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Zazen Introduction

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Introduction

Meditation is not only something we do seated on a cushion or a chair.  It is the way we live our lives.  We can learn and practice specific forms of meditation in order to wake up to the reality that spiritual practice and daily life are not two different things. By living a life rooted in meditation, we have the opportunity to recognize our repeating patterns of suffering and begin to establish a more conscious relationship with these patterns so that they no longer control us.  Through this process, through living a life rooted in a disciplined, committed meditation practice, we have the opportunity finally fully experience the wonder of being alive.

Meditation is not medication.  It will not rescue us from our pain, from our moods.  It is not for escaping our discomfort or for fixing ourselves. Meditation is about facing ourselves–about developing the courage and commitment to be present to our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions on an ongoing basis, no matter what we’re doing.  When we live this way, when we bring meditation practice into all aspects of our lives, we gradually come to discover our innate wisdom and our essential unbrokenness.

Sitting Meditation

Even if you sit just for five minutes, do so each morning and each evening without question. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it is important that you do it. If you do, guaranteed your life will change, your life will heal.
During the meditation, focus your awareness on your breath, each in-breath and each out-breath. Feel your abdomen rising when breathing in, feel you abdomen contracting when you breathe out. There is nothing to be accomplished, nothing to be gained. Just pay attention. As thoughts and emotions arise, just notice them. Don’t attach yourself to them but also don’t reject them.

Instructions on sitting meditation

Each morning and each evening practice sitting meditation for at least five minutes. Find a comfortable, quiet place and, if you like, create a small altar with a candle, incense, and some flowers. You can do sitting meditation on a chair or a cushion.

Posture is very important in sitting meditation. It is itself an expression of awakening and it facilitates the easy flow of our breath.

If you sit on a chair, put your feet flat on the ground, and sit upright without leaning against the chair. If you sit on the floor, use a cushion or a small meditation bench to support your posture by lifting up you bottom so that your knees can easily touch the ground. You can sit crossed legged in the full or half lotus position or adaptations of this way of sitting. You can also sit in seiza, which means that you kneel and sit directly on your lower legs. A common adaptation of this position is to use a cushion or bench to support your bottom.

Line up the plane of your ears with your shoulders and your nose with your belly button. Put your shoulders back and lower your chin slightly. Find a comfortable position for your hands. This could be putting the back of the left hand in the right palm with the thumbs touching forming a circle, and holding this circle in front of your navel. Or you can simply rest your hands in your lap or on your thighs.

You can sit with your eyes open or closed. If you leave them open, close them slightly, picking a spot on the floor in front of you where you can let your gaze rest. If you keep them closed just be careful that you don’t fall asleep.

If you experience physical discomfort sit with that for a while. If it persists then slowly and mindfully shift your sitting posture slightly until the pain is relieved. Your “sitting muscles” — physical as well as mental and spiritual ones — will get stronger over time.

Walking Meditation

It can be helpful to incorporate walking meditation in your daily life, for example, doing it each day on the way to work or school can help settle the mind and can create a restful transition. Just slow down, pay attention to your breath and your steps.

Walk, just to walk. There is no goal or destination. You are walking in the here and now. Especially in times of upset and worry, walking meditation is a wonderful tool to help us stay centered and not get carried away by our thoughts and feelings.

Periods of sitting can be interspersed with walking meditation. When doing sitting meditation for longer periods of time or for multiple periods in a day, it is traditional to intersperse periods of walking meditation as a way of relaxing the body and preparing to sit again.

Instructions on walking meditation

Walking meditation is similar to sitting meditation, with the difference that we are now bringing our footsteps and our breath together. We coordinate our footsteps in relationship to our breathing. With each in-breath we take a step, and with each out-breath we take a step. We walk slowly and deliberately, not forcing a relationship between steps and breath but allowing for a harmonious relationship to develop. If we are in a group we walk together, one behind the other.

Find a comfortable position for your hands, such as clasped in front or behind your body. Lower your gaze and let it rest in front of you. Be aware of your feet touching the floor. We communicate through our feet with the earth and the entire universe.

Deep Listening & Mindful Speech

So much of our suffering gets acted out through the ways we communicate, the ways we listen (or fail to listen) and the way we express ourselves.

We have to start telling our stories so that we can become more acquainted with them and so that we are not doomed to repeat circles of suffering.

The practices of deep listening and mindful speech help us to become more aware and they help us to own and share our stories – the experiences that we’ve had in our families, in war, and elsewhere.

