This is a serious practical question. Should you just scratch the itch? Or should you bear the discomfort, analysing the sensation, breaking it into its component parts, noting that the itch is impermanent, etc. until it goes away, all the while presenting a calm and stoical facial expression to the world?
I'm asking because I can't imagine the Buddha or some other advanced meditator scratching. But I wonder if the average person is allowed some greater leeway.
Whatever you feel the need to do. Often times, our minds create sensations to distract us from meditation. I mostly let them go and don't address them. But sometimes an itch arises that is impossible to ignore, so I scratch it. Sometimes my foot goes numb, and I ignore it. But sometimes my bad knee hurts, and I can't ignore that so I change position.
But spending too much time thinking about the itch isn't really meditation, either Address or don't address, then let it go either way.
Good answer, @karasti. I find that the occasional itch is a lot less intrusive than the many thoughts that ramble through my head.
If you're practicing Zazen, then you can't move a muscle.
If it's Shamatha, then move all you like. You can always return to your breath.
This is a good question for your meditation teacher, if you have one.
Is it okay to cut a really loud, wet fart in group pratice? I ask this of the three people on this board who actually do group practice. ;-)
Thanks. I was told that you shouldn't scratch (he was a karate teacher who had studied Zen meditation) because it would only create more itches elsewhere, because...well he gave some complex explanation involving Chinese medicine that I didn't quite follow. I just wanted to see what others might think.
There was a young lady from Natchez
Whose garments were always in patchez.
When comment arose
On the state of her clothes
She, drawled, "When ah itchez, ah scratchez!"
We've found the level.....
Yeah, Zen techniques don't allow for movement on the cushion. The whys and wherefores aren't all that important. That comes with time.
Now if you're sitting at home, go ahead and scratch. There's noone there to take your Super Secret Vajra Decoder Ring away.
Go to a Tibetan center and learn Shamatha. You can move all you like.
How did you know I had one??
"Your secret ring's no secret, any more......"
Thankfully, there have never been any obvious farts at our meditation group. Yoga class, however, is another story. I think in meditation group it would just be ignored. But living in a house with my husband and 3 boys, fart jokes are the norm and I would struggle to not giggle. I admit it.
Yeah, and they keep hitting you with sticks!
Should you cough, scratch, reposition, go to the loo, fidget, fart, drink tea, swallow excessive saliva etc?
These arisings occur from time to time. For solo work it is up to you. You are only disturbing yourself.
Specifically I do not itch. When I have a sensation arising in the body, the attention moves there, noted, relaxed or let go. An insistent itch is just an arising, so I bring attention to it rather than physical agitation (scratching).
It does depend. Try both methods you proposed,
The tension arises in the mind of whether or not to scratch. It can be resolved by just being aware of the itch, the action of scratching to relieve the itch, and the fleeting feelings of discomfort and comfort before and after scratching.
If I itch, I scratch, without even thinking about it.
Meditating (Itch, scratch) Meditating....
I know it may sound overly simplistic, but why are we making such a big deal about this?
Personally I think it's only an issue when meditating with other people, when perpetual fidgets can become quite distracting.
Intentionally no, if you have no choice, let er rip. If it smells really bad, that's not a problem either. Seriously! Other people having to deal with a real smelly fart is good practice for them!
Oh really, I was just having my tea!
I know. As I said earlier, we found the level. And it's a bloomin' cheek...
Oh yes, men and their farts...
With two men under my roof...
Another subject for a sexist thread...
What I did not know was that in yoga, there's a name for the involuntary concentration and subsequent expulsion of air from a woman's vagina that can happen while performing the headstand (and that resembles a fart): "vart."
As to the OP, @zenguitar, I try to ignore the itch as much as I can, but if it doesn't go on its own, and it's becoming really distracting, yes, I scratch.
I am making a "big deal" of it because it is a natural question that could arise when a person is practicing meditation, especially in a group setting. Plus I am interested in correct practice. At the same time...I really want to scratch that itch!
I think it's interesting how much my arm wants to move to scratch an itch. Mostly I give it a moment or two to see if it passes or intensifies then decide what to do. Rather than just let the arm have it's way.
There is nothing inherent in the itch that causes discomfort. We impute discomfort onto the itch.
By just purely being aware of the sensation, you can see it's qualities. This created distance from you and the itch. Suddenly it's not you bring itchy. It's just watching an intense sensation.
They teach you to practice meditation of determination whereby you don't move at all for an hour. Very hard initially. They don't encourage self torture though. So if it's bad just move mindfully
Discomfort is purely mind created, it's a good idea to watch the ways of the mind.
Helps me with my tobacco problem.
Last summer I discovered my cat needed new flea drops during meditation. A flea started munching on my forearm and I got the impulse (as it were) to just sit there and let it have it's supper. Mind you, I'm 'tasty' to fleas and mosquitos, I need the flea drops, get bit before the cat, and I get an extremely itchy wheal the size of a quarter. So I concentrated on the 'particulars' of the itch. I noticed when my mind wandered from focusing on the itch and returned to the itch, the itch got worse momentarily. I did not scratch it, and the little shit only chomped me once instead of five times (prolly cuz I didn't frustrate it so it had to sink in elsewhere and so on). The rest of the time, I scratch, usually before I realize it, but I remember Thanisarro Bhikku talking about a monk who very very MINDFULLY scratched during meditation so I mindfully scratch as a rule.
