Beginning meditation instruction
If you are interested in trying meditation, the following is only a starting point. If you would like to continue to explore the depths and more subtle aspects of this practice find an experienced teacher. Although a daily practice at home is very important, it is equally important to practice with others. This lends support and helps you to discipline yourself by a commitment to your fellow practitioners at a Zen center.
What to sit on
It is best to sit on a cushion that is firm and does not give too much with the weight of your body; there are specially designed cushions available for meditation called zafus. Zafus are available from many suppliers, such as dharmacrafts.com.
Where to meditate
Find a quiet space to sit. You can make this space personal and give it a special feel by
constructing an altar. This will help put your mind in a state that is receptive, quiet, and open. It is a tool you
can use to remind yourself to pay attention and that you are engaging in the deliberate activity of seated meditation. The altar does not need to be Buddhist, it can be anything as long as it is meaningful in some way to you, such as a candle or a stick of incense.
What to wear
Wear loose fitting clothing that are comfortable and does not restrict any parts of the body when seated, such as around the waist or pants that bunch up behind the knees. A good way to get started is by assuming a stable posture.
Before each period of seated meditation, it is helpful to stretch the body, particularly the legs and back. yoga is an excellent practice for any practitioner to consider. In the beginning you may choose to sit for a short period of time until you get used to the physical aspects of sitting. Perhaps ten or fifteen minutes a day is a good start and then increase the time incrementally as you develop until you can sit for thirty minute periods. More important than the length of time you are able to sit is the consistency of sitting. In other words, it is more beneficial to sit for ten minutes every morning or evening, at a prescribed time, than to sit for an hour once a week. Maintain whatever daily routine you set up for yourself. Make certain it is a schedule you can keep.
Stabilize the body
The main point when assuming a seated posture to practice meditation is to find one that is stable and can be maintained for extended periods of time with the least amount of back support.
Sitting zen has two aspects – sitting and Zen. Sitting is becoming still, and Zen is becoming clear. So sitting Zen is practicing stillness to experience the clarity of Original Mind. Becoming still has three aspects – stilling the body, stilling the breathing, and stilling the mind. To allow your body to become still and stable, sit with your back straight, but not stiff, neck and shoulder muscles relaxed. Let your weight be supported at the base of your spine where you are sitting, so that your muscles hang loosely on your spine with very little tension. Place your right hand below your left hand with thumbs touching lightly to form an oval and the heel of your palm tucked into your lower belly about two or three inches below your navel.
Look down at the floor at about a 45 degree angle with your eyes half-opened and relaxed. As you sit this way, allow yourself to experience physical sensations just passing through you, so that instead of reacting to them, you just observe them as they appear, differentiate, change again, disappear, and are replaced by other sensations. If you attend to your body in this way, you will find that your posture becomes strong and stable and that you can sit still for the duration of the sitting period. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, about five or ten percent more slowly than usual, so that without forcing things, your breath gradually becomes quieter, deeper, more stable, and more relaxed. Relax your upper chest and your middle chest and allow your breath to fall all the way down to your lower belly so that as you breathe in your diaphragm expands, pulling the air in, and as you breathe out it contracts, letting the air escape.
As you sit with your attention on your breath, pick up this question, "What am I?" Do not be concerned with the words so much as with the question mark at the end, or the spirit behind the question. If you allow yourself to rest with this question for a few moments you will soon see that a cognitive or conceptual answer can’t contain it, and you will be left in a condition of not-knowing. We refer to this as Don’t-know mind. In this "Don’t know," as with physical sensations, allow the formations of your mind to appear, differentiate, change again, disappear, and be replaced by other mental formations so that thoughts, feelings, impulses, perceptions, and awareness come and go freely as you rest gently with this question, "What am I?"