the practical buddhist : essentials

sitting quietly, simply being

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I’ve always been an early riser. Of all 24 hours in the day, it’s the early morning, usually between four and six o’clock, that I love the most.

In those hours, the neighborhood is mostly still and in my house, even Sir Buddy (my loveable black Labrador) is sleeping on his giant cushion-bed. Because it’s the last week before school starts, my son Justin is also taking advantage of the early morning, and like Buddy, yielding to slumber.

As a child I was the one who quite naturally accepted a 5 a.m. paper route as the perfect part-time job. I was the one among an older sister and a younger brother to stay awake during early morning car trips taking in the new day as it unfolded in real time. It was a form of education that my siblings slept through.

The early morning has always held a special allure for me. So it’s natural -in a way- that I find it the best time to meditate. I’m at my best and most alert during this time. My mind is fresh and sleep, though a treasured commodity, is also not one I crave.

Sitting Quietly

When I meditate, I first do some mild stretching to release any lingering tension in my calves, lower back, neck, upper back, shoulders, and thighs. This can take up to five minutes to accomplish.

I then sit in the Burmese position (I find that age 54, it’s easier on my knees), fold my hands to form an oval with the tips of my thumbs lightly touching and keep my back straight and head erect.

Sometimes I close my eyes but I find this makes wandering thoughts not only possible but an express train out of the present moment. The present moment is where I wish to be.

Instead I keep my eyes slight softly unfocused, in a gaze downward at a comfortable angle. (I actually wear my glasses during meditation because the lower edge of the frames are a perfect line of soft gaze for me.)

Simply Being

Many first time or new meditation practitioners have false beliefs about Buddhist or Zen meditation. They confuse meditation with transcendent states of consciousness, trances, and deep insight.

Zen meditation, called zazen in Japanese, is simple sitting, simply being. It’s time spent in silence watching your breath, becoming your breath. It’s also watching the thoughts that arise like a tourist takes in the scenery of a scenic vista. It’s time spent as an observer in appreciation of the present moment, appreciation of your humanity, appreciation for the time free of judgmental thoughts (even about your wandering mind).

I sit and I follow my breathing. Sometimes, if my mind is particularly active, I’ll chant some prolonged ‘Om’ sounds. There’s no significance to this except that I find it very rapidly calms my mind.

When thoughts arise, and they do over and over, I acknowledge them and focus again on my breath, my Om, and my posture. I do this for about ten to twenty minutes. On weekends I’ll try for thirty minutes if Buddy isn’t bugging me for an early walk.

This is my simple meditation practice. I sit quietly. I allow myself to be me. I observe and appreciate.

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