Q: How do beginners start?
A: Find a resource that resonates and begin …
Q: What is meditation?
A: Attentive awareness.
Meditation turns your attention to your experience. It may involve focusing on the breath, on bodily sensations, or a word or phrase. Meditation brings your attention away from distracting thoughts and focuses on the present moment
Q: Isn't that just concentration or focus?
A: Yes, that is often the first part
Q: Will it lead to health and stress relief?
A: Yes but so will exercise, yoga, Tai Chi and sex. Often more directly.
Q: Why meditate?
A: Meditation is the ‘rocket fuel’ of interior development in the dharmic religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism). Meditation is being actively rediscovered and implemented by contemplative traditions in the Abrahamic religions, Occult and new age schools and individually by secular, therapeutic and medicinal meditation advocates.
Q: What are the proven benefits?
A: On a physical level, meditation
– Lowers high blood pressure
– Reduces anxiety attacks
– Decreases tension-related pain, such as headaches,
Helps with ulcers, insomnia, muscle and joint problems
– Improves the immune system.
– Increases serotonin production, improving mood, behaviour and emotional well being
Q: Can I dabble?
A: Sure. Try yoga nidra, led meditations, hypnosis, visualisation and chanting.
Q: What can I expect?
A: Expect Nothing. Achieve everything.
In other words meditation is experiential not an intellectual pursuit. You can read all the recipe books you want. At some point cooking, eating and above all tasting is required …
Q: Who has developed, refined and taught the best techniques.
A: The Buddhists. Often borrowing from or influencing other traditions. However this is a cross fertilisation with influences from other tradititions.
Q: Do I have to be a Buddhist to practice with them or using their skill set?
A: No. Some visualisations, chanting, practices may use specific Buddhist iconography. You can sit without being partisan. Yosme groups are secular atheist or purely health or healing orientated
Q: Do I need a cushion?
A: No. However it is recommended as it is more comfortable. Personally I have adopted the yogic floor/mat sitting method.
Q: Can I meditate in a chair, moving or lying down?
A: Yes. Search for the ‘Egyptian pose’, 'walking meditation’ and 'yoga nidra’.
Q: How long should I sit for?
A: A couple of decades would be a good start.
In other words regular practice as a life enhancing choice, will deepen with time and practice.
GETTING STARTED common situations
Q: Why is it hard?
A: You are trying too hard, too long, too uptight or too soon. When stressed or needing a break nearly everyone will say 'give me a break, just need to sit down for a while’. Everyone benefits from sitting still for a few moments and taking some deep breaths. Still too hard? Try yoga or prostrations before walking meditation.
Q: Which is the best meditation?
A: The regular one. Ideally daily.
Q: I can only sit for five minutes
A: That is five one minute meditations. Twice a day it is ten minutes. Time is measured by regular intervals. Meditation is called practice because it takes, like most skills, practice.
Q: What if my situation is too busy, noisy, crowded etc? I just can’t.
A: All problems have solutions. Part of the reason for joining a virtual or actual community is for advisement, encouragement and inspiration.
Q: Something is stopping me. What is it?
You will come across 'you’ all the time in meditation. You can befriend the you’s or think they are an enemy … You will meet many of 'you’ and find their real nature …
Q: I don’t like meditating, nothing seems to happen?
A: 'Not liking’ happens.
Meditation changes. Meditation is often paying attention to aspects of 'nothing’. A lot of thoughts, aversions, positive mind states, physical sensations etc occur.
Q: What is the best hand position often referred to as Mudra?
A: It is quite common for people to use comfortable positions. The Buddha is often depicted with one hand on the other. These are sometime taught as gender specific. The left hand on top for women and the right for men. No idea what is best for bisexual, gay or transgender individuals. See what works for you. Hands facing down on the knees is quite common. In yoga, mudra tend to be more open. For beginners the subtleties are not very important.
Q: What is the best type of cushion?
A: Anything that provides firm support and lifts the pelvis approximately ten centimeters. A Zafu is often used by monastics and in temples as this has been found to be very efficient.
Q: Is the lotus posture or half lotus essential?
A: No. These come from the yogic tradition and can provide a firm base or unnecessary knee strain. Completely unnecessary unless one is used to such postures through culture, tradition or quasi magical superstitions about how the body works. The Burmese posture is quite sufficient if sitting on a cushion. Be comfortable. In time the reason for a more sealed half or full lotus may become apparent.