If you get an itch while meditating, should you scratch it?
@zenguitar, are you still meditating if you scratch it ?
The essence of meditation is not stillness. The essence of meditation is noticing the awareness/experience. Sitting practice is done so there is little distraction from the monkey mind. But there is nothing magic about non-movement other than stabilizing and deepening the sharpness of awareness. I am of the opinion that if I scratch it is less distracting than if I don't scratch. It is like if my stereo goes hay wire and starts playing music at high volume I calmly walk over and turn it off rather than let it blare music and distract me the whole session.
Well said. Even the the Zen Dhyana-Hards started with a raised flower Buddha movement . . .
Great stillness can induce a trance state, very nice, trance has its uses but trance meditation, trance is yogic type 'right concentration' . . . not Buddhist meditation . . .
Mindful, attentive scratching . . . we haz plan . . .
If you get an itch while meditating, contemplate its true nature.
Where did it come from? Is it yours? Can you make it go away? Is it better to ignore it or make a big fuss over it?
What if it's mindful scratching?
Well, it's your thread..... Is it 'mindful scratching'...?
It depends on the kind of meditation one is doing.
It is for samatha. It depends on the kind of meditation one is doing.
Got an itch during meditation?
Here's an answer: http://do-not-zzz.com/ ... push the "enter" and see how you do.
I suppose not. Otherwise the gratification of any itch/craving could be rationalized as mindfulness.
Have a quick scratch mindfully then.
Thanks everyone, I should have pointed out that I was trying to do zazen, Dogen-style.
You'll get hit with a stick if you move then. Always with the sticks!
Yes, if I were in a Zen monastery, I would be totally black and blue. I can't do shikantaza worth ****. So my meditation session ends up being basically 1/3 breath meditation (the only thing I am halfway decent at) and 2/3 monkey mind chasing after thoughts, fantasies, grudges, worries...while trying to suppress various itches and aches.
Stick to what works then!
You're probably right. Maybe I am too attached to the idea that I must do "Zen."
Me neither. How peculiar. We can not just sit. Yet we just sit with not being able to just sit . . .
@zenguitar -- My experience over a number of decades suggests: 1. No one can do Zen worth a shit, so relax. 2. Counting the breath from-one-to-ten-and-begin-again may sound like a novice practice, but is both sensible and, to the extent it can be described, quite 'advanced.' 3. Breath-counting brings what seems to be a mundane entry into a natural progression to shinkantaza ... no need to push the river. 4. "Stick to what works" needs to be balanced against an understanding that any discipline is going to brush your hair the wrong way to begin with. If everything is hunky-dory from the get-go, the natural tendency is to fall into a lethargic, hug-happy woo-hoo. 4. If, by chance, you learn how to count the breath from one to ten perfectly, there will be no more need for Zen practice (no, that is not an over-statement).
Frustration and failure generally arise out of expectation. Try to expect less ... and, if necessary, less than that. When I once complained that I couldn't count to ten, a teacher of mine said, "Well, if you can't count to ten, count to nine. If you can't count to nine, count to eight. If you can't count to eight, count to seven.... And if all else fails, count to one: Anyone can count to one."
Do what you can to stop imagining you are doing something 'good,' or that you are making an 'improvement' or will win some 'relief.' Sitting down on your cushion is just sitting down on your cushion ... nothing fancy ... nothing "Buddhist" ... it's just your ass and your cushion. Breathing in and breathing out is not exactly new in your life so stop treating it as extraordinary ... even if it is. When you make a promise to sit, then sit. And if you break your promise, take responsibility ... don't blame external circumstances. Not, "I couldn't sit because the pipes broke" but rather "I chose not to sit." In this way, your promises will start to be kept.
And if you get swamped by the Buddhist blues, take a look around you at all the people who never even heard of Buddhism. They seem to be muddling through just fine. No reason why you shouldn't too.
Thanks @genkaku, that's helpful. By the way, where can I find your blog, which I imagine is quite insightful?
If you want a fresh take on meditation, Ajahn Brahm is pretty good. There are lots of talks on you-tube.
Or you can just chill out and enjoy a bit of itchy and scratchy - I suggest the repetitive meditation of mind!:
@zenguitar -- Sorry the blog isn't more-obviously Zen, but here it is: http://genkaku-again.blogspot.com/
Thanks @genakaku, I will check it out.
In one of Pema Chodron books (I think it was Taking the Leap) she likens any addiction to an itch coming up. She was talking about poison oak or something where the more we scratch, the worse the itch gets.
I remembered that when a run-of-the-mill itch came up during meditation. I didn't scratch it and it drove me mad for a while until I started to focus on the itch. I was ok for a little bit longer but it was persistent and I had to give in.
When I remember to do the same thing with my cigarette, the itch goes away.
Just thought I'd mention it for anyone looking for a way to curb a habit.
As a new meditator I also experience itching, numbness and all kinds of discomfort. From what I learned, is that you can acknowledge the senses. like "itchy itchy itchy on part of the body" then go back to observe the in-outs of breath. For some reason the sensation disappear - (i don't know why) but it does.
Whenever another sensation arises, i just refocused my mind to that part of the body and acknowledge it the same thing. The important thing is go back to the awareness of rising and ceasing of the stomach. Again I don't have the explanation why it works. I just learned it from the talks from Theravada monks. just my two cents.