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March 23, 2009

Meditation is often presented as a difficult task requiring hard training. Alternatively, it is also often presented as just sitting and letting your mind wander. In fact, true meditation is neither of these, but stands in the middle as one of few activities promoting both relaxation and poise. In my opinion, one of the best methods of learning meditation is the Zen Buddhist practice of zazen.

The word zazen has been most commonly rendered “just sitting” and “sitting meditation”. Both of those are good descriptions, but neither one does the job entirely for somebody approaching the subject for the first time.

Before you can begin at all, make sure that you can be alone in relative quiet for 20 to 30 minutes.

In order to practice zazen, you must first find a comfortable position in which you can relax, yet remain poised with your back straight. The traditional pose is sitting cross-legged with your butt set on a cushion just high enough to keep your back straight and avoid slumping. Another good position is sitting on a chair just high enough that your thighs are parallel to the floor and your feet are flat. Either way, keep your back straight, tuck your chins lightly to straighten the top of your spine, and set your hands in a relaxed way forward on your thighs toward your knees so that your arms are comfortably bent.

Look straight ahead and fix your gaze on a single point; neither strain your eyes nor allow them to unfocus, but instead look at your chosen point in a relaxed fashion. Now, spend the entire 20 to 30 minute session in this position. Do not try to force thoughts out of your mind, nor should you try to concentrate on any one thought or group of thoughts. Instead, simply observe your thoughts going by. Observe your physical sensations, your emotional states, your breathing, everything. The only times you need bring focus or concentration on anything are when you need to adjust to keep your back straight or your eyes on the chosen point.

With time, the entire process will come quite easily and you will find you never need to readjust your posture or the focus of your eyes. I recommend that you practice zazen daily, especially if you have not practiced meditation previously. Experience with zazen will aid in learning any other type of meditation in the future.

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