Peter Ford, 2
Interview with Peter Ford
About teachers, I think people learn in different ways. Those who’ve become teachers probably studied with teachers. I feel like I learned enough to get started from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and later from other books. I’ve met a few teachers, and I’m sure they’ve added to my practice, but none gave me the feeling that I needed to go back and see them regularly. I got to know one fairly well established teacher a bit on a personal level, and he basically said it was a job.
From a monetary standpoint, if teaching is your job, you need students. So, it’s obviously in teachers’ self-interest to promote the idea that we need teachers to make progress.
I sit on a cushion on the floor for 40 minutes every morning with very rare exceptions. Since I’m semi-retired, work at home, and mostly set my own schedule, it’s usually no problem finding the time. I’m able to comfortably sit in a full-lotus for about 25 minutes.
When I start to feel that I’m hurting my knees, I switch to a Burmese position. Before going to bed I normally sit in a Burmese position for 15-20 minutes. I feel that these positions allow me to keep my back straight. Once I’ve got my posture, I feel like I’m doing meditation, and I don’t have to do anything else.
Often I count my breaths, or focus on letting go, but I don’t obsess over what’s going on in my mind. Really, more and more, I believe meditation is a physical process that has more to do with chemical brain function than psychology. I’ve said for a long time that the reason for reading books on meditation or Buddhism or going to group sessions is to encourage us to deepen our commitment to practice more than to learn anything new.
I appreciate all that you offered about teachers, and our different ways of learning. I have to tell you that I am impressed that you can do full lotus for any length of time. Also, I am curious about the Burmese position. Can you tell me more about it, as well as any other insights into posture that you have picked up– especially for how you see the physical element as being so essential.
The Burmese position is pretty comfortable for many people. I use this or a quarter lotus position when I intend to sit longer than about 25 minutes. Here’s a page I found with good pictures of meditation positions. I do believe that posture is a large part of meditation. I think remaining still in an alert and relaxed posture facilitates a meditative state of mind.
Whenever I realize I’m daydreaming, I notice that my posture has slumped. The chin being tucked-in really does seem to promote awareness. I think maintaining the posture develops discipline, self-confidence, grounding, and the ability to focus on reality. Of course, the mind always wanders, but straightening the posture seems to start something happening in the brain. This is totally speculative on my part, but I’m convinced good posture has a beneficial effect through hormones, brain waves, or some physical process.
There seems to be a fair amount of research showing that meditation does affect the brain. I’ve linked to a couple of articles on this topic at the website here. In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind Suzuki says in his talk about posture—
"These forms are not the means of obtaining the right state of mind. To take this posture is itself to have the right state of mind. There is no need to obtain some special state of mind."
I’ve come to believe that from my practice.
Thank you. I will have to try adjusting posture and pay attention to differences. I want to ask now about GoSit.org. Can you tell me more about your vision for this site– what it offers, and what kind of information one can get there?