I fell in love with Zen meditation at one of the oldest Zen Meditation Centers in San Francisco many years ago. What I liked the most about Zen meditation is its refinement. It truly seems to be an essence of minimalism. At least it seems this way on the surface.
First, lets define what is Zen meditation. Zen Buddhist meditation is called Zazen, which means simply “to sit” or “seated meditation”. And that’s how it’s practitioners refer to it. Zazen is in the heart of Zen Buddhism. This article primarily describes the technical aspects of how to do Zen meditation. Zen is a concentration or tranquility meditation practice. The objective is to focus your full attention on a single object.
As with any meditation practice, the spiritual side of Zen practice is far reaching and should not be understated. Meditation can benefit virtually all aspects of your life. By allowing yourself the time to simply reflect on yourself is invaluable. Separating yourself from the ego and experiencing life as-is can guide you to discovering yourself and your true purpose in life.
1. Zen Meditation Techniques
Based on personal preference and your comfort level, you can simply sit on the floor mat or use a Zafu pillow or a Seiza bench. Make sure to wear comfortable, loose fitting clothes. You should not be restricted while meditating in any way.
Consider your comfort level as you don’t want to focus on the pain in your joints instead of the meditation. With practice, you can achieve considerable comfort while maintaining a correct posture. There are six different positions that you should experiment with to determine the one most comfortable for you. They are:
Chair – though not a traditional meditation accessory, I highly recommend the chair for those who may have a difficulty sitting in the more classic positions. Those who are older, injured or have physical challenges will find the chair an excellent support for meditation. When sitting on the chair, keep your spine perpendicular to the floor and don’t lean back.
Half Lotus – in this position, you will place your left foot on the right thigh, and tuck your right leg underneath the left thigh.
Full Lotus – the most classic (and most difficult) of all meditation positions. In this position, you place each foot on the opposite thigh. It’s a very stable position and worth practicing if you are able to. However, if you have pain or injuries, it is not recommended as this may distract you from the meditation itself.
Burmese – cross your legs, and have both of your knees resting on the floor. Don’t cross the ankles, keep them one in front of the other.
Kneeling – also called Seiza position. You will kneel on the floor, resting your torso on your ankles. You may also use a Seiza bench for this position to take the pressure off the knees.
Standing – though not technically a position, standing meditation is used by people who are unable to sit for extended period of time. Stand up straight with the feet shoulder width apart. and your toes slightly out. Rest your hands on the abdomen, with the right hand over the left.
2. Zen Meditation Hand Gesture
Fold your hands in what is called the Cosmic Mudra. Your right hand palm up, supporting your left hand, also palm up. Thumb tips lightly touching together. Rest both hands on the lap.
3. Zen Meditation Practice
The yes can be closed or slightly opened. The gaze should be directed at the spot between your eyebrows. If you choose to have your eyes open, it is beneficial to sit in front of a plain white wall and simply focus on the spot in front of your face. The tip of your tongue should lightly touch the roof of your mouth.
Begin counting each exhalation from one to ten. When you get to ten, start over. As thoughts arise in your mind, gently acknowledge them and allow them to pass. Try not to dwell on them. Again, direct your attention back to counting. Try to gradually merge yourself with the breath. This is the essence of practice.
Your goal is to fully suspend your thoughts by maintaining your focus on counting the breath. With daily Zen meditation practice, this process will eventually become easier. It’s truly a matter of consistency. Initially, it doesn’t matter how long you sit, or how you sit.
I advise that you begin by sitting for not more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time. As you become more experienced, you can increase this time in increments of 5 – 10 minutes. There is no time limit for this practice.
Dedicating an area or a room to your practice is very beneficial since meditation requires a quiet, isolated environment. You should also have a goal of creating a habit of meditating. Like any other healthy habit, it requires dedication and repetition. Associating a particular location with meditation will assist with this process.
The beauty of Zen meditation is its simplicity. But don’t get fooled by it though. This practice takes much dedication and time to master. There are volumes that have been written exploring the details of this meditation, but these are beyond the scope of this article.
There is a profound stillness that reveals itself to us when we are in a state of complete peace. Zen is a way of getting in touch with the self. It is a way to experience life in it’s purest form. Detached from yourself and yet fully aware. After your sessions, carry that feeling of peace and freedom with you into your daily life.
4. Zen Meditation Supplies
The following are some basic meditation accessories that are used to assist with sitting. The most important meditation accessory by far is your desire for the practice. Everything else takes a back seat to that. Meditation can be performed without any specials supplies, (I’m pretty sure that Buddha did not have any of these) although they make life a bit easier!
Seiza bench – a low Zen meditation bench with the seat angled down. This allows for a very comfortable kneeling position while the body’s weight is supported by the seat of the bench instead of the knees.
Zafu – a round Zen meditation pillow traditionally filled with buck weed. It is used to elevate the body from the floor, while sitting in the lotus or half lotus positions. It can also be used perpendicularly to the floor for straddling while in the seiza position instead of the Seiza bench.
Zabuton – a Zen meditation cushion, or a mat used underneath the Zafu. It serves as a cushion for the legs while seated on the Zafu. It also keeps the Zafu from touching the floor directly.
Zabuton can also be used independently for those who are more experienced in the more advanced meditation positions such as the lotus and don’t require to be elevated by the Zafu. In some cases, Zabuton is also used to support the Seiza bench.
Zen meditation clock – this is a good idea, when you have limited time and need to remind yourself when your meditation session is over. Select Zen meditation chimes or a timer with a gentle alert so as not to startle yourself from the sessions.
Finally, you may want to consider a guided Zen meditation course or a program. These are available from reputable sources. Do your research to find the one that works best for you and your needs.
Live well. Vlad