‘Being Zen’ has become an expression. It’s often associated with feeling good, with wellness, with spa centers. But the truth is something different…
Zen is a movement of Mahayana Buddhism (which focuses on the higher purpose: enlightenment for all living beings).
Born in China, it evolved to Japan, where Zen Buddhism became great. The word ‘zen’ comes from the Chinese word ‘cha’n’, which means concentration. Zen is also called Zazen. Za’ means sitting. So you can see Zazen as a sitting meditation.
Becoming Zen is pleasant: if you are Zen, you can concentrate well, your mind and body are calm and you can look at all kinds of things in an objective, distanced way. So it’s the perfect way to take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and calm your monkey mind, where you are immediately open to new creative people.
What Is Zen About?
Zen is about discipline, attention and concentration. In a Japanese Zen monastery it is anything but ‘zen’. Practitioners get up extremely early every day, sit fixed hours in meditation, eat at fixed times and engage in ‘monastic work’.
To explain the origin of the current, reference is often made to a sermon by the Buddha about the true ultimate nature.
He said nothing. Silence. Until he held up a flower, but still said nothing. The monks looked at each other questioningly, except for one monk: Mahakasyapa (he is seen as the first chief after the Buddha). A smile appeared on his face and the Buddha saw that he had understood.
Zen Buddhism is about finding your true nature, your Buddha-nature. According to Zen, everyone has that Buddha-nature within them and everyone can attain enlightenment and even become a Buddha. You don’t acquire this state after years of practice, Buddha-nature is our own nature. And seeing your own nature; that is Zen.
So the Buddha-nature is always there, in everyone. Only we have to get to it through a mash of ideas, concepts and conditioning. Through certain meditation techniques it can be possible to experience that state.
The essence of Zen meditation is to switch off the thinking brain. You go as it were ‘deeper’ than thinking. You try to switch off images and thoughts as much as possible.
We are often inclined to see the body, mind and breath as something separate. But in Zen meditation they come together.
Body posture, breathing and your mind are therefore very important in Zen meditation. Your posture and breathing are mainly supportive to the mind, to soothe the flow of thoughts.
Some people like to set up quiet and calm music during Zen meditation. Personally I don’t like this, but of course you are free to experiment with it.
The reason why I don’t play music while meditating is because of the associations you can have with the music. You are looking for internal strength/motivation/relaxation/quietness from within yourself.
When you turn on music you have certain associations with it and it influences your session. If the music is not there, then you will have a completely different feeling during your session. Without music your session will be as neutral and natural as possible. But everyone has their own preferences of course! 🙂
Let me now tell you about 6 important elements of Zen Meditation.
1. Lotus Seating Position
Your sitting posture is very important in Zen meditation, very similar to a meditation you would do in a Yoga class or Mindfulness meditation.
Traditionally, this is the lotus posture. However, many people are not able to sit this way, because a certain flexibility and mobility of your muscles and joints is required.
You can therefore also choose to sit in the half-lotus position, or the quarter-lotus position.
If this doesn’t work out either, you can choose to sit in the Burmese position. It might be nice to use a meditation cushion for this.
You can also choose to sit on your knees, or just in a chair. When you get down on your knees, using a meditation bench or pillow might be a good idea.
2. Straight Back
The most important thing during your sitting posture is your back: it has to be straight. This means that there is a small hollow in the lower back.
Make sure you do not collapse while sitting or lean too much to the left or to the right.
Your jawline is slightly retracted, as if you wanted to touch the sky with your crown.
3. Cosmic Mudra
During Zen meditation you keep your hands in the cosmic mudra. Here you put your right hand with the palm up in your lap, and then you put your left hand on top of it, also with the palm up. If you are left-handed, you do this the other way around.
Then let the tips of the thumbs of both hands touch each other as if they were holding an egg.
This mudra supports turning your attention inward and calming your thoughts.
4. Relax Your Face
Keep your mouth closed and place your tongue gently against your palate.
Traditionally, people who did Zazen meditation kept their eyes about half open. I myself find it much more pleasant to close my eyes, in practically every form of meditation.
So if you want to do it the traditional way, keep your eyes open. I always keep my eyes closed.
5. Natural Flow Breath
Traditionally, Zen masters never focused on a particular way of breathing. They believed that the right way of breathing was automatically achieved when you adopted the right posture.
Nevertheless, there are a number of guidelines you can pay attention to.
Breathe through the nose and not through the mouth (unless your nose is blocked). Focus on the natural rhythm of breathing as it flows in and out of your body.
Breaths are natural and calm. The inhalation and exhalation never disturb each other.
6. Zen Spirit
The most common Zen meditation exercise you can do during meditation is to count the breaths.
Count 1 on the inhalation, and 2 on the exhalation. You continue until you reach 10. When you reach 10, start again at 1.
If your thoughts wander off, which is sure to happen, acknowledge that this has happened, and count again from the number where you left off.
Do this at the beginning for 10 to 15 minutes.
If you can focus well on your breathing, you will notice that your brain activity is synchronizing with the calm and tranquil space of the breath. This is a wonderful feeling and gives you peace, space, focus and clarity.
You literally clear your head of polluted thoughts wandering around in it. Zen meditation is therefore very well suited to come back to yourself.
After your Zen meditation session you open your eyes, sit quietly for a while and feel… Make a commitment with yourself to take this feeling with you for the rest of your day.
If you feel good and comfortable with 10 – 15 minutes you can always add a few minutes until you finally have a one-hour session. Please note that you should have time for this then.
I am very curious if you have tried Zen meditation yourself. I myself find it a very pleasant and simple way of meditating. A meditation you can always do, even without guidance.
Let me know your experiences in the comments below!
With love ❤,