How to do Zazen – Seated Meditation
Hi, I am Patrick and today we are talking about Zazen and how to do it. Meditation isn’t just for buddhas or monks; it’s for everybody that can be done at almost any time. So lets get started. When you sit, you are going to want to elevate your pelvis. The most useful thing for this is something like a Zafu, it’s a round Japanese shape. But honestly anything will work, a pillow folded in half, a rolled up blanket is just as good. Don’t let not having a zafu keeping you away from starting your meditation.
As you sit, you want to have a stable base as possible. This cross legged posture for example, might be comfortable at first, but it’s not as stable, and after a few minutes, your legs will fall asleep, and you will become uncomfortable. A much better choice is something like this, Burmese sitting. You can see the base is much wider. This one is accessible for almost all people, and it’s pretty comfortable. Another choice is half-lotus. This is a great posture, just be sure on your both sides you can get a hip balance all the time.
And finally, classic full-lotus posture. Don’t force yourself in any of these poses, they are not crucial to Zazen, you can do Zazen sitting on a chair, standing on the subway. These gestures are some helpful classic styles. As we our base, lets move on to the hands. In classic Japanese style the dominant hand is on bottom. The other hand is on it’s top. The thumbs slightly come together to make kind of an x shape. These thumbs could be a mindfulness indicator, that you are squishing them together strongly, there is too much energy in the meditation, it will fall and open, it’s a little bit lazy and sleepy. Just keep them lightly barely touched.
Most important physical component of meditation is the spine. Often after a few minutes people are starting to look like this, with a curved soft spine. This will make your meditation dull and useless. On the other hand of the spectrum I see a lot of people, especially tough dudes trying to look like this, ramrod straight, this is completely wrong, so wrong muscles. It’s the wrong muscles. If you want to sit straight, you have to use your inner muscles recoil, not the surface muscles of your shoulder and chest. Also you don&’t lean too far forward, or too far back. A tall relaxed spine sitting squarely on the pelvis would give you more mental clarity, if there is any kind of chanting, visual views or that type of thing.
Another thing to look out for is the shoulders. After a few minutes, you might find your shoulders rising up towards the ears, filling with tension. This is natural, you have to say to everybody, if you notice your shoulders are tensed, just exhale and let them follow through, let the chest relax, come back into a stable center line, keeping your focus on the belly or the typical moves. I really enjoy the Soto style, of sitting, facing the wall. In this way your eyes have something to look at without getting distracted. You may feel tempted to close the eyes, but when you close the eyes it’s easy to fall in the dreamland, and usually get distracted.
Zazen can be done from anywhere between 15 minutes to one hour. If you’re just starting, keep the time short, it’s a very deep practice. Don’t go overboard.
The idea of the zazen is to have a clear empty mind without chattering thought. But if you are like most people something like this would happen.
Like a monkey you are constantly climbing from tree to tree, the mind meets some random thoughts or random thought. Through Zazen we can learn to tame this manic, mental chattering. If you are really having trouble quieting your monkey mind, you can try some counting breaths. It’s just a simple game. Breathing in is one, breathing out, two, breathing in, three. The only rule of the game is, if you have the straight thought like I am hungry, you need to go back to zero, and start from the beginning. Lets it try again.
I am only half as serious with these actions and things. You shouldn’t get discourgaed. Failing like this is actually a practice. Most people feel like they are in the driver seat of their mind, directing it where they wanted to go, but just a few minutes of Zazen will show you that your mind does its own thing, it goes all over the place without your control. Mind does good for you, as soon as you say, don&’t think, more thoughts come in. In fact, don’t think is a thought, and you move through everyday, having many dialogs with yourselves over and over again. When we see a homeless person talking to himself on the street, we say he is crazy.
But the only difference between him and us is that we keep our mental chatter locked up inside our skulls, this is the gift of meditation. You learn you are not your thoughts, you can imagine the thoughts are like clouds. You can relate it with nothing, constantly shifting changing shapes. Behind the clouds, always there is the sky, clear, ready, we also a have a deep purity that’s obscured by our everyday thinking about it. At times you will get a glimpse of this purity, you will feel something like this.
But at times you will be so wrapped inside your thoughts, you will feel like this. But it shouldn’t get you wrapped up in these highs and lows. In fact, 90% of the time, the Zazen would be like this.
Yes, Zazen is boring, but it’s also one of the greatest adventures that we are going to experience.