Zen/Sitting Meditation Practice: How Sitting on A Meditation Cushion can Transform your Life
Zen meditation helps us to see ourselves and life more clearly and to let go of what we think should be happening – to enjoy and be with what is really happening, right now.
So What’s Zen Meditation All About?
Zen or sitting meditation packs a powerful punch in its simplicity: yes, it really does mean just sitting. But why meditate? Basically, it can help us feel less stressed out, moody and afraid. The Buddha, who lived a few thousand years ago, realised that the only way to swap out suffering for thriving was to clear our minds – which are usually full of what we’re doing next, what we did yesterday and what we’re worried about – and clear our hearts of negativity. Zen meditation uses a focus on the breath to allow us to experience more of who we really are, underneath the busy-ness of our minds. This helps us to see ourselves and life more clearly and to let go of what we think should be happening – to enjoy and be with what is really happening, right now.
Zazen: What the Sitting Meditation Experience is Like
So: just sitting. Just being. In the present moment, without trying to change anything. Sounds so simple – but I bet you can’t remember many moments in the past few months when you could do that without thinking about the status of your bank account, your love life or your work. You might have experienced these kind of moments spontaneously when on vacation or in a daydream. But in zen meditation, the idea is to deliberately create this state of being – and to keep returning to the present moment, no matter what. This helps us to keep perspective in our busy lives and to not just react to whatever is the latest challenge being thrown at us. We can learn to enjoy and really engage with life instead of tuning out or continually waiting for something better or more exciting to happen. Because the thing is, the present moment is the only real thing we have.
People with depression can benefit a lot from sitting meditation – and according to research on meditation, so can those of us who struggle to stay focused on our work or to stay calm in stressful situations. But don’t throw in the towel if the minute you sit on the meditation cushion, your mind starts up with a to-do list a mile long, or if you start thinking ‘What am I doing here?’ The mind has a life of its own, and it will take you out of the present moment every time. When we practice sitting meditation we stay focused on the breath, watch the mind and let the stream of thoughts pass by without trying to change them or following them in any way. If you find yourself feeling sad, angry or frustrated, try to feel the emotions as body sensations – don’t get drawn into the story of ‘He did this to me’ or ‘I wish it could be like that’. Like any meditation, Zen or sitting meditation can mean that you tap into some old memories or feelings which can be a little intense. If so, get help from a counsellor or other professional.
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How to Get into Zen meditation
You can practice Zen or sitting meditation anywhere. All you need is a cushion or a folded blanket to sit on, and a willing body and mind. You might want to try meditating with others – Google to find sitting meditation groups near you. Meditating with others has the benefit of helping you stay focused – so you’re not so distracted by your phone or what you’re going to eat for lunch – and gives you the chance to ask questions and get more information on the practice. Start with a practice of 10 to 15 minutes. If like many of us you find it hard to sit still for a long time, try some stretches before you settle into your meditation posture. During beginner Zen meditation, you count your breaths (up to 10) or simply watch your breath moving in and out, and at the same time stay aware of your thoughts, without getting caught up in them. Your eyes are partially open, gazing at a direction on the floor about 1 metre in front. Keep as still as you possibly can. When you finish your Zazen practice, move slowly out of the posture, staying calm and quiet in yourself. And remember that the Buddha usually has a smile – or even a laugh – on his face. Don’t get so caught up in trying to get it all perfect that you forget to enjoy your meditation practice.
Zen Buddhism is a subdivision of Mahayana Buddhism, but unlike other schools of Buddhism it is less caught up with scriptures and rituals: the idea being that we can all realise truth in one instant, through meditation practice. There are two main schools of Zen: Rinzai and Soto. Zen Buddhism teachings are about becoming aware of our own Buddha-nature – the wise, centred part of us that is always there – and living this out in daily life, which has the added bonus of helping others too.
From China to Japan to America: Zen History in a Nutshell
It is said that Zen meditation was what the Buddha practised when he experienced his great realisation – or ‘enlightenment’ under the Bodhi tree in India thousands of years ago. Zen meditation has been passed from master to disciple for more than 2500 years. In the sixth century, Buddha’s teachings reached China, where it became known as Chan or Chinese Zen(the Rinzai school). The Soto Zen school was then established in Japan. Over the past 200 years, Zen has fallen from popularity and become less influential in Japan – but it has taken off in a big way in the West, particularly America. Zen principles remain the same wherever people meditate, but it does also change and adapt to the different cultures.
How will this help you to transform your problems and pain?
Zen or sitting meditation is a powerful body-mind intervention that, with regular use, can help you with feeling blue and start to transform what is stuck and not working in your life.
Transform your pain and make change happen fast by working with Alison McAulay as your coach.
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