Introduction to Zazen Meditation
Formal meditation, on the other hand, requires religious dedication and a sacred space to be practiced—pretty much like how most prayers are done. It often comes hand-in-hand with a set of principles and virtues the person is enjoined to embody, such as the case with Buddhism. And depending on the type of formal meditation, it often seeks to discipline both the mind and the body.
Between formal and informal meditation, the latter is more practical because it’s easier to fit in any schedule. This makes it ideal for those with barely any time left for himself in a day. And because informal meditation is not too selective of location, it can be done in the most convenient of places, even in the bathroom.
If, however, you wish to improve your posture and your breathing, which also contributes to relieving stress, anxiety, and depression, then opt for formal meditation.
Also, if in case you find informal meditation difficult to practice because of a lack of structure, the opposite might be more suitable for you. The formal meditation which shall be discussed in this audiobook is, in fact, a lot simpler to perform because no critical analysis is required. It is less taxing and more relaxing.
What is Zazen?
There is more than one type of formal meditation and each is associated with a specific discipline such as mindfulness and openness. Others go as far as focusing on the energies of the body and directing them to the heart, the core, or wherever. But because this audiobook serves as a practical guide to meditation, it shall focus on the most practical of them all: Zazen.
Zazen is the method of meditation practiced by Zen Buddhists. Among the several types of meditation, this form greatly appeals to beginners because the concept is easy to understand, and the form is versatile enough to allow individuals with physical problems and difficulties to practice zen meditation. Also, because Zazen doesn’t require practitioners to study a set of principles rooted in Buddhism, it can be practiced in conjunction with any type of religion.
Mental Discipline in Zazen
Interestingly, the difference between analytical meditation and Zazen isn’t too wide. You also have to familiarize yourself with an object in the latter. Unlike in analytical meditation, however, where you can choose different objects in every session, the only object in Zazen is your breathing.
During Zen meditation, the practitioner sits and counts his breath. It’s as easy as that; no critical analysis is needed. Of course, however, every discipline comes with a challenge, and in Zazen, it’s living in the present.
According to Zen Buddhism, most people are trapped in either the past or the future. Those who settle in the past often feel depressed, thinking of what they could and should have changed to set the present right. Those who live in the future, on the other hand, are often visited by anxiety because they constantly think of what might and should be. In this very demanding world where expectations are constantly set and setting expectations has become a way of life; where people are trapped in a cycle of never-ending tasks, moving onward to the next after finishing one,
people actually forget to live in the present. They forget to take a break, and just appreciate the moment.
The idea behind Zazen, therefore, is to discipline the mind to set worries aside and simply be in the present.
Of course, because you’ll be sitting the entire time in a quiet room, nothing exciting would be going on while “living the present.” The discipline you apply during meditation, however, will eventually and naturally become a state of mind. You will learn to live the present even outside of meditation.
Perhaps, on your next trip to the tropics, instead of planning on what Instagram-worthy pics to take because you need a hundred likes and a dozen more followers, you will actually enjoy the sun, sand and sea. Instead of worrying that people will think you’re cheap and ugly because you didn’t post photos of you on a fancy boat looking pretty and sexy, feel the wind and the spray of the ocean on your face as you ride that boat.
Process: After assuming the proper posture, which shall be discussed in detail later, the practitioner regulates his breathing. There is no need to stick to a count even when there is a recommended rhythm. Simply inhale deep and exhale as you naturally do, keeping a regular rhythm. Being too technical with breathing will only take your concentration away from the substantial aspect of the practice.
Afterward, pour your focus on counting your breath. Once you reach ten counts, repeat back to one.
A common misconception in Zen meditation is that you empty your mind. That, of course, is impossible because as long as the mind is awake, thoughts will come and go. In actuality, Zen meditation redirects your thoughts to your breathing. Once you are able to achieve this strenuous task, instead of reliving that horrible breakup in your head, you would hear the beat of your heart, the sound of air passing through your nostrils, and even the rush of blood through your veins. This is what it means to live in the moment.
All this may sound easy, but it actually isn’t because as described earlier, the mind is a difficult stallion to tame. When left alone with no one but
yourself, with nothing but the wall, and doing nothing but sit, the thoughts in your head starts talking louder and clearer. And the issue here is that you wouldn’t even know you have been listening to them the entire practice. You will only notice that your consciousness has been drifting when you’ve already lost count of your breath, or when emotions start stirring in your heart.
Thought, of course, cannot be pushed aside or blocked. And when you try to fight your thoughts, the stronger they become. So what you should do when they rise is to let them pass. Watch them as if you’re passing by the window of an appliance store, glancing at the videos being played on the TV displays. When it’s over, calmly resume your count, and feel the rise and fall of your chest.
One danger brought by passing thoughts, however, is getting triggered by the emotion they are associated with. The sole image of an empty bed could, for example, remind you of a failed relationship. And this could unleash a waterfall of emotions including reactions to the entire experience which is either regret or loathing. Unfortunately, some people unconsciously grip and cling to these emotions.
There are two ways to deal with these emotions during Zen meditation.
- First, similar to analytical meditation, you empathize. Upon the rise of these negative feelings, follow it up immediately with positive ones. Embrace them and realize that they are part of you now. You cannot, after all, extinguish the feeling the same way you cannot erase the memory.After accepting the emotion, let them go as you exhale, then resume your count. Or if you’ve already lost count, start back at one.
- Second, you watch these thoughts without judgment. Most Zen practitioners are able to maintain tranquility regardless of the thought that passes. And their secret in reaching this level of calmness is detachment.Which of the two methods is more difficult is up to you to determine. Each person, after all, undergoes a unique meditation experience, and not everyone reacts the same to the rise of unwanted thoughts.