The following is a system of meditation based on mindfulness and colored by Zen, which we will call Zen Mindfulness. This manual was originally published as "Mind Surfing in the Now: A Manual of Zen/Mindfulness", written by Steve Mensing and published by Parable Books in 1992.
"Mind Surfing in the Now: A Manual of Zen/Mindfulness" offers Zen/mindfulness practices without frills. Rooted in a hybrid of Zazen and mindfulness practices, this manual was created for students wanting to know the ins and outs of postures, breathing, and mental practices.
Warning: Folks with a history of mental illness, PTSD, or panic are urged not to use these techniques without a therapist. If you decide to do these processes you will agree to absolve the webmaster, the webhost, Emoclear.com, and Steve Mensing of any responsibility for the application or misapplication of these processes. There is always in any process the possibility that someone could experience some discomfort.
Zen/mindfulness leads to a wordless understanding of life and ourselves. Sometimes abrupt in its appearance, this understanding is not a product of image or thought, but a clear apprehending of how things are. With Zen/mindfulness we learn to overcome our tendency to substitute abstract labels and preconceptions for direct experience. In Zen/mindfulness we regard our moments as an opportunity to be aware and to live a full and vitally absorbing life.
This manual provides instruction on:
Sitting and active Zen/mindfulness practice.
Correct posture and breathing.
Allowing a focused, non-judging, and relaxed consciousness.
Non-conceptual word/phrase practice
Letting go of habitual ways of thinking and responding is not a simple task.
Just reading this manual will only offer someone an "idea" about Zen/mindfulness and Non-conceptual experience. If this manual is to assist someone in their journey, Zen/mindfulness requires application and practice.
Employing Zen/mindfulness methods can lead to:
Experiencing the present without distortion.
Overcoming compulsive grasping and striving.
Having a disciplined consciousness.
Directly exploring our mental productions.
Gaining emotional balance and naturally processing our feelings.
Reducing psychophysical stress.
Many of us struggle with taming our conceptual minds. We may naturally balk at altering habits or facing a certain amount of frustration and pain. This manual was written in the spirit that Zen/mindfulness could be made more chewable.
I acknowledge my teacher S.W. Rao and my students who taught me.
May your attention return you again and again to the now. The wave is here! Ride it fully! Let it be there with no intention of getting rid of it or keeping it.
Have fun, Steve Mensing
Warning: Folks with a history of mental illness, PTSD, or panic are urged not to use these techniques without a therapist. If you decide to do these processes you will agree to absolve the webmaster, the webhost, Emoclear.com, and Steve Mensing of any responsibility for the application or misapplication of these processes. There is always in any process the possibility that someone could experience some discomfort.
Here are the basics of Zen/mindfulness sitting:
1. How long will you sit? Decide the length of time you will sit. Will you sit from 20 to 35 minutes? You might consider a shorter program at the start until you experience more comfort in your sitting. Within two weeks of steady practice, you might graduate to 30 or 35 minute sitting periods. More details will be offered in Chapter 2: Zen/Mindfulness Posture.
2. Choose a quiet place: Choose a quiet room for sitting where you will not be disturbed. Read chapter 4: Zen/Mindfulness Practice.
3. Straight-backed chair: Use a straight-backed chair with a flat and lightly padded seat. Sit on the forward third of the seat. Plant your feet comfortably on the floor. To increase your comfort, sit on a thin pad. If you are troubled by back problems, place a pillow between your back and the chair's rest. For alternative postures and more details read chapter 2: Zen/Mindfulness Posture.
4. Foot position: Place your feet flat on the floor. Feet better be placed the width of your shoulders. Move feet either slightly forward or backward until you find the most comfortable and stable position. A full-lotus position offers no great benefits for westerners and for many of us this posture is uncomfortable and unduly distracting. If you want to use the traditional full-lotus and other postures, they and straight-backed chair sitting are described in chapter 2: Zen/Mindfulness Posture.
5. Straight spine: Straighten your spine before you align your head. Stretch your back comfortably, then relax. Allow your center of balance to be in your lower abdomen. Abdomen and shoulders are relaxed. Let go of slouching. An upright and straight spine promotes mindfulness and alertness. Keep your shoulders back and your chest open. For more details read chapter 2: Zen/Mindfulness Posture.
6. Allow your head to remain comfortably upright. Center your nose over your navel. Slightly tuck in your chin. For more details read chapter 2: Zen/Mindfulness Posture.
7. Allow eyes to comfortably rest: You may either keep your eyes two-thirds open or close them. If eyes are partially left open, gaze 3 to 4 feet ahead on the floor or at a bare wall. Allow eyes to rest. No focusing required. Experienced practitioners, not subject to drowsiness during Zen/mindfulness sitting, may close eyes. For more details read chapter 2: Zen/Mindfulness Posture.
8. Close mouth: Comfortably close your mouth. Keep the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth. Swallow any saliva and let go of any air in your mouth to create a partial vacuum. For more details read chapter 2: Zen/Mindfulness Posture.