Instructions on this practice

For this practice, a small group comes together and sits in a circle. Find an object (any kind will do) and put it in the middle of the circle. Begin by allowing yourself to arrive there by taking a few conscious breaths in silence.
When the first person is moved to speak, he or she bows or uses another simple gesture to indicate the intention to pick up the object. With the object in hand, the first speaker breathes in and out three times. As long as you hold the object you are empowered to speak, and the others are empowered to listen.

There is no crosstalk in these groups. One person speaks and the others listen. There is no advice giving, no caretaking, no comforting, and no counseling.

When you speak, speak as honestly and personally as possible and make an effort not to speak from an intellectual perspective. You are invited to speak from a place of Shin (the “heart-mind”) and you have to find this place. You will know it when you find it because when you talk you will begin to tremble or sweat, and the words will pour out of your mouth without thought. Shin is that place deep within.

The circle is not a place for giving dharma talks, theological or philosophical statements or intellectual theories of any kind. It is helpful to stick with I-statements: “I feel..”, “I think…”, “I experience…”

If someone experiences strong feelings during the sharing, just let them be. Don’t just rush in to rescue them. If something is rising in you in reaction to what someone else has said, keep the focus on yourself and talk about your own feelings, thoughts, and perceptions – not someone else’s.

When you are finished with speaking, bow or make another gesture to the group to signal that you are finished and place the object back onto the center of the circle. Then sit silently until the next person bows and picks up the object.

There are no leaders in the group, and this is not a therapy group. The practice of deep listening and mindful speech often serves a therapeutic purpose, but it is essentially a form of a spiritual practice.

Critical to this process is anonymity. What’s said in the group stays within the group. This is essential in creating a safe place where healing can begin.

This practice is not always comfortable and easy, but it is a powerful one that supports us in waking up.

Eating Meditation

Zen Master Dogen is alleged to have taught that food is like medicine: in order for it to work it sometimes is bitter. You don’t just eat what is pleasurable but you consider the health of your body and mind. Like medicine, food is only healthy if there is a beneficial balance; too much doesn’t work, too little doesn’t work.

We all have to eat, but we usually don’t pay much attention to what we are eating, how we are eating it, and with whom we are eating. Eating in itself can become a drug that numbs our feelings and keeps us out-of-touch with ourselves. Eating meditation is a practice that helps us to bring our full awareness to the process of eating.

Instructions on eating meditation

The best preparation for eating meditation is to be hungry and to know that less is often more. When you sit down with a plate of food, before you start eating pause and take three conscious breaths. Then recite this verse out loud or internally:

➢ This food is the gift of the whole universe, the earth, the sky and much hard work.

➢ May we live in a way that makes us worthy to receive it.

➣ May we transform our unskillful states of mind, especially our greed.

➣ May we take only foods, which nourish us and prevent illness.

➣ We accept this food so that we may realize the path of practice of love, compassion, and peace.

Then start eating. If possible eat in silence. Chew each bite of food 50 times. The only thing that prevents you from doing this is swallowing the food too quickly. We have a habit of immediately swallowing. It’s as if we simply want to get it over with – in and down. Take your time to appreciate the wonderful gift of food, the smells, tastes, looks, and sounds.

Take fifteen minutes to practice eating meditation and your body will actually have a chance to inform you when you have eaten enough – a point that we often miss. Your body will be extremely grateful not to receive unchewed food and not to get too much or too little food, so that it can continue to serve us. At the end of the eating meditation breath in and out three times and say out loud or internally, thank you.

Working Meditation

When we practice working meditation, we experience our work as an expression of our caring and of our connectedness with life.

Work is a essential part of our lives. There are always things to be done, so we might as well use everyday tasks as opportunities to practice.

Be aware of every little details of your work. Make an effort to notice where you are off balance in your work style, and take a step towards more balance.

Instructions on Working Meditation

In working meditation, we work just to work. We just do what is in front of us to do, and at the end of a period of working we just step back and see what’s been accomplished.

The shortest instruction for working meditation is to stay connected with your breath as you work. As you do a task, whether it’s cleaning the dishes, cutting the grass, or conducting a business meeting, take the time to notice all the details – how things look, feel, smell. Be aware of what you perceive to be pleasant or unpleasant. Notice all the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise as you work, and remain connected to your breath.

If you are someone who always works alone, ask someone for help. If you keep yourself mostly to the side and let others take initiative, then be a little more assertive. If you have a tendency to work to quickly, slow down.

 

When we practice working meditation, we experience our work as an expression of our caring and of our connectedness with life. Work is a fundamental part of our lives. There are always things to be done, so we might as well use everyday tasks as opportunities to practice.

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