one’s personality, values, and depth of conviction in Buddhism, zazen is practiced for health, stress relief, to enhance concentration, to develop intuitive abilities, to understand and actualize one’s True-nature, AND is “just practiced.”

November 22, 2013 at 9:49 pm
(4) Carl Frank says:

Thank you for your blog and all your Buddhist teaching. Just thank you.

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