This Meditation Group offers guidance and some instruction in primary meditation practices which include: Posture, sitting position etc, Walking meditation, Mindfulness of breathing, Silent illumination (Shikantaza), Koans.
Benefits of Meditation. There are a range of benefits from the practice of meditation: Finding peace, relaxation and inner joy. Helpful when dealing with stress and pain. Better understanding of ourselves and others. Greater awareness of the interconnections of mind, body and feelings. A pathway to discovering insight and wisdom. Helping us to deal with difficult situations with calmness and clarity of mind. A way to live with change and the impermanent nature of life. Breaking the cycle or dissolving unhealthy habits and addictions. Breaking down barriers, helping ourselves and others in the world. Realizing the joy of a free and awakened life and understanding who we really are. Zen meditation gives us a foundation for ethical and noble aspirations in this life.
Sit daily Develop a regular daily meditation practice; Commitment and continuation are much more important than whether it’s a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ sit. Set a quiet time and place to sit each day, a special spot. You could put a photo or something that has deep meaning for you there, perhaps some flowers. At least half hour of daily practice is good, but even 10 or 15 minutes of sincere practice is worth much more than many years of half hearted, insincere practice.
Practice off the seat, at home, work, or in the community. The more we practice being in this present moment, the easier it becomes, and the more Peace and Joy will arise, quite naturally; we are then better able to help ourselves and others in the world. Find ‘Islands of Practice’: eg: waiting in queue at the supermarket – do some breath awareness or be fully present with ‘just’ standing. When washing the dishes . . Just this scrubbing the plate clean. . . Drinking tea – just the taste of tea. Putting a peg on line. Etc. etc. There are many opportunities for practice during the day and when we notice and take them (practice), we are enriched. Many simple opportunities to return to what is here and who we are.
TYPES OF SITTING MEDITATION PRACTICE
Breath counting. The meditation here is keyed to our breathing. Counting the breaths assists in settling the mind, aids concentration and focuses our attention to the present moment. Breathing in, focus your attention directly on the breath in the body and whilst staying focused exhale with the count of “one”. Continue counting each breath until ten and then return again to the count of one; you can count the ‘in’ breath and the ‘out’ breath, or just the out breath. Thoughts will arise in the mind but you don’t need to follow them or try to suppress them. When you lose the count or realize you’re lost, simply return to “one”, without judgement or dwelling on the fact that you have lost focus; simply return with full attention and awareness to the breath count.
Mindfulness of the breath. Focusing on and being attentive to each part of the in breath and the out breath. Consciously dropping attention on our thinking mind, to being fully attentive and focusing on this breath. Allowing this breath to fill the mind. Breath practice helps us to be free from reactivity which arises out of fear, anger, confusion and stress. When mindfulness of breathing is established, concentration of mind increases and a greater depth of awareness is possible, this facilitates seeing clearly into the nature of things or the nature of reality. Awareness of breathing offers a bridge between the mind/body relationships, and also allows clarity of our various states of mind.
Silent Illumination (Shikantaza) Here we sit with a completely open all inclusive awareness of everything as it arises: Breath, thoughts, sounds, feelings, smell, sensations in the body, etc, anything and everything as it arises and passes away, moment to moment; Being fully present with ‘what is. Some people find it easier to start with the breath, and then once a certain calm is achieved, dropping the breath and just sit ‘as’ the experience, completely open. Then when caught in thoughts, simply notice and return to this ‘Just sitting’ – in open non judgmental awareness; or alternatively can return to the breath again.
Walking Meditation (Kinhin) Between each twenty five minute period of sitting meditation we practice formal walking meditation. We walk in a slow, mindful manner and our awareness is directed to each step as it makes contact with the floor. Each step in walking meditation is cultivating a step of peace and presence. Often in our lives we tend to walk unmindfully, we walk to the shops, to the car, to the office etc with a list of things to do for the day and tend to switch into an automatic pilot way of walking. When we cultivate mindful walking we don’t walk to get anywhere, we just walk for the pure experience of walking. Clasp your hands with right hand in a loose fist and left hand over right, hold with lower arms at right angle to body; keep your back and neck straight and eyes open and lowered, looking about a metre in front. Walking meditation can also be practiced when you are alone at home or out bush walking, etc.
Koan Practice One of the most alluring and striking aspects of the Zen Way is the practice of koans. Koans are a device used to remove barriers to Enlightenment, and are a means for us to awaken to our true nature. The koan path continues after awakening, for it is through further koan work that we learn to embody and express our awakening, and to finally transcend it. Sometimes Koans are in the form of a story, sometimes a poem, sometimes simply a question, such as “Who is hearing that sound?” The use of a question encourages us to develop inquiring spirit. Koans cannot be resolved by logical reasoning, but only by awakening to a deeper level of mind. A student doing koan study normally works with a teacher. The chapter “The Koan Mu” in Robert Aitken Roshi’s book “Taking the Path of Zen” is an excellent introduction to koan study.
MEDITATION: 10 TIPS Although a great number of people try meditation at some point in their lives, small percentages actually stick with it for the long-term; this is unfortunate, and a possible reason is that many beginners do not allow themselves the mindset needed to make the practice sustainable. Meditation is an absolutely wonderful practice, but can be difficult in the beginning. Use the tips below to help maintain your practice .
1) Meditate every day. Prioritize & Commit. Early morning is an ideal time to practice: it is quieter, your mind is not filled with the usual clutter, and there is less chance you will be disturbed. Make it a habit to get up half an hour earlier to meditate; but if you only have evenings or during the day times available, then sit then. At the beginning commit to sit at least 15 to 20 minutes each day, whatever amount of time that is achievable, and stick with that. Once the regular practice is established then you can then extend. . The value comes from continued actual daily practice. Daily participation is needed and a commitment to what is important.
2) Pick a specific room in your home to meditate. And find a quiet time each day.
3) Stretch first. Stretching loosens the muscles and tendons allowing you to sit more comfortably. Additionally, stretching starts the process of “going inward” and brings added attention to the body.. When sitting sit upright, back straight.
4) Start with the breath. Breathing deep slows the heart rate, relaxes the muscles, focuses the mind and is an ideal way to begin practice
5) Give it your full attention.. . To be fully here and now, fully alive Beginners must understand that meditation is an ACTIVE process. The art of returning your focused attention to a single point takes ongoing practice, so you need to be fully engaged, giving all your attention! This is best done with body and mind in a relaxed state. Let go of anxiety and stress.
6) Notice frustration creep up on you. This is very common for beginners as we may think “why can’t I just quiet my mind already”. When this happens, simply return to, and focus on your breath and let the frustrated feelings go, come back again and again to the breath or the breath count; be patient with yourself.
7) Commit for the long haul. Meditation and mindfulness is a life-long practice, and you will benefit most by NOT examining the results of your daily practice, whether it’s good or bad, etc; Just practice every day, start fresh and new again, practice this way and joy comes naturally.
8) Generate moments of awareness during the day. Finding your breath and “being present” while not in formal sitting practice is a wonderful way to evolve your practice, and has deep lasting benefits. eg: waiting in a bank line. At a red traffic light in the car. Etc.
9) Sit with an empty stomach. Best to sit before meals or wait a couple of hours after eating before sitting as tiredness and inattention can creep up, due to digestion.
10) Join with a group. Regular sitting with a group is valuable and has ongoing benefits. ‘Sangha’ is one of the Three Treasures of Buddhism & is fundamental, the other two being ‘Buddha’ and ‘Dharma’.