Be patient

I was reading a post on LinkedIn the other day and the person said that they meditate twice a day for an hour each time. To me this was a long time to sit as I am now sitting 20 – 25 minutes in the morning and this took some time to reach even this modest amount of time. When I first started meditating I was lucky to reach 10 minutes without completely losing focus and thinking about all of my issues, concerns, dislikes, and problems. I guess the message of this post is that you need to be patient and not compare yourself to those who sit for long periods of time. In my own practice it took me several months to work my way up to comfortably sitting for 20 minutes at a time. My advice to those starting out would be as follows:

  • Make your initial target 10 minutes, and use a timer.  I use a clock app on my phone and this works pretty good.
  • You might try using music to help you get into the right frame of mind. I use a Yoga station on Pandora which works for me.
  • At first you might try counting breaths do help drown out other thoughts. This technique is really forcing you mind to think of counting each breath, say from 1 to 10 and then start over.
  • Find the most quiet place in your dwelling and invest in a Zubuton and Zafu.  The Zubuton is a thick mat and the Zafu is a round or rectangular sitting cushion. (see below, about $65 at Amazon)
  • Having a Zubuton and Zafu make it more comfortable to sit, especially if you are sitting in half or full lotus.
  • You can meditate with your eyes open or eyes closed. If you are following the Zen Buddhism method you will keep your eyes open. I’ve done both, but prefer eyes open as I am less likely to feel sleepy.
  • Sit with your back as straight as possible.
  • Meditate in the morning if possible, as it is a great way to start your day.

Above all, give yourself a break, even 10 minutes of meditation per day is extremely helpful in centering yourself and becoming mindful. Like I mentioned it took me months to work up to 20 minutes a day, as there were lots of things going on in my mind and it can take time to stay seated for longer periods of time. What I can say is that being consistent helps, if at all possible meditate on a daily basis. The more you sit the easier it becomes.

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Zubuton and Zafu

Namaste

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The Lectures (1 Theory and Practice of Zazen)

In my last post I mentioned that I was reading a fascinating book called the Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau.  I mentioned the practice of zazen which is arguably a very prescriptive form of meditation. As my reading has progressed the author is covering lectures given by his master Yasuntani-roshi starting with 1 Theory and Practice of Zazen. It should be noted that even the Buddha Shakyamuni devoted himself exclusively to zazen for six years before attaining enlightenment. Now he was the Buddha so for the rest of us your time may vary, and yes for most of us could be considerably longer. However with that said there is no average time frame and one should not feel any sense of urgency as the journey is as important as the goal.

In this lecture Yasuntani-roshi goes further into some of the details around the practice of zazen; here are a few points made during the lecture:

  • Work on creating a base when sitting full lotus (see picture), half lotus, or quarter lotus sitting positions are preferred. However there are other sitting positions that will provide a good base such as the Burmese posture (see picture below) or traditional Japanese knelling posture (see picture below).
  • Notice the back must be erect and straight, the eyes open, and the hands will typically be held with the right hand underneath the thumbs touching.
  • Yasuntani-roshi recommends sitting no more than 30 – 40 minutes at a time, otherwise the mind will lose its sharpness. Beginners should start with 5 – 10 minutes until they become comfortable. I started out with about 10 minutes, and now can sit for 20 minutes or so after several weeks of gradually adding time. It was not something I did in any systematic fashion, instead it just naturally became easier to sit for longer periods of time as the frequency of sitting increased. The more you sit and meditate the more you look forward to it, and the easier it becomes to sit for longer periods of time.
Burmese sitting position

Burmese sitting position

full lotus

full lotus

 

As zazen is the key element to Zen Buddhism it is very exacting. It is worth studying to make sure you are approaching it correctly.

Japanese sitting position

Japanese sitting position

Namaste!