|Zazen (sitting meditation)
Zazen is at the heart of Zen; it opens the eye to wisdom and the heart to compassion. When you sit in Zazen, you return to the present moment again and again. In this way you learn to experience your life vividly, without a veil of thoughts and fantasies clouding your mind.
Ideally sit in a clean tidy room, in moderate light, at a moderate temperature. It is lovely to arrange a special place and establish a little altar with flowers, candles and a Buddha image.
Once a day
Try and sit at least once a day, starting with say, 10 minutes. Most find it best to have a set time and place i.e. early morning. In the Zendo each sit is generally 25 minutes; work towards that in your home sitting.
Zen is a practice
A practice is something that we offer ourselves to, again and again. We tend to evaluate our practice: 'I'm doing well' or 'that was lousy'. But really, our practice ripens in the dark, untouched by our restricted notions of 'good' and 'bad'.
Zazen is meticulous work; posture and breath are very important.
We usually sit on a special mediation cushion (zafu) and mat (zabuton). If you do not have a zafu, try yoga blocks made of firm foam. As a mat you can also use a couple of folded blankets. It is important to sit still, so that body and mind can come to rest. If you are injured or infirm, you can sit on a chair. Just make sure that your back is upright.
Try out the sitting positions demonstrated here. Sitting cross-legged is a very stable position. Burmese is the cross-legged position where knees are on the mat with legs crossed in front of each other. Seiza is a kneeling position where you sit astride a cushion or wooden Seiza stool.
Sit up straight. Bring your sternum (breast bone) up and out - shoulders relaxed - belly soft. Rock gently from side to side until you find the central point of balance.
The posture of meditation allows us to begin to soften our rigidities. The more we are able to soften the holding and tightness in our bodies, the easier it is to open the heart.
Notice the tension in your shoulders, arms, and back - allow it to flow away with every out-breath.
Mudra (hand position)
Rest your right hand on your thigh, place your left hand on top with thumb tips lightly touching.
Keep your eyes slightly open. If you sit with closed eyes, you will be more likely to be swept away by thoughts and fantasies.
Thoughts and emotions are not the enemy of meditation. Let your awareness be a kind witness to your endless procession of thoughts and feelings.
Learning to work with thoughts is part of Zen training; as your practice deepens, this work gets easier. Be aware of your thoughts, gently put it to one side and come back to the breath. Your practice deepens with every time you bring yourself back to the present moment. Celebrate each return!
Breathing is the universal foundation for meditation practice. Let the breath be at the center of your practice. Let it be the anchor that keeps your mind steady.
It is helpful to practise counting the breath to cultivate with samadhi (single-pointed attention):
Breathe softly into your belly. On the out-breath silently count one. On the next out-breath two and so on until four, then return to one. When you notice that your thoughts have drifted away simply return to one When you return to 'one', you return to the present moment. As you get more experienced in breath-counting, go up to ten each time.
As you practise, issues will come and go. Talk to others in your Sangha. Read, attend talks, sits, workshops, and retreats. You have an opportunity for a personal interview in Dokusan (private interview with the teacher).
.*New - Zafus and Zabutons for sale @ $48 each or $90 for the set (plus postage). please email Jan. *these are the black meditation cushion and mat we use.
Some helpful words of wisdom
Spiritual transformation is a profound process that doesn't happen by accident. We need a repeated discipline, a genuine training, in order to let go of our old habits of mind and to find and sustain a new way of seeing.
Zen is a teaching about how we can sit with stillness in the midst of our self, our heart, our breath and the world, and then to let them open into our wider self and into the world of other people. IN this mind, the world passes transparently through us and we start to feel how there is neither outside nor inside. Everyday this practice touches more and more of our life, and we come to know what the koans and sutras are talking about.
Richard Baker Roshi.
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