Generally, our meditation practice involves focusing our attention on the breath. We feel the flow of air coming in and going out of our nose. We feel how light and natural, how calm and peaceful our breathing functions. We do not need to control our breath. Feel the breath as it actually is. It’s okay if it’s short or long or deep or shallow. With time and practice it will naturally become deeper and slower. Conscious breathing is the key to uniting body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life.
At first, we can be mindful of 3 in-and out-breaths and gradually build our awareness and concentration over more breaths, and over a longer period of time. As our mind wanders, we gently return our attention to the breath. In this way, we can practice leaving behind our busy mind and be more in the moment.
Our breathing is a stable solid ground that we can take refuge in. Regardless of our internal weather – our thoughts, emotions and perceptions – our breathing is always with us like a faithful friend. Whenever we feel carried away, or sunken in a deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects, we return to our breathing to collect and anchor our mind.
Sitting Meditation is “me time.” It’s a time to be still with “no where to go, and nothing to do.” It is very healing, as we come to realize that we can just be with whatever is within us – our pain, anger, and irritation, or our joy, love, and peace. With practice, we can learn to be with whatever is there without being carried away by it. There is no need to push, oppress, or pretend our thoughts are not there and we can observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving eye. Let them come, stay, and then let go.
Stopping is the first important step when we sit down to meditate. When our body has stopped moving, it gives our mind a chance to calm down too. Then we can be free to be still and calm despite the storms that might arise in us. This takes practice though and will probably take time to develop peace, but stopping is that first step.
Basic Sitting Meditation Mechanics:
- Stop and find a place to sit
- Sit upright and straight but relaxed (on a cushion, bench, or chair – feet on the flat on the floor if on a chair)
- Relax your hands wherever they feel comfortable.
- Close your eyes gently, or leave them half-open if you are tired.
- If our legs or feet fall asleep or begin to hurt during the sitting, feel free to adjust your position quietly.
- In the beginning, just feel where you feel your breath—maybe in your stomach, nose, or elsewhere and just rest your mind there.
- We can maintain our concentration by following our breathing and slowly, and attentively change our posture.
- Once you are following your breath, you can count breaths if your mind wanders (which it will), or use a breath gatha that you say to yourself in your head (like: Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out. In, Out)
Practicing sitting meditation we want to unite our body and mind. This desire to feel our body, to be in our body, to understand our body, to fully embrace our body and to heal our body is an act of love.
It takes determination to settle into our body and to become aware of this world within us. When our body is at ease and comfortable, it does not take effort to sit like a mountain – to sit solidly and in freedom.
When we are unhappy or we have strong emotions, whether pleasant or unpleasant, it is often a challenge to be still. What allows us to be able to sit still and be calm is to follow our breathing.
This exercise of being aware of our in-and out-breath (meditation) brings the light of awareness to shine forth onto these strong emotions. When we understand something, or want to understand something, it is much easier for us to be present for it, unconditionally.
Mindfulness of our breath is an anchor that grounds us to our Mother Earth. It keeps us in place even when the winds of thoughts and feelings are blowing forcefully. Training ourselves to be mindful of our breath is like making a best friend. When we have a best friend, we connect more openly with other people, because we have someone to take refuge in – someone we believe understands us well. If our best friend is friends with someone else, then we too can be friends with him or her and at the least manage to hang out with him or her. That someone else, our “next friend” we meet on this path, is our body. Once we have made friends with our body, then it is easier and we have more confidence in making friends with our mind.
Sitting to relax, to enjoy, to understand: As our practice deepens sitting meditation can become like sitting and having a good cup of coffee or juice with a long time dear friend. You are just sitting and enjoying each others’ company and listening wholeheartedly without any judgment. You are there simply in order to understand, so you can be there for your friend. It is like that with sitting meditation as we get to know our body and mind. We want to sit so we can understand and know how to live our life more fully and happily without regrets. Since we are sitting with our best friend the breath, we feel secure and blessed to have someone so faithful by our side.
We do not need to be afraid of “not being enough” because we understand ourselves, and our limits and our potential. We know we have weaknesses but we know our faithful friend will be by our side and shed light on these areas as is needed throughout our life, so we can take it easy. This awareness of “being enough” is a great insight that can only come when we stop and care for ourselves, not allowing ourselves to be caught and carried away by the mainstream of society. We learn to live wisely from our understanding and wish to love life.
Bite-size sitting sessions: We do not need to sit for long. If we can sit peacefully and joyfully for 5-10 minutes in the morning, that is enough to water the seed of stopping and of coming back to ourselves. We can also sit for 5-10 minutes, breathing in and out in the evening before crashing on our bed to knock out for the night. Sitting for short periods like that is enough for us to be more aware of our actions of body, speech, and mind in order for us to develop and grow into a beautiful human being.
Sitting with the sangha: Developing a sitting meditation practice can be difficult, especially if we try to do it on our own. Community (sangha) is vital to our growth in this practice and is one of the three jewels of Buddhism (the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha). Sitting together in a group is a great joy and it supports you and your practice.
Each moment of daily life is an opportunity to arrive in the present moment. Gathas are short verses that we can recite during daily activities to help us return to the present moment and dwell in mindfulness. As exercises in both meditation and poetry, gathas are an essential part of Zen Buddhist tradition. Using a gatha doesn’t require any special knowledge or religious practice. Some people like to memorize a favorite verse that they enjoy coming back to again and again. Others like to write the verse down in a place they are likely to see it often. Further, those who are inspired to do so are invited to create their own gathas to support their practice in specific situations.
Here we offer a selection of gathas that you can use right now in different contexts of your daily life:
Sitting or Walking Meditation
I have arrived,
I am home
In the here,
In the now.
I am solid,
I am free.
In the ultimate
The mind can go in a thousand directions.
But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.
With each step, a gentle wind blows.
With each step, a flower blooms.
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion.
Brushing Your Teeth
Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth,
I vow to speak purely and lovingly.
When my mouth is fragrant with right speech,
a flower blooms in the garden of my heart.
This cup of tea in my two hands,
mindfulness held perfectly.
My mind and body dwell in
the very here and now.
Talking on the Telephone
Words can travel thousands of miles.
May my words create mutual understanding and love.
May they be as beautiful as gems,
as lovely as flowers.
Driving a Car
Before starting the car
I know where I am going.
The car and I are one.
If the car goes fast, I go fast.
Washing the Dishes
Washing the dishes
is like bathing a baby Buddha.
The profane is the sacred.
Everyday mind is Buddha’s mind.
Laying in Bed
Resting in the ultimate dimension,
using snowy mountains as a pillow
and beautiful pink clouds as blankets.
Nothing is lacking.
Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. (In)
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out. (Out)
Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. (Flower)
Breathing out, I feel fresh. (Fresh)
Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain. (Mountain)
Breathing out, I feel solid. (Solid)
Breathing in, I see myself as still water. (Water)
Breathing out, I reflect things as they are. (Reflecting)
Breathing in, I see myself as space. (Space)
Breathing out, I feel free. (Free)
Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. (In)
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out. (Out)
Breathing in, I feel my breath becoming deep. (Deep)
Breathing out, I feel my breath becoming slow. (Slow)
Breathing in, I calm my body and my mind. (Calm)
Breathing out, my body and my mind are at ease. (Ease)
Breathing in, I smile. (Smile)
Breathing out, I release all tension in my body and mind. (Release)
Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment. (Present Moment)
Breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment. (Wonderful Moment)