Zazen is the Japanese word for “seated meditation”. Zen meditation is the form that Buddhists use (for the most part) and is widely practiced all over the world. It’s one of the simplest and oldest forms of meditation but can be very difficult to practice in these rapid, monkey-mind times we live in.
How It Works:
It’s important to sit properly for this. You can sit on the floor or against a wall with your legs crossed (the traditional is full lotus, but let’s be real, not many people can pull it off comfortably for long periods), your spine straight and your hands folded open, in cosmic mudra, on your lap. Your gaze should be a few feet in front of you with your eyes lowered and you’re breathing in and out through your nose. You can also sit in a chair if it’s hard to cross your legs on the ground. You’re looking for a straight spine so you can breathe deeply, but easily, like a baby sleeping.
Your awareness is both focused on your centre point, called “Hara” in Zen tradition, or “Manipura Chakra” in Hindu. It’s the space just above your belly button, in the centre of your body and acts as the centre from which your awareness develops. Spending time getting to know your Hara or Manipura will help you to know yourself on a deeper level, develop confidence in yourself and your actions, and keep your head clear from any confusion you may have in life.
The most important tool in Zazen, like most meditations, is your breath. Your breath is an incredible tool that you can use to stay focused. You mind will wander! And I mean, good luck with just one minute the first time you sit. It doesn’t matter how much it wanders though – you are not a better or worse meditator depending on how much your mind wanders, it’s how much you can bring it back. Think of a hyperactive child whom you are teaching to do a task, the child wanders and you bring him back, and that’s it, over and over and over till they can focus on the task. It takes time. So don’t rush.
You can help to focus your mind by countering breaths. Count to ten: inhale – 1, exhale 2. If your mind wanders, then start at 1 again. Keep practicing this ten count until you can count to ten without thinking of anything else but your breath. Once you can do that, then count to ten using the inhale and exhale as 1, inhale/exhale -2.
Most Zazen meditation circles are for an hour, but I encourage you to try 15 minutes every day for a month then increase from there. An hour meditation every day is super ideal, but so is four hours a day of exercise, so don’t worry if you don’t make it there right away (or even at all), it’s better to do 20 minutes of meditation a day then 1 hour twice a week.
This is a very stark meditation. In some ways it is the most difficult meditation because we just sit. There is no technique to focus the mind like in visualization or movement or mantra or even Vipasana, you simply sit in effortless presence with yourself. But beauty is often found in simplicity and if you sit with this meditation for a month or more, you may find something very beautiful inside you that will bloom magnificently.
For more info you can check out Zen Mountain Monastery or search for a Zen meditation group in your local area – they are literally everywhere.