Zazen is the backbone of Zen practice. Without it, you’re only skimming the surface. Zen without meditation is talking the talk without walking the walk. Here’s a simple guide to getting started. I also offer meditation lessons over Skype here.
1. Sit on a pillow or meditation cushion. I like this one.
2. Sit in one of these positions.
3. Hold your hands like this. Pretend your fingers create a bridge that villagers are crossing. When you break mindfulness and your fingers break the bridge, the villagers fall into the ravine. Don’t let the villagers fall into the ravine.
4. It doesn’t matter what you do with your eyes. Some people close them, some keep them open, some half-open. Just pick one and stick with it for your session. I like to keep my eyes closed.
5. Focus on the breath initially. Start by breathing through your mouth with a few deep breaths until your breathing is settled and consistent. Then breathe exclusively through your nose and keep your mouth closed.
6. Begin to count the breaths. In is ONE out is TWO. In is THREE out is FOUR. In is FIVE out is SIX. In is SEVEN out is EIGHT. In is NINE out is TEN. Then go back to one.
7. Your mind will stray. Don’t focus on any one thought and keep your focus on your breathing. “Let your thoughts come and go, but don’t serve them tea.”
8. After a bit, just count each breath cycle. In/out ONE, in/out TWO, in/out THREE, etc. Go to ten and then back to one. This is more challenging and distractions will continue.
9. Push through the part of your brain that tells you to stop or to do something else or to dwell on a thought. Just keep your attention centered on the breath. Use the breath as your anchor.
10. Start by doing this 5 or 10 minutes a day, then gradually increase. I like to meditate for 20 minutes a day, no more, no less.
Try to meditate without a goal and to not allow yourself to be swayed by distractions. This will be difficult initially and will get easier over time. Meditating may cause some introductory anxiety. I believe this to be the process of the mind getting to know itself better. It can be somewhat uncomfortable at first, but gets easier. The practice is remarkably rewarding over time but should not be approached as a means to an end. Just do it.