This is a guest post by Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen
Zen meditation is not only a way to feel more peaceful or get rid of stress – it’s an amazing journey into the unknown.
Maybe you are a beginner and have never meditated before. Or maybe you are an experienced meditator.
In any case, it’s important to approach meditation with Beginner’s Mind. Approach each meditation as if it were for the very first time.
Zen meditation is called Zazen.
Which simply means ’seated meditation’. Read through the following instructions in order to find out how to do it. If you already know about that, read through anyhow. I’m sure you will find something to inspire you.
Preparation for Zazen
There are some basic practical steps you can take to make your sitting more comfortable.
- Find a time when you will be undisturbed. Take the phone off the hook and ask your partner, friends or others in the house not to disturb you for the time you will be meditating.
- It’s good to sit in a space that is quiet and uncluttered. Turn off the stereo or TV. For many of us it will be impossible to find total quiet and we may still hear neighbors playing loud music or cars racing in the street. That’s alright – it can help us come back to the present moment.
- It’s best not to meditate on a full stomach if you can, and wear comfortable loose clothing.
- You might want to create a small ritual before zazen to help set the scene and allow you to move into the meditative space. This may be as simple as lighting a candle, taking a short walk around the garden, or having a special cup of tea.
If you’re new to meditation, remember that it’s a practice. At first it will feel strange and awkward – but in time you’ll feel the benefits in your life.
The value of good posture
Someone once asked me:
“What’s the most important thing when meditating?”
I said, “Posture!”
Posture is important because body and mind are directly linked. When the body is upright and well aligned, the mind is in balance and still.
It’s important for the body to be as relaxed as possible, while still keeping the integrity of your upright posture. In his book, The Posture of Meditation, Will Johnson says:
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.
Further down, I’ll describe various postures for zazen (Zen meditation), but alignment is important in every one of them. Zazen is meticulous work and details are important. How we hold our body, for example, or how we breathe is important. You need to be as comfortable as possible during zazen so that you can sit without moving.
When you were a child and played with building blocks, you found that if you wanted to pile them one on top of each other to make a high tower, you had to align them vertically. If you didn’t, the tower would soon crash. It’s the same when doing Zazen. If our posture is upright, we can make friends with gravity, instead of fighting it.
In his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki said:
You should not be tilted sideways, backward, or forwards. You should be sitting straight up as if you were supporting the sky with your head…When you have this posture, you have the right state of mind, so there is no need to try to attain some special state.
We can meditate in a number of different positions – on a cushion, on a bench, on a chair or even lying down (though I don’t recommend this one as it is too easy to fall asleep).
The instructions on how to sit in each of these positions is described below.
When we are sitting in meditation, the posture we are trying to achieve is as follows:
- A steady stable position;
- The spine in a natural alignment
- The head level (chin not tilted up or down)
If you are going to meditate in the first three of the following positions, you will need a mat and a firm cushion or two. The mat could be a couple of folded blankets. Or you can get a proper Zen mat, called zabuton and a sitting cushion, called zafu.
The most important thing is to be comfortable when you meditate so that your body and mind can be still. Here are some positions you can choose from.
Place your cushion or cushions to the back of your mat. Sit cross-legged on the front half your cushion so that your knees come down onto the mat.
Place your legs one in front of the other. If your knees are up off the ground, place some support cushions underneath.
Seiza is a kneeling position where the backside is supported. You can either use a seiza bench for this or sit astride a couple of cushions that you have placed on your mat.
Sit as in Burmese posture but bring one foot or both feet right up on to your thighs. This is called lotus. Stretches can help you work towards this. But do not force this posture as you can cause lasting damage to knees and hips.
If you have pain sitting in Burmese or in seiza, you may want to use a chair. Choose an upright chair and sit well back so that your spine is straight. Your feet should rest on the ground. If your legs are too short to reach the ground, place a firm support cushion under your feet.
Hand position (Mudra)
Rest your right hand on your thigh and place your left hand onÂ top with thumb tips lightly touching. The shape of your hands should be a flattened oval as if you are holding something precious. Your thumb-tips are like a bio-feedback mechanism: If you are thinking, your thumbtips
Keep your eyes slightly open. This is important. If you sit with closed eyes, you will be more likely to be swept away by thoughts and fantasies.
What to do with the mind
You knew the mind of meditation when you were little! Just imagine that you’re a kid playing hide and seek.You’re hiding behind a curtain, waiting to be found. All senses sharp and your attention given fully on the task.
The ‘hide-and-seek’ mind is the mind of zazen
There is no need to be grim when you sitting on your mat. You can try a little smile!
The miracle of breath
Breathing is a universal foundation for meditation practice. Each breath is like the cycle of life itself – being born, coming to maturity, fading away, and finally dying.
I suggest that you take up a very simple and beautiful breath meditation that Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches:
As you breathe in, silently say “in”, as you breathe out, silently say “out”.
You will find that your mind wanders. That’s natural. Simply bring yourself back to your breath and, saying “in” and “out”.
Zen meditation can transform your life over time. It’s a wonderful way to feel more peaceful or get rid of stress – and it’s an amazing and mysterious path into the unknown.