Zen Buddhism & Anorexia

The real reason for that title is because I did a search and got nothing. I can’t be the only person with anorexia who is interested in Zen. So now, if anyone searches, there will at least be a hit. Sadly the hit will be here but at least they’ll have the satisfaction that google understood what they typed! Ha, way to beat the system.

Okay, enough of that.

Many years ago I was looking for some kind of meditation group and I happened upon a local zen buddhist group. I really liked it but I absolutely hated meditation and since I simply didn’t “get” what zazen was, or what any of the philosophy was, I ended up leaving. Instead of counting 1 to 10, over and over with my breath, I counted 1500, the number of seconds in 25 minutes. Totally not in the correct mindset.

Years pass

As my life was utterly falling apart the beginning of last year the thought of that group came to mind and I revisted them. This time I got it and it made sense, it felt right. Zen buddhism, at least the Mountain & Rivers Order is non-theistic, and inclusive for women. In other words, whatever your religious background is, you can make it meld with the practice. What’s even better, it gives a spiritual practice for those of us that are diehard atheists. I’ve tried many versions of meditation and hated them all but for some really odd reason that I’ve yet to figure out, I can do zazen. That is the sitting practice in this zen buddhism.

Don’t know what the hell zazen is? I didn’t. Here is a link to the monastery page that explains the actual practice instructions (albeit briefly). Zazen Instructions

I even went to the monastery and did the Introduction to Zen Training Weekend and have to say, totally fell in love with it: “it” being the practice, the monastery, everything. Zen Mountain Monastery

A couple of months pass

Essentially my life exploded after the 5 surgeries I had at that time (Spring, 2015). I was in so much pain, and had so many things wrong with me. It was a disaster and I had to quit going to the Tuesday night practice. I couldn’t even practice at home anymore. My dream of becoming a formal student was dashed and any hope of having something to focus on was gone. In the midst of this I was seriously relapsing with anorexia. My life was utterly out of control, in my mind, so obviously I reached for the one thing that made me feel safe. I felt, and still feel, it is my one refuge, the one place I can retreat to escape the world. The thinner I am, the smaller I become, the more invisible I feel. That is all I want, to be invisible. It is so difficult though because my outward personality is engaging and charismatic. The manic side of me feeds off the energy of the people around me.

Last year I had attended a sesshin at the monestery. It is a retreat done in silence. Sounded wonderful to me at the time but it turned out to be one of the hardest things I ever did. Besides the silence, we keep our eyes down and simply don’t engage with anyone, and yet, there was like 60+ people besides the monastics and residents. So why was this so hard you ask? It seems like an anorexics dream doesn’t it? Hiding ina corwd? NO, it isn’t. Not engaging with anyone forced me to be “me”. I realized that tallking, even small talk, can be a way to hide from people. “Here, let me tell you talk about why I’m here, what I’m doing, all about me, all about you,” and so forth. The words, the conversations are like a shield from my having to look within. At a sesshin, I’m forced to be with myself, no escape. We sit zazen from 430am to 9pm, with breaks for meals, etc. We sit perfectly still focusing on our breath. My brain exploded. I spent much of the time crying and wanting to scream. A scream would have been a relief but we had to be silent. I took heart that other people were also crying so I felt less alone. I was also in a huge amount of pain because I hadn’t actually learned how to sit with the way my body is now.

It’s funny because when we were released from silence, I had nothing really to say. I felt so small inside myself. I only did a 1/2 sesshin, Thursday-Sunday. To become a full student one of the challenges is to a full sesshin: Tuesday-Sunday. Once you are a student you are required to do 2 sesshins a year, or something like that.

So why would I do that? Why would I put myself through that voluntarily? I need something completely different from my life, as it is now. A totally new focus but a focus that feels right to me, at my core. Zen Buddhist practice is that. Having such strict parameters gives me a focus that is so unrelated to anorexic behavior or anything else that I believe it will be a big factor in recovery. I don’t know though… When I went to the monastery last year it had a profound impact on me. No one cared what you looked like, what your size was, how you carried yourself. The only compliment I got was someone commenting that the loose pants I was wearing seemed perfect for zazen practice. See? Not about me, it was about the zazen. What a relief!

Anyway, I can go on a on and I’ve already written a huge post. Right now I am working on developing a home practice. If I can’t do that, then what’s the point. I an explain what that is in another post. I also signed up for a short retreat to sort of recalibrate myself to practice.

The Undivided Life: Making Our Whole Lives the Path

It’s in June. I’m excited and scared. My team is concerned with my eating of course…

Any thoughts?

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