Meditation is the vehicle of Zen.
When I attended a Zen teaching I realized that meditation was not being practiced as a refreshing reset of the mind but an endurance sport. My legs went to sleep, my butt ached and my back hurt. It was a grand effort to keep my mind empty while my body was expected to remain in a stress position. After what seemed an eternity we hobbled up and did walking meditation around the room and then back to the torture.
It is said that during Japanese Zen meditation in monasteries Zen masters walk around with bamboo canes and whip the backs of neophytes that are flagging in their meditation zeal.
I can’t believe that this is what the Buddha expected.
The Buddha’s awakening was that cold water from a well was delightful and refreshing; that a young girl was beautiful and that simple rice tasted delicious.
After searching for the meaning of life the Buddha realized that the meaning had always been surrounding him, but he had been too distracted to see. Being alive is being in the moment and the ability to put aside distraction and enjoy the Now.
Meditation helps us to control distractive thoughts and to focus the mind. There are monkeys in our minds and they swing from tree to tree and constantly chatter. Through meditation we can learn to calm the monkeys and take control of our own thoughts.
Joan Sutherland said it best in This Floating World: “Awakening is not a destination and meditation is not a bus ride.”
Meditation is simply a tool to empty your mind and relax your body – to empty your thought process so that subsequently you can focus on the present without distractions from the past, or the future or fantasies of how you would like things to be.
Zen meditation is known as Zazen.
Zazen aims to develop the individual’s power of concentration.
- Find a quiet pleasant place to meditate.
- Provide a cushion or pillow to raise your butt allowing you to comfortably cross your legs in front of you.
- I place one hand in the other in my lap with thumbs touching (I find that after practicing this a while it becomes an automatic indicator to the mind that it is time for meditation.)
- I prefer to close my eyes at the beginning and begin focusing on my breathing while consciously relaxing my body, but at the same time keeping an upright posture.
- Some people count their breaths but I find that distracting; I prefer to visualize the air going into my lungs and then expelling. I visualize this process over and over while slowing down the breaths as the body relaxes.
- The monkeys will try to run through your mind and distract you with random thoughts. When this happens you don’t give them pride of place, but refocus on your breath.
- You might start with five minutes; but stop if you become uncomfortable – you can increase time with practice
- When you are done, sit for a few moments and continue to regulate your breathing while you look around – come out peacefully.
“A thought rises. A thought last awhile. A thought goes away. What a relief it is when every passing thought or reaction doesn’t automatically take pride of place, doesn’t need us to bend the world according to its whim” Joan Sutherland
I can have my blood pressure taken, then place my hands together with thumbs touching and clear my mind and have the blood pressure taken again, and it will have dropped at least ten points.
Meditation works in the moment to calm you; but with constant practice it helps your ability to stay focused on the activity and surrounding of each moment.
The beauty of life, the meaning of life is happening in the present moment if you can only take the time to see it.