Zen Meditation

Zen meditation is derived from Zen Buddhism.

This type of meditation is one in which you learn to detach yourself from your thoughts.

This involves passively observing your thoughts without the emotional attachment that usually accompanies them.

Initially it can be very difficult to detach your emotions from your thoughts, especially for the beginner who is learning how to meditate to reduce stress.

When practicing Zen meditation I find it useful to start easy and then move onto other Zazen meditations such as koans which invite contemplation.

I find that the Zen meditation of breath counting is an initial good step to take in Zazen meditation.

Learning Zen meditation involves a number of steps that may include:

  1. sitting, either on a meditation cushion or a chair
  2. adopting a comfortable position.

    This is usually in the:

    • half-lotus position in which you place your right leg on your left thigh
    • full lotus position in which you place each foot on the opposite thigh

  3. taking a deep breath and allowing your breathing to flow from the abdomen (like diaphragmatic breathing). Attempt to breathe without judging your thoughts.

    Bring your attention to the breath and as your mind wanders gently bring your attention back to the breath.

  4. counting inhalations and exhalations. Count from one to ten.

    When you get to ten, start again.

    If you notice your mind wandering and chasing thoughts, acknowledge the thought and then let it go and begin the count again at one.

    By bringing your mind back to the breath counting you empower yourself by actively taking charge of your roaming mind.

    Counting is a tool that enables you to become aware that your mind has wandered and to bring it back to the count.

  5. counting the breath cycles. When you find that you can count from one to ten easily without the mind wandering it is time to count the breath cycles.

    Each cycle of inhalation/exhalation counts as one, the next as two, and so on to ten.

    Here you are getting less feedback than the above breath counting but still the counting is a tool to sharpen your focus and bring your awareness to your wandering thoughts.

  6. following the breath. When you are ready simply follow the breathing cycles without counting.

    Each time your mind wanders, acknowledge the thought and gently bring your awareness back to the breath.

    Just be the breath and let the breath be itself.

Eventually the thoughts become random thoughts and the surface activity of your mind slows down.

Using the metaphor of a lake when the wind is blowing...the surface is disturbed with ripples and it is hard to penetrate to the depths.

Calm the winds of your thoughts, and there will be no waves on the ocean of your mind.

Once the breath counting has been truly learned (and it may take a while) usually Zen meditation progresses to koan study.

In Zen meditation this is the mind asking unanswerable questions such as "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" or "What did your face look like before you were conceived?"

These koans invite profound contemplation and because there are no answers, the mind succumbs and acquiesces to the riddle, opening the mind to greater awareness and deeper insight.

Personally I find the breath counting and breath awareness good strategies for stress management, while the inclusive meditation of koans is a difficult way to manage stress for beginners.

Other meditation techniques such as focusing on a mantra or an object, as in transcendental meditation or relaxation response meditation, may initially be a better way to manage stress.

Another alternative may be mindfulness meditation. There are two types of mindfulness:

Search here for other meditation techniques to reduce stress

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