9. Rest hands comfortably on your lap: place your right hand, palm up and fingers together, on your lap by your abdomen. Allow your left hand to rest on your right, with only your fingers overlapping. Bring the tips of your thumbs together and let them lightly touch so an oval forms. For more details read chapter 2: Zen/Mindfulness Posture.
10. Center your spine: Sway from side to side in decreasing arcs until your spine is centered. For more details read chapter 2: Zen/Mindfulness Posture.
11. Take a deep breath: Take a deep breath and exhale slowly and fully. Take a second and a third deep breath before you allow your breathing to settle into its natural rhythm. There is no need to manipulate the breath. The breathing will do the breathing. For more details read chapter 3: Zen/Mindfulness Breathing.
12. Attend to the breath or breath count: To allow your attention to settle, you may either "attend to the breath" or "breath count". In attending to the breath you simply pay attention to your breathing. Here you feel the breath going in and out and stay with it in a relaxed way. In breath counting, you subvocally count each inhalation and exhalation from one to four. Example: Inhale one...Exhale two...Inhale three...Exhale four...And start the counting cycle over again. When thoughts, feelings, or sensations arise, you can say either "thought", "feeling", or "sensation". After labeling each experience, you gently return your attention to your breath or start breath counting over again at one. There is no intention here of getting rid of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations or of keeping them. You are simply bringing your attention back to your breath. Remain as still as possible and complete your scheduled sitting. For more details read chapter 4: Zen/Mindfulness Practice.
Posture is a very important element in Zen/mindfulness sitting practice. Without correct posture we face large hurdles in stilling our consciousness, paying gentle attention, and the prospect of an unnecessarily painful sitting.
Is There a Best Posture?
Even though the full-lotus has its share of boosters, just about any posture will do for Zen/mindfulness if you are balanced, centered, and relaxed with a straight spine and buttocks thrust back. Sitting on a straight-back chair, a seiza bench, or a kneeling chair will give fine results. The full-lotus presents difficulties for many westerners and is not really required. A few spinal injury students may even meet Non-conceptual experience while lying on a sofa.
Tips on Sitting Practice
Sit relaxed with your spine straight and your buttocks thrust back. A straight spine keeps your mind alert and slows waves of thought.
An upright head leads to alertness. Keep head, neck, and spine aligned. Ears are in line with the shoulders and the tip of the nose is in line with the navel.
Practice sitting in a private and quiet place that is free of visual distractions. The room better not be too light or too dark.
For many, practice is often best done in the evening when we are energetic and less distracted. Some of us may be morning persons and our practice is better at this time.
You may close your eyes. This cuts down on stimulus, yet may produce drowsiness for some) or you may keep your eyes open, yet unfocused. Let go of looking at anything save for a plain surface 3 to 4 feet ahead on the floor or a bare wall. When you finish sitting, roll your eyes several times or follow a finger from left to right to regain your focus. If you close your eyes this does not mean you will fall asleep. Remember our eyes are frequently closed when we orgasm. We are alert then.
Remove any glasses during sitting.
Keep your chest comfortably up. Soon you will do this unconsciously.
Use a posture that feels best and can be maintained for 30 minutes or so.
Elbows better be relaxed and hang loosely. Keeping your hands flat, with your palms facing up, can create tension in your elbows and forearms.
Let go of creating too much pressure against your thumbs. Avoid holding your elbows stiffly at your sides because the pressure on your hands becomes greater.
Hands slip down? Use a folded napkin in your lap or let your left hand rest within the fingers of the right. Sleepiness or torpor can cause your hands to slip into your lap.
Daydreaming or drifting thoughts can cause the head to slump. For correction, take a deep breath and raise your chest's sternum. Ears line up with shoulders. The chin tucks in. Return your attention to your breathing or word/phrase practice.
Lower back ache is common among sitters. Here your lower back muscles lack the strength to support you for any length of time. Do not sit ramrod straight. Lean forward slightly without rounding the back. This cuts down on lower back pressure. Check cushions or padding if used. Too high? Too low? Too hard? Too soft? These contribute to lower back pain.
Strengthen your lower back with these 2 exercises:
a) Stand erect and slowly bend over from the base of your spine. Keep your knees and back straight and touch your palms to the floor or as near as you can get. Do not strain or jerk.
b) Sit on the floor with your legs extended. Bend from the spinal base and attempt to touch your toes. Always keep your legs firmly on the floor. Do not strain or jerk.
When you complete your sitting, arise slowly. Your hemispheric blood flow may have changed your sense of balance. It will return after you start moving around.
Socks and trousers can interfere with the full-lotus position.
Rest right hand, palm upward, on lap and place left hand, palm upward, on top of the right palm. Lightly touch the thumb tips to each other so a flattened circle is formed by the palms and thumbs.
Bend forward to thrust your buttocks back, then slowly bring the trunk to an erect posture. Torso better be weightless, free from pressure or strain.
Tip of tongue can touch the rear of the upper teeth.
A slumped body pressures the organs and can strain muscles and vertebrae. Body and mind are one. Any impairment of the physiological functions can involve consciousness and disturb clarity and one-pointedness.
