Zen is all about focus. Meditation or ‘Zazen,’ is an exercise in creating a one-pointedness of mind. The comparison with muddy water is often made. In calm water the mud sinks to the bottom and the water becomes clear.
Place and Time
Find a time of the day and a place in the house where you won’t be disturbed. Just before or after your daily activities is best. In the morning it will prepare you for the rest of the day. In the evening it will help you relax before going to bed. It’s best to do both but if you just have time (ask yourself why ?) to meditate only once per day choose between the one or the other. Alternating will bring unrest. Set an alarm of some sort so you don’t have to watch the clock to know if ‘meditation-time’ is over.
Find a position to meditate that’s comfortable to you. The full-lotus posture (with legs intertwined, left foot over right thigh, and right foot over left thigh.) is not necessary. You can just cross your legs or sit on a chair. I sit in the half-lotus posture myself because it is a special posture I only use while meditating. This way I am physically reminded that I’m doing Zazen and nothing else. You can use a small cushion or a small foam exercise mat if you want. Using a good meditation cushion helps a lot, you should get a ‘Zafu’ (upper cushion) and a ‘Zabuton’ (lower cushion).
Half Lotus posture
– Sit down on the floor, cross your legs.
– Bend your left leg until the sole rests on the inside of your right thigh.
– The calf of your left leg should be as close to the inside of your left thigh as you can.
– Bend your right leg until you can grab your right foot.
– Place it on the fold of your left leg and push your right knee as far down as possible.
Your hands are placed in each other with the palm upright. You can also let your hands rest on your knees with the palm down. Buddha was said to have one finger on the ground to ask the earth to bear witness to his rightful struggle for enlightenment.
Keep your back straight and your shoulders relaxed and at the same height. Your eyes should not be closed or wide open but something in between.
In Zen everybody is a beginner…, but some are more of a beginner than others.
The first few times, try meditation for 5 or 10 minutes. Not longer but also not shorter, try to reach that 5 minutes. Later you can extend your meditation to 20 or 30 minutes. Some zencenters meditate for as long as 45 minutes. In my personal experience 20-25 minutes works
the best for me. Remember the Zen Path is a personal one, do what suits you best.
Sit and Breathe
All right, we’ve come to the most important part of this page: what is it you actually do when you meditate ?
I’ll start by telling what it is not. Zen-meditation is not trying to get in some sort of trance. It is not daydreaming or to stop thinking. Neither should you try to control your mind. Zazen is to practice to experience directly. To not pass judgement or analyze your sensorial experiences and thoughts. For that is all they are: just your senses being triggered. It is not reality itself. Just sit and let the world pass by. Thoughts may come but you will not follow them.
Count your Breaths
When you start your meditation first take a few moments to ‘ground’ yourself. Sway a bit to make sure you’re sitting balanced. Listen to the sounds that surround you. Feel the air on your skin and the ground beneath you.
Then move your attention to your breath, make sure you are breathing with your belly and not your chest. Feel where you experience your breath the most. Is it in your nose, your throat, your belly ? Focus here and imagine the air flowing at this point. Now it is time to start counting: one with the inhalation, two with the first exhalation, three with the second inhalation. Keep counting until you reach ten. If you lose count because some of those darn thoughts came up don’t be angry or think you can’t do this. Just start at one and go on until you reach ten.
Check your posture once in a while but try to sit as still as you can. Do Zazen with everything you’ve got. When you’ve got some experience with meditation you can try to stop counting and just focus on your breath. Then you’re really ‘just sitting’.
If the alarm goes off don’t stand up immediately but take some time to slowly come back. Try to hold on to the state of mind you had during meditation. Don’t start thinking about all the things you have to do. Just stand up and do your next task with the same awareness as you did Zazen.