Q: Can one kneel?
A: Yes. There is a seiza kneeling stool available or one can easily be made. Another aid to kneeling is to use a cushion under the buttocks. Unless culturally disposed and used to this mode of sitting or very young/flexible it can be painful. It is common in Japanese Zen practice. Sitting in a painful posture releases endorphins and is a form of sadomasochism.
Q: Can one sit in a chair?
A: Yes of course. Sitting in a chair might well become the Western norm.
Q: Can one stand?
A: Yes. Used in Tai Chi, Yoga, Martial Arts and mindful queuing
Q: Should the eyes be opened or closed?
A: Varies. Many advocate the eyes open and lightly focused on a spot about half a meter ahead. The advantage is lessening any form of internal dialogue. Closed eyed practice tends to be more useful when the chaotic mind and drifting tendency is less present. In some systems such as Sufism, the drifting tendency is actively encouraged as a form of communication with the subconscious dream state.
Q: What are some cushion sitting useful tips?
A: Keep the back straight as if suspended from a string on the back of the head, pulling one up. Move the head head back, so it is more above the torso. Loosen the jaw so the mouth is lightly open. Move the chin slightly down. Remove the poker up your ass. Be attentive, not morbidly rigid.
Q: Will I get help at a dharma centre?
A: Sure. Here is a handout provided at a Canadian Soto Zen Centre:
Why Soto Zen Meditation?
We experience life through the sense gates of our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind.
Any habitual grasping after, pushing away or ignoring of this information from our sense gates, becomes the attachments which cause of our suffering in life.
Soto Zen meditation is a process of freeing ourselves from these attachments and the suffering that results from them.
To set up a Soto Zen meditation practice:
Arrange a sitting space with minimal distractions for the period of time that you plan to sit. Wear loose fitting clothing and turn off any media devices that might intrude, like cell phones.
Choose a sitting posture that can be comfortably maintained with minimal muscular effort and that will allow you to remain alert. The most common postures are the half & full lotus crossed leg positions, the Burmese position with one leg in front of the other, kneeling postures or sitting on a chair.
The pelvis should be slightly tilted forward with a cushion or a bench to comfortably support the spine and prevent slouching. Check your spine to see if it is leaning off center or is twisting left or right. Do the same check for your head and neck. Rock gently back and forth to find the midpoint where your natural upright posture requires the least amount of physical strain to maintain itself.
Rest both hands, palms upwards, on your lap. Your dominant hand should be covered with the other hand. The thumbs should be lightly touching. If your hands cannot rest comfortably together on top of your lap, put something under your hands to support them so that they can.
If physical pain develops within your sitting position and becomes the focal point of your meditation for more than five minutes, quietly adjust or move into an alternative position and continue meditating.
Begin the meditation by observing the physical sensations of your natural breathing cycle in this present moment. Once this has been established, expand your awareness to include the observation of all your sense gates.
To facilitate this meditation with our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind …
Our eyes are left open, gazing downwards at a 45 degree angle to rest upon whatever view happens to be there. It is important to not direct the eyes to move around, search for anything in particular or create a blank perspective by un-focusing them.
Our ears hear whatever is there, whether sounds or silence. The important point is to not search for, reject, or ignore what we hear. Just allow whatever is there to be received without any attempted editing.
Our nose takes in all of the smells that happen to be present, without searching for, rejecting or being oblivious to them.
Our tongue tastes what the taste buds offer while gently resting still against the front teeth and with the mouth closed.
Our feelings or sensations are allowed to arise, live and pass on, without us trying to influence any part of their comings and goings.
Our thoughts are simply observed as they unfold with no deliberate attempts to direct them in any way.
The first instruction of Soto Zen meditation is to allow the information of what we see, hear, smell, taste, feel or think, to be free from being manipulated by our habituated responses.
The second instruction of Soto Zen meditation is to immediately restart the meditation process each and every time we notice our grasping after, pushing away or ignoring this information.
The degree to which these two instructions are mastered, is the same degree to which our attachments and corresponding suffering, simply ceases to be.
Here, freedom, clarity, equanimity and an ever widening heart, can freely unfold.