You are simply sitting there, doing nothing… and all is silence and all is peace and all is bliss. You have entered existence, you have entered truth. ~ Osho
Perhaps the most iconic vision or idea of meditation comes from the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree as he reached his enlightenment. Since then, this idea of ‘just sitting’ has become what most people associate with the idea of Meditation, and this Zazen practice has become the central practice of traditional Japanese Zen practice. This is absolutely one of my favourite methods for calming and centering myself after a long day, or harmonizing and quantifying my energies for a day or situation ahead. This allows me to shut out the world around me, and make clear my intent of a meditative state. Check here for great methods for clearing your mind before Sitting Meditation.
As I’ve said before, it can be argued that the purpose of meditation is the practice itself, and while I am completely a proponent of this school of thought, something more can be revealed from meditation if we dig deep enough. The purpose of Zazen(Sitting Meditation) is to free our mind of the trap of intellectual thought, and logical processing altogether. This is not to say becoming a mindless, babbling idiot(although this could help), this is to say, freeing ourselves of the trap of the constant labeling and interpreting of reality, and placing it into some kind of ‘box’ which defeats the true experience itself.
Sitting Meditation allows us to see the interpretations made by our ego, and transcend them altogether for a deeper level of connectedness with the world around us. In order to differentiate the objective world, we begin to process events and ideas into specific areas which we can try to measure, weigh, and define against a standard established for the purpose of differentiating our world. Many people go their entire lives trying to make an Excel spreadsheet of the chaos that is our lives; most continue on this futile path and never really see the futility of it. Others, through self-inquiry, sitting meditation, or any million other means of transcending our ego structures are able to escape this arbitrary, and ultimately dangerous process of labeling and confining reality into conveniently sized, digestible chunks.
The reason so many consider this process dangerous is because it is ultimately a process of self-denial—a way of seeing ourselves outside and foreign to the beauty and ecstasy that life can hold when we open ourselves up to the mystery and confusion that is inherent within the course of existence. We need not know the meaning of life in order to fully enjoy it; the process begins and ends with you.
Getting out of the abstract language of this meditative method for a moment, Sitting Meditation is a way of consciously reserving our energy and thoughts, letting it pool into a self-awareness that begins to feed itself further and bring even greater calm to our lives. Sitting Meditation gives us the opportunity of pulling our energies back into ourselves, like taming the reigns of a horse so it doesn’t expend energy trotting around your backyard, and efficiently using its energy to transport you to a plain across the mountain. What or where that destination belongs is ultimately up to you, the ‘rider’, but just knowing a destination won’t do much for you if all you’ve got is a wild stallion, resistant to your every command. Sitting Meditation allows a greater level of control to our chaotic minds, and will undoubtedly serve you in any endeavor you pursue.
To get the most your sitting meditation, you want to take note and apply proper posture; not adhering to correct posture can cause muscular strain and fatigue, but DON’T WORRY, proper posturing really is easy once you get the hang of it.
Most use some kind of pillow or small cushion, but I’ve used anything from a rolled up blanket to a ‘neck support pillow’ you can buy for airplane rides. The ideas is to wedge the pillow somewhere underneath the back end of your butt, just off the Ishcial Tuberosity(‘butt bone’ or ‘sitting bone’. The knob you feel if you sit on your hand with only half your butt). This allows your pelvis to remain free of tension, and not need to try and hold your torso in place. You back should be straight, with your shoulders balanced, neck straight, and head balanced on top. Sitting with your spine straight expends very little energy in order to stay upright.
I cross my legs into the half lotus position(full lotus strains my knees), but any cross-legged position will work. If you find your knees becoming sore, don’t do it for the sake of having crossed legs. You can ultimately sit any way you find most comfortable, this is merely the method that works for me and many other across the world. From there, I like to fold my hands in the traditional Zazen position, but again, this is just my preference, usually. I often for lace my fingers or fold my hands into my lap, or I put my hands on my knees. Again, the only rule is your comfort, and something you don’t have to think about often.
If any of this is uncomfortable, try sitting on the floor, legs straight in front of your, and leaning back, resting on your hands behind you to prop you up. This is an easy to manage, comfortable and stable position that won’t spend a lot of energy to maintain.
When done correctly, you will find you need almost no energy to remain in a balanced posture, upright. This is an extremely important step to alleviating any tension or muscular stress through the meditation, and will likely be a defining factor in sticking with this meditation.
