“The buddha-dharma does not invite us to dabble in abstract notions. Rather, the task it presents us with is to attend to what we actually experience, right in this moment. You don’t have to look “over there.” You don’t have to figure anything out. You don’t have to acquire anything. And you don’t have to run off to Tibet, or Japan, or anywhere else. You wake up right here. In fact, you can only wake up right here.
So you don’t have to do the long search, the frantic chase, the painful quest. You’re already right where you need to be. “
— Steve Hagen, Buddhism Plain and Simple
Understanding how to meditate is incredibly easy. The practical act of constant meditation, however, is incredibly difficult. This seeming contradiction will become clearer after a few weeks of maintaining meditation practice.
There are many differing types of meditation techniques. This is an explanation of zazen or “just sitting”. The form of meditation practiced by Zen Buddhists:
- Sit in a room with your legs in either the half-lotus or full-lotus position. Make sure the room is as peaceful as possible and that you won’t be disturbed.
- Half close your eyes so that you don’t have to blink, but don’t close them fully or you’ll risk falling asleep.
- Cup both hands, and place the right on top of the left just below your navel.
- Straighten your back and hold your shoulders upright.
- Breathe in and out, focusing your whole attention on your breath. Focus only on your breath in this moment. Don’t consciously make yourself breathe, just be aware of the sensations involved in breathing.
Eventually, your mind will start to wander. When you find yourself doing this, acknowledge that it happened and go back to the breath. As this continues to happen again and again, don’t get disheartened. Continue to acknowledge your wandering mind and return yourself to the breath.
If you’re finding it difficult to stay focused, count along with each breath in and out, counting up to ten and back down to one, and so on.
If you hear a dog barking or car tires screeching, don’t let it interrupt your meditation. Simply accept it as another sensation and continue to focus. This goes for discomfort as well, which will be inevitable given the position of your body. Don’t let yourself make a judgement of “This pain is bad”, simply accept the sensation and continue to meditate.
Try doing this everyday for around ten minutes. Set yourself a time of day, ideally before mealtimes when your stomach is not full, when you can set aside ten to fifteen minutes to meditate.
Buddhists recommend meditating in this fashion four times a day, with at least twice as a bare minimum. However much you can manage is fine, however, and you shouldn’t get yourself down about not meditating more. That’s a great way to ensure you become sick of meditating altogether.
This is the actual practice of meditation in its strictest sense, but meditation doesn’t end there. Meditation is really just about paying attention to the present moment, about mindfulness, about being aware to the here and now. Try this right now. Be aware of yourself reading these words, aware of the sensations in your body, the feeling against of your body against the chair, the temperature of the room, your breath and your emotions. While you aren’t cross-legged with your eyes half-closed, this is still meditation. Ideally, we should be meditating in this way all the time.
So that’s it! There’s really nothing special to meditation, and that’s actually the point. There should be no thoughts of goals of enlightenment distracting your attention away from the present. If there are, simply accept them, then go back to focus on the breath.
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