Zen is Sitting
Zen is the practice of coming back to the actual right-now-in-this-moment self, discovering the power of our true self. Zen practice is not about getting away from our life as it is; it is about getting into our life as it is. Zen is a path of awakening: awakening to what is really happening, to look at life without the glasses of prejudice, misconceptions and misguided emotions.
At the heart of Zen practice is zazen, seated meditation. Zazen is a very simple practice and does not involve complicated instructions. When one studies the ancient Zen meditation manuals, it is always surprising how brief and plain they are. While they speak of the possibility of attaining the freedom and naturalness of a tiger in the mountains or a dragon in the water, the actual instructions are so concrete: Sit in the proper posture and attend to the body, breath, and mind.
Preparing to Sit
When you do zazen, wear loose, dark clothes. Zen practitioners usually wear dark blue clothes, so that the attention of the fellow meditators will not be distracted.
When you enter the meditation room (zendo) your Zen practice starts. You pause for a moment and then bow to the room. You concentrate on whatever you do. You walk, you stand, you bow, you sit down. Each moment is full of energy, full of concentration.
These acts help us to prepare our mind for sitting. When you are seated—whether cross-legged, kneeling, or in a chair—settle into the zazen posture.
Do this—counting your breath, maintaining your posture, sitting still—for the 25-minute period of zazen. Notice that urges to move — to scratch your nose, to tug on your ear — are usually ways to move away from the energies in your body. Instead of moving, stay with them, observe them, and bring your focus back to the breathing. Learn to notice how these urges fall away. All the disparate ideas, thoughts, impulses — everything comes and goes, and yet you sit. And little by little, the chatter drops away and your body, breath, and mind are one. Zazen is so simple. We focus on our posture and on counting our breath, and this develops samadhi, a unified mind. It is about training the body and mind. Let the body settle, let the breath settle, let the mind settle. Don’t worry about whether your practice is working, don’t judge your performance, don’t tell yourself stories or find other ways to avoid this very moment. These are just ways of separating from our deepest intention and our zazen. When you do zazen, just do zazen. That’s enough.
Your posture in sitting is vitally important. Sit in an upright position straightening your spine. The easiest way to sit for a Westerner is usually on a wooden bench. When you sit on a cushion or chair be careful that your hips are higher than your knees. On a low cushion you can cross your legs in the lotus position, your knees touching the ground. On a high cushion your knees and lower legs are positioned beside the cushion.
Your ears are in line with your shoulders, your head balancing gently on your neck. Softly push back your chin so that your neck straightens up a little more. Your eyes are slightly open, gazing down about three feet in front of you.
Place your right hand in front of your belly (hara), about 2 inches below your navel. Your left hand covers the right hand and the thumbs are crossed.
If your necks hurts in the beginning or you feel tension in your shoulders place a small pillow below your hands so they can rest there. If your knees hurt find a position that is fine for you. You can place small pillows under your knees or ankles.
Now attend to the breath. Breathe naturally through your nose. Breathing in, allow the breath to fully enter your body until your lower belly expands; then, breathing out, softly allow the breath to ease out through your nostrils. Your belly should rise and fall naturally with each breath. Don’t try to influence your breath. Let your body breathe naturally.
As you relax into the breath, you can begin silently counting each full cycle of breath, noting “one” on the out-breath, “two” on the next out-breath, and so on up to “ten.” When you reach “ten,” begin again with “one.”
Keeping the concentration on your breathing is not easy in the beginning. Our brain is made to produce thoughts. And this is ok. Your first aim should be to get aware of your thoughts. Whenever a thought arises imagine that it is like a cloud wandering across the blue sky. You recognize it and let it pass by.
So when you realize that you have stopped counting, and are caught up in thinking, simply take another breath and go back to “one.”
After a while you will be able to concentrate on your breath even without counting. This is fine.
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