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Meditation

I started meditating a week or so ago. I took an introductory class, then added a session to my daily routine, and I’ve been keeping up with it pretty faithfully so far. It’s…interesting!

I’m not particularly spiritual, but the health benefits, both mental and physical, are well established. I’m always interested in ways to be more effective at work, play, relationships, etc., and meditation has been on my todo list for a while.

I’m still a beginner, so I’m not doing anything exotic yet, just ten minutes of “mindfulness” meditation a day. I sit upright, eyes closed, alert but relaxed, and think about breathing. I try to focus entirely on the physical sensation of air rushing in through my nose, then out again.

When a thought occurs to me, or I hear a sound, or that little voice inside my head pipes up, I try to acknowledge it, let it pass, and return my attention to breathing. It’s hard, and I’m still bad at it, but supposedly I’ll get better over time.

It’s too early to say, but I’ll post again if I notice any big changes. Fingers crossed!

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14 thoughts on “Meditation

  1. I meditated once. It was far too scary, I almost went insane. Good on you if you can.

  2. Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron are my two favorite teachers. The best advice related to meditation I've heard is to not worry about being good at it :) via Google+

  3. just as one remembers dreams for a short interval after awakening, i find the conscious-subconscious divide more malleable. once you plug into the matrix, cycles are drawn away from introspection. via Facebook

  4. email response from Daniel S. Wilkerson:

    When I started Zen practice I knew that if I wanted to be serious about it, I should move to a Zen temple, so that’s what I did for one practice period (about 8 weeks). At 5 weeks I had a kensho flash where for just a moment I had Absolute Purely Joy for No Reason Whatsoever. At 8 weeks I was standing bolt upright in perfect posture all day with no effort whatsoever. I’m not really the same person; much of the everyday hum returned to my mind afterward, but never to the same degree. Remembering before that practice period feels like remembering someone else’s memories. Even if you can’t move to a temple, I’d recommend doing a half-day practice period somewhere to really experience multiple hours of uninterrupted practice with others who are more experienced than you are. It is really a challenge to learn this practice by yourself.

    For most Westerners, I would recommend sitting Burmese rather than attempting half or full lotus, sitting seiza, or sitting in a chair: half-lotus is asymmetric, attempting full lotus you will hurt yourself, seiza will hurt your knees badly, and chair posture admits of too many degrees of freedom and the wobbliness will distract you: http://www.bisbeelotussangha.org/sittingpostures.htm . The thing most people miss is that both your knees should be supporting weight, so you are sitting like tripod rather than just on your butt. If you have to make any effort to keep your lower back from curving forward, then you aren’t sitting on enough height. In proper posture, no effort is being expended to “hold” yourself there. Have someone who knows what they are doing check your posture: “it is not the mountains ahead that will stop you on your journey of the ten thousand steps; it is the rock in your shoe” — this saying is very applicable to Zen practice.

    I would recommend a cushion filled with buckwheat hulls rather than the standard cotton-filled cushion; cotton doesn’t provide enough support; I spent $100 on a hi-tech cushion “Mountain Seat Zafu” from The Monastery Store http://www.dharma.net/monstore/category.php?cPath=104_105 ; for someone of your (our) height, you want the “high” one. It was absolutely worth the money; you can get refill buckwheat hulls at Japanese futon shops. You also need a zabuton, but standard cotton seems to work fine. I find that 20 minutes is a workable length of time to sit; 40 minutes is a bit much; 20 minutes twice a day is much more helpful than 40 minutes once a day. I once sat at a local temple for 40 minutes at 5:40 am and 40 minutes at 5:40 pm like clockwork for two weeks without missing one period; after two weeks I suddenly throw away half of everything I owned with no effort whatsoever. I recommend a West Bend timer that has 10 buttons on the front as you can set the time and start it in about 1 second.

    I have found most books to be rather unhelpful. Reading about Zen practice (I’m omitting other practices that might be called “meditation”) and not physically doing it is like reading cookbooks and never cooking. However some books that are clearly the real deal are: “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” Shunryu Suzuki (and anything else by/about him: “Shine One Corner”). “Refining Your Life” Dogen and Kosho Uchiama and “Opening The Hand of Thought” Uchiama (haven’t read all of this but Uchiama is great). “Work, Sex, Money” Chogyam Trungpa (haven’t even read most of this but I can tell it is the real deal by just the first paragraph). “Sex, Sin, and Zen” by Brad Warner (his books get better as he gets older; that’s the latest one.) The standard advice, as told to me by Edward “Peaceful Sea” Brown, is “practice first; study later”.

  5. I’m an acci-zentalist. I received a scholarship to a Soto-zen university, and one of the main requirements they had was that I also study zen with the zen majors (who would become the heads of their own zen temples across Japan). I had no particular interest, but was agreeable to the adventure. I wanted to improve my Japanese (I previously spent a year at a Japanese high school as an exchange student).

    So I spent a year sitting zen with the Japanese majors and having private lessons with the head of the department (Buddhism). He told me that speaking and reading about zen was worthless, we westerners are too much in our head anyway. Sitting is what it it all about. So after a lesson on the silk road and the way zen came into Japan, he would usually pick some current topic which I thought must have been some kind of koan since it was so unrelated. Since I was such a goody-two shoes, he seemed to light on topics such as no panties coffee houses in Tokyo. Or smoking like a chimney while telling me that smoking was forbidden according to zen rules. My 23-year old mind was boggled.

    For me the key to good posture was a quiet man walking behind the sitting students, carrying a big stick, which he did not hesitate to use. And we had to bow in thanks for the correction afterwards. I got bruised. But by the time the new students came (I had entered mid-year), my posture was such that I was rarely corrected with that stinging snap of wood on my shoulder, and the new students were getting most of the blows. We had to use the cushions that were there, no option to sit western style. There were rows of raised sitting ‘stations’ where there was tatami under a black round cushion, and a blank wall to stare at with 3/4 lowered lids while thinking of nothing.

    Getting to thinking of ‘nothing’ was quite a revelation. I discovered I had quite a chatterbox voice in my head that didn’t want to give it up. A lot of it seemed to be a running analysis of what I was doing and why would I want to do something like this, and sometimes suppressing impulses to run reasoning that if the other students could sit patiently, I as a human being was capable of maintaining the sitting position too.

    A few months into it, I noticed that I felt lighter and clearer after a 1.5 hour session (that was the length of our class periods), and my senses were much clearer.. I had a heightened sense of smell and colors were noticeably brighter.

    I was surprised to find when I moved to Mill Valley from Seattle, that there is a soto-zen temple within 20 minutes of my house. So I renewed my practice in common occasionally, having just practiced solo at my home after returning from Japan. It was also my first experience of sitting zen in chairs (didn’t have the same effect for me, but still was quieting), and ‘dharma talks’. Seemed strange that zen practitioners would talk about zen.

    Enjoy your zen journey!

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