Meditation is a wonderful and easy practice. I see it as a way to sit quietly as my mind gets into neutral gear, leading to a nice state of calm. A state where it is easy to appreciate everything I have.
Zen is the practice of returning to this moment. Rather than getting away from our life, it is about getting into our life just as it is, in all its glory – a sort of awakening to ourselves and generally feeling responsible for life.
Zen meditation, also called Zazen, is an easy and uncomplicated practice. You sit, and start where you are, and finish where you are. In the process, you develop an awareness of whatever you experience without thinking about it or trying to change it.
You don’t even need to aim for a state of calm or stillness – the goal is non-judgmental awareness. This facilitates letting go – and the calm and peace are welcome side benefits.
It is a super-easy practice that follows this sequence:
- You sit comfortably
- You relax
- Each time you feel a thought coming, you acknowledge it and let it go. You do this repeatedly.
- Finally you surrender all thought and gently detach yourself and stay alert, present in this moment.
As a mindfulness meditation practice, Zazen achieves the wonderful challenge of awakening you to the present moment, while gently urging you to let go, so that you see the world exactly as it is. This means you immerse yourself in the present moment with no thoughts interfering with the experience.
How to do Zazen
Best time to practice Zazen is in the morning. Start with 10 minutes and gradually build it up to 30 minutes a day.
What you need to get started:
- 10 minutes
- A quiet place
- Some space, without distractions.
- A mat
- A cushion
Breathing is one of the basic parts of Zazen, along with the right posture. You can do it sitting, standing or walking. I like the sitting pose. Sometimes I sit cross-legged on a mat, or with my legs folded under me (kneel and then sit on the heels) – and tuck a cushion under my behind – more comfy that way. You are welcome to sit in a straight-backed chair if you have mobility issues – the whole idea is to be comfortable. I also like to do a couple of stretching moves to loosen up before settling down.
It is important to sit straight, back and head upright, with chin tucked in a little, just like a photographer tells you when you get that passport photo taken.
I sit with eyes open without focusing on anything, paying attention to my breathing – inhaling and exhaling through the mouth as I sway gently from right to left, thrice. And then switch to breathing through my nose. As I breathe, I count with every inhale, exhale for as long as it takes for my mind to become Zen. Sometimes it is 10, sometimes it can be 100. Whatever the count, it feels good.
I also like to bring my hands together in front, left hand resting on the right, palms facing up, tips of thumbs touching. It feels peaceful.
Now, let me show you how to enjoy my version of Zazen meditation and reach your bliss.
Here is what you do:
- Start by sitting straight and breathe long satisfying breaths. Imagine you’re sprinkling some magic happiness on the universe.
- As you observe a thought coming in, give it a hug and let it go on its way, as though you were releasing a soft white dove. Let it drift away!
- Repeat this with every thought that comes in.
- As you keep doing it, you’ll start to feel a sense of bliss.
- As your mind syncs with your breathing, sit and just be! Open up the space in your life, your mind.
Wasn’t that quite easy?
- No need to try too hard and give up before you learn to enjoy it. Do it without expectations.
- Embrace it exactly as it is – the essence of mindful living.
I prefer to accept and hug each thought that comes in and accept it, rather than just acknowledge it before allowing it to go.
See, gratitude and appreciation make you feel much better. So start Zazen by focusing on something you appreciate. This could be anything from that bar of chocolate that’s calling your name or the wonderful family you have, or something you’re expecting to happen. Visuallize it and you’ll find yourself feeling cheerful almost right away.
The moment you get into gratitude mode, you become attentive, aware.
We are aware that meditation, in general, comes with a number of benefits – it reduces stress, balances blood pressure and also helps with depression, anxiety and anger management.
Zazen, in particular, helps us move beyond the self-criticism and limiting beliefs.
Not easy at first go, but practice, as they say, makes perfect, if not getting as close to it as possible. Changes are immediately not apparent, but that’s fine. Good things take time. Time well worth it!