All thoughts whether positive or negative, are mutable and impermanent, they will always have a beginning, middle and an end. It has been commonly noted that thought is the sickness of the human mind and from a Buddhist point of view, that is very accurate. ~ The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau
I have always searched for methods and techniques to help me enhance my life: to be more efficient, to find balance and success in all aspects of being, to be able to control my emotions, discover ways to live by design and not by default, etc. Interestingly, the tool that has helped the most -and ironically, the one I had overlooked the most- has been the simplest of them all: Zazen.
I have been practicing it daily for over a year, and the results have been impressive. Meditating 20 minutes a day has helped me become better at:
- Accepting and understanding myself and others
- Quieting my mind and interrupting toxic thought loops.
- Limiting the energy wasted at overanalyzing and procrastinating.
- Becoming aware and halting patterns of worry (fear of the future) and/or regret (fear of the past).
- Being lucid and mindful.
- Developing my power of concentration.
- Being content.
- Finding beauty, peace and harmony in simple things.
- Increasing my self-compassion rather than my self-esteem.
- Being grateful, etc.
Zazen can be practiced anywhere and anytime. There is no need to memorize mantras, progressions, prayers, etc., and nothing is needed besides a comfortable place to sit. The more that you practice it the sooner you will realize that Zazen is very intimate, and it lends itself to make it your own: you could just sit and breathe, you could combine it with other types of meditations or visualizations, or you may employ it as a gateway to self-hypnosis. Zazen in itself is like a Koan: it has no rules and it doesn’t seem to make sense -until your practice it.
The basic steps are as follows:
- Sit in a chair, or in the floor in half or full lotus position. If you are sitting in the floor you can use a zafu or a cushion.
- Straighten your back and your neck. Your posture should be erect and relaxed.
- Open or close your eyes. I prefer to have my eyes halfway opened, focused on the ground about 3 ¼ feet away in front of me (I notice that when I close my eyes I start visualizing or dozing off to sleep).
- Hands should rest on your lap and against the tanden (area of the lower belly four fingers widths below the navel).
- Practice “belly-breathing” (known as pramayana, diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, etc.). Air enters the lungs and the stomach (not the ribs) expands during this type of breathing. As you exhale, imagine of your stomach as an open bellow, letting out air slowly (on a side note, I have noticed that I prefer a cadence of 7 counts in the inhalation and 28 counts on the exhalation).
- Your focus will be directed inward on your breathing. If you feel the urge to fidget or scratch, then try to resist these urges and simply observe those feelings. The act of observing restless feelings rather than reacting to them will have a positive and calming effect.
- For the first week try counting the inhale and the exhale. If you get distracted, and lose your count, gently go back to the beginning and start again.
- Once you are better at it, then just count the exhale.
- Once you dominate this stage, then just sit and breathe.
You should aim to practice Zazen at least 10 minutes every day. As mentioned above, I practice it for 20 minutes and that is enough for me. Practice Zazen every day for 30 days and in the comments section share with us your experience.
I hope this was helpful and that you enjoy and reap the fruits that comes from this simple and powerful form of meditation.