Don’t overthink your posture, allow your body to tell you what is right. Find a position that you don’t need to adjust or think about much; a small amount of muscular recruitment to stay upright is fine, as long as it isn’t becoming the focus of your thought.
Once you know WHY you want to sit(or maybe you don’t yet, which is still fine), and the proper way to sit, what is it you finally DO once you sit? If you remember, a translation of Zazen is ‘Just Sitting’ and I recommend just that; the ultimate posture of relaxation. This may seem hard to understand, but once you come to experience it firsthand you know it in your bones; human beings rarely, if ever, are truly relaxed. Even while we sleep, many of us are dreaming dreams of stress and misery; the battles of work-days to come or jobs of years past, faulting and finished relationships, and an absolute uncertainty about the way we live our lives. Sitting Meditation is letting all these things come together, seeing them for the magnificent, frightening beauty that life is, and accepting it, knowing that to change any one small thing would ultimately change every single big thing, and would never amount to the level of perfection inherent in our universe exactly where it is. This is the perfect time to come into awareness of your breath, the natural rhythmic meter for our lives.
Awareness for me usually resides in my diaphragm/belly area, when I take deep, full breaths. This provides a simple area, yet interesting and sometimes complex sensations to be aware of. Feel each breath come into your chest, and expand completely into you, as you expand completely into the universe; When the universe breathes out, you are breathing it in, but when you breath out, the universe is breathing you in. I sometimes like to bring my awareness to the very tip of my nose, where I feel the first sensation of air as a breath, and then my nose/throat area, a mid-point between the tip of my nose, and my lungs. Feeling an awareness of your nose, throat, and lungs as you breath can be a beautifully hypnotizing process, bringing you into deeper meditation as you enjoy they infinite rhythmic cycle that is your breath.
I like to let my awareness fully embrace my breathing; if any thoughts arise that distract me, I gently guide them back on track, promising them to visit with them again later when my meditation is over. Many people like doing Visualizations at this point, and if that’s your cup of Green Tea, go for it! Just remember to keep a small awareness on deep, relaxing breaths, and make sure you’re only visualizing things congruent with a calm, happy, meditative lifestyle. Meadows, mountains, open skies, forests and rivers are my favourite sceneries when I visualize.
How long do I sit?
If my Breathing Meditation is any indication, I do not advocate planning to sit for any amount of time.
I used to set an alarm for 15, 20, 30, however many minutes, and sit. It didn’t take long for me to realize the entire routine of setting an alarm was hindering the very process I sought to cultivate; I was either waiting for the alarm to ring, or anxious about that fact(that I was waiting for the alarm), and wondering if I was really getting the benefits of meditation. By the end of the 20 minutes, I’d done a lot of stressing and delusion, but absolutely no meditation.
So take that egg timer, old morning alarm clock, or cellphone stop watch, and throw it in a drawer. This single act might be the most important step to your meditation practice you ever make.
The idea of meditation for a set amount of time is absolutely counter-productive the point of meditating to come into awareness to the timeless nature of the self. Does this make sense? So what do I advocate?
I advocate sitting for as long as you feel is comfortable, and having the conviction to accept no matter how long that is. I’ve literally had days where I sit down for 2 minutes, have some deep, calming, centering breaths, and then get up and am completely refreshed and energized for my day. On the other hand, I’ve had days where I stubbornly try to force 20 minutes of motionless poise, only to be met with more frustration than one might think worth is. You can ABSOLUTELY have an experience of ultimate bliss and acceptance of the universe, and it will happen quicker than you think if you let the experience progress spontaneously(of its own fruition) and don’t try to force hours of boring sitting. Let it happen whenever it happens. There was truly a time when I could not fathom JUST SITTING. I literally could not see a more pointless endeavor, and now it is one of my absolute favourite things to do, but ONLY when I let it happen as it will. Never do I get enjoyment of it when I force it.
So treat Sitting Meditation with the same spirit you treat One Breath meditation; if you can manage just this one breath, right here, right now, you’re more than on your way to a deep, rich, satisfying meditative practice. Don’t meditate for the cultural status of ‘someone who meditates’, this involvement of the ego will only lead to frustration if it isn’t true to your inherent nature. It’s even fine if you never really try sitting meditation at all, but don’t think it’s something you need if you just cannot find your groove and get into the process; you may just find you have states of ecstatic bliss and love pouring forth from you after a 5 mile run. We need to find the specific methods unique to who we are as individuals. This is one of the goals of meditation; Being who you are, where you are, and not needing the validation of others.
How do you meditate?