My experience with Zazen...

While I have a few moments, perhaps I can jot down thoughts on Zazen meditation.

If you aren't sure what Zazen is, you may like to consider this article - click here for information

If you don't want to look at the link, let me briefly explain.

Zazen essentially involves sitting quietly, usually in a cross-legged and upright position, with the mind steered towards the flow of breath moving in and out of the body. This is the central practise of Zen Buddhism, and the discipline places emphasis upon bodily posture and we need to consider Dōgen Zenji whose central focus was just "to sit".

This particular form of meditation appealed to me, as it stripped away much of the mysticism in favour of seeking the essence of "what is". More objective than subjective if you like; and the physical discipline, along with directing attention away from discursive thought patterns appealed to that part of me that enjoys control and structure.

My practise began in 2009 and continued through 2010, but it took me a while to find a posture and setting that suited my requirements. I have occasional problems with two joints in my leg and when adopting a full lotus position, the pain after a while was unbearable, so I adopted the half lotus on two cushions which I found rather comfortable.

There are a variety of schools incorporating Zazen practise and they vary in terms of what is acceptable; many frowning upon a non-rigid formula.

However - meditation in my view can work towards a non-contrived naturalness, where sitting posture leans towards comfort rather than discomfort, as the mind in my view, is the central focus of the training.

There are schools where full lotus is compulsory and several of the more authoritarian monasteries in Japan will physically beat students when they fail to adopt this form.

(note: the beatings are carefully administered and are an accepted part of the program)

Of course there is a need for discipline, but a swift blow to the shoulder and back would never be to my liking. Being "reasonably" comfortable is perfectly acceptable in my view, and there are a range of options where one can be seated and alert, yet at ease. If a person has severe physical disabilities for instance, that one could lie flat on the ground or on a mat, or even a bed, and still train using the breath. Nobody should be excluded because of dogmatism.

Primarily this style of meditation helps highlight all that is apparent on a moment to moment basis. Yet to arrive at a heightened sense of alertness may take a student many sittings. Or as is the way of Zen, it may happen now, as you read this article.

A person usually discovers upon sitting, that regardless of how calm one may feel at the time, the mind is anything other than a pool of tranquillity, as upon inspection it appears to have an unbroken dialogue.


Buddhists comically refer to this activity as 'monkey mind' - in that, the general character of mind with its persistent analysis, planning, and prompts to act, reveals an inner world in constant motion; like chattering chimps in a tree, swinging from branch to branch. Yet this activity is perfectly natural and to be expected.

My own nervous system at times is fraught and when I study my body I find tension, so it was no surprise upon sitting to find this frenetic play of voices. The discharge and movement of energy around the body often flows from the mind and its conversation, so to sit and observe this chatter can be fascinating if overwhelming at first! This is the primary phase of the practise - to learn to observe and detach from these processes.

An illustration I like is this - that the student of meditation learns to sit at ease at the river bank and observe the river flowing by; remaining dry and unaffected.

The dryness in this sense means no actual emotional engagement with emergent thought patterns. So when the bodies energy rises because of a specific concept that appears within the conscious field of the mind, one learns over time to let go of the thought and remain unaffected.

Often I will feel an initial burst and glow of energy in the abdomen when an unsettling thought occurs, yet at times I can quietly monitor this surge of energy, and through non-attachment to the instigating concept, allow this force to quietly dissipate.

Do not be discouraged if you decide to meditate and find this non-attachment discipline awkward, or seemingly impossible, as this skill may take time to develop. Do not worry, this is natural, and we learn at our own pace. At times, even regular practitioners struggle, such is the human condition.

This may take a student a while to achieve and each sitting may vary. At times, I will sit and meditate and feel ill at ease for numerous reasons and arriving at the centre point where all is calm may be unattainable at that time.

I recall listening to Pema Chodron (a Buddhist teacher) explain that her meditative practise spanning several decades, still gave her trouble from time to time, but she was good humoured and counselled that this wrestling was part of the ongoing process.

The benefits of meditative practise are:

1. Concentration
2. Introspection
3. Relaxation

I have no faith in the metaphysical tenets of the Buddhist faith, but nevertheless, I have experienced growth through meditative practise.

Good health to you!





2 comments:

  1. that was interesting. thank you for writing it.

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  2. Good writing. Not pretentious and wordy. Nice to read a description of zazen that speaks to the average person rather than trying to be mystically obscure.

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