Chapter 4; Week 1
The awareness that time is constantly passing, we are getting older each day, and that we could die at any moment- puts an incredible amount of pressure on us to live fully every day and spend our time on this earth wisely and intentionally. The imminence of death gives significance to living. We can get caught up in the urgency to perfect ourselves, focusing on closing the gap between where we are and where we wish to be, who we are and who we wish we could be.
Perhaps the foremost experts on acceptance and patience, Buddhists have spent centuries using meditation as a tool to experience each moment with greater depth, increased awareness, and of course, to attain enlightenment (let’s just forget about this last one). The act of pausing to meditate is powerful alone and requires a reorientation towards leading a more disciplined life.
Assignment #1: Beth and I will meditate for 15-20 minutes in the morning and at night for the whole month of September. See if you can start with 15 minutes and by the end of the month, work your way up to 20 minutes.
We will practice meditation in the Japanese Soto Zen tradition. I’ve chosen this tradition because it is incredibly minimal and simple. Beth is welcome to identify and practice another form of meditation if another tradition appeals to her more.
Some simple instruction for Zen meditation (called “zazen”) is available here, courtesy of the American Zen Association. Amy will be on-call to answer questions about meditation basics and to provide peer support as they both try to follow this new rigorous routine. (Amy has practiced zazen before but has not kept with her practice.)
What you will need:
- A piece of floor space approximately 2.5’ by 2.5’ wide, preferably facing a flat wall or door.
- A quiet room if possible, but work with what you’ve got!
- Loose fitting pants/comfortable clothes.
- A makeshift meditation cushion. For a few years I used folded sheets and towels in a stack about 6 inches tall. Your instructions will help you assemble it to the proper height.
- A silent timer. The iphone timer function is great. Set the alarm sound to something tranquil so the bejesus is not scared out of you when you are through.
It is incredibly important to be very disciplined with this routine. There will be nights when you are “too tired,” are in a weird location, or have already passed out on a couch and woken up groggy-eyed at 2:00 am thinking, “There’s NO way I’m meditating now before I crawl into bed.” It’s really important to get over that hump and just do it.
More involved readings for beginners are available. Beth and Amy will discuss a book for her to read throughout the month to help hone her practice. Two suggestions include:
- Zen Meditation: Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner
- Vipassana Meditation: Mindfulness in Plain English by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana
True Zen consists of sitting quietly in the correct posture. It is not a special state, it is the normal state: silent, peaceful, without agitation. Zen means to put the mind at rest and to concentrate the mind and body. In zazen there is no purpose, no seeking to gain something, no special effort or imagination. It is not knowledge to be grasped by the brain. It is solely a practice, a practice which is the true gate to happiness, peace and freedom. –Taisen Deshimaru Roshi.
Recommendation #2: Simply make a list of the reoccurring issues that are involuntarily occupying your thoughts this week. These could be exciting things, sources of anxiety, work or financial stresses, relationship challenges, etc. You don’t have to share the list with anyone; you don’t have to work on eliminating or resolving these issues- just write them down!
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