Ramrod erectness may show a rigid and close-minded approach to life. A slouchy posture may demonstrate depression or non-caring. These postures are likely to become blocks to practice.
If your legs fall asleep, it's generally because nerves and veins are pressured. Shift your position either forward or back. If you have circulation problems in your legs, you can help yourself by frequently altering your posture. Rubbing down your legs before and after sitting can be beneficial.
Intense pain may signal you are overdoing it. Practice better leave you with a sense of well-being and not strong discomfort.
If you experience burning in your neck, let your attention go to your lower abdomen and allow your shoulders to hang effortlessly.
Sit for short periods when you first begin Zen/Mindfulness so you can get used to sitting. 5 to 10 minutes at first--more later. Increase to 30 to 35 minutes at a time and then go for 5 to 10 minute walking breaks. If you sit too much at first, you may suffer intense pain before you get a calm mind.
Neck soreness can result from inclining your head upward, downward, or sideways.
Bend your body to the right as far as it will go, then to the left. Repeat about 5 times. Start with large arcs, then smaller ones until the trunk is naturally centered.
To prevent a burning feeling across the shoulder blades, let your shoulders hang effortlessly. Take a deep breath, lift your sternum slightly, and exhale slowly. This will release the tightness in your shoulders. Let go of attempting to straighten your shoulders or pull them back. Your neck and head will ride freely on your spinal column. Let go of consciously focusing on your neck for this can generate pain.
If you frequently gulp saliva, you may be holding your chin too far forward or your chin is lowered. Remedy: allow your head to come back until your neck touches your shirt collar. Keep your tongue pressed against the roof of your mouth and allow your attention to focus on your lower abdomen.
Stress and pain often signal your posture is not helpful.
Our posture may become poor during those times when certain thoughts and images enter our awareness. In reverse our slumping bodies often invite negative imagery and thinking. To remedy this situation bring your body back to good posture which brings alertness and determination. Watch out for leaning to the left or right. Sometimes our body is overly strong on one side. We can build our strength in our weaker areas and compensate. Often adding a slim pillow or a folded towel to the misaligned buttock can help.
To maintain continuous full attention we can repeatedly generate new tension in our lower abdomen. Here diaphragm muscles oppose abdominal muscles.
Pain, that doesn't go away when you get up, walk, and stretch for a time, may be an injury.
Remember: the spine curves slightly at the waist. Your belt is loose and your stomach bulges slightly. Your rear is comfortably thrust back for solid support.
Let go of being attached to seated practice. Although sitting is mindfulness, so is eating, walking, talking, and silence.
Types of Posture
Chair sitting: Choose a straight-back chair and place a slim cushion under the rear of your buttocks. Feet, spread the width of your shoulders, better rest firmly on the floor. Keep back straight and comfortably thrust buttocks back. Hands in lap. Chair sitting gives a wide and solid base. Make sure to use a chair that allows your buttocks to go back. Thinly padded metal folding chairs work well here.
Seiza sitting: Sit on a low tilted seiza bench or straddle a cushion inserted between heels and buttocks to relieve pressure on heels. Both knees are in line with each other on the mat. Hands may rest on cushion or lap. For extra height, the cushion may be placed on another cushion. Modern kneeling "computer" chairs work like elevated seiza benches. The kneeling "computer" chair can be used if it's stable. For some seiza sitting can produce stress on the knees.
Laying down: Laying down doesn't come highly recommended because its often a signal for sleeping to most of us. However it may be the only option open to people with back challenges. On a positive note, I've known of people who have undergone Non-conceptual experience while lying down. In lying down use a relatively hard surface. Lay on a rug with your head slightly supported by a thin pillow or a folded towel. A doubled-over towel can be inserted in the hollow of the back.
Full-lotus: Difficult for most westerners, the full-lotus asks us to place our right foot over our left thigh with our knees touching a padded mat. Knees better be in line with each other. The abdomen better be relaxed and slightly protruded. Hands rest on heels of both feet. Thumbs touch lightly and make an oval. Reverse legs when left foot tires. Ears better be in line with shoulders and tip of nose in line with the navel. Draw chin in a bit. Spine erect with buttocks thrust comfortably out. A single low cushion under rear buttocks is preferable. Thoughts are less likely stirred.
Tips on Full-Lotus
Simple stretching exercises can help us adjust to the rigors of the full-lotus. Press on knees. Flexibility can be increased by sitting on the floor with both legs stretched out in front of you. Fold the right leg and place the right foot on top of the left thigh as comfortably as possible. Hold the right foot with the left hand and gently bounce the right knee with your right hand. Reverse legs and repeat. If possible, place right foot against your inner thigh and bounce the knee in this position. Flexibility comes with practice. Stretch your feet and legs in any position requiring flexibility. Avoid overdoing it.
Another stretching exercise for the full-lotus:
1) Bring heels to crotch, bend forward with a straight back, and touch your face to the floor. Place hands on the floor just above your head. Knees better touch the floor and if they don't, rock them gently up and down, stretching the ligaments. Avoid any forcing.
2) Bring feet together with your legs outstretched. Bend forward and touch your hands to the floor by your feet. Keep back and legs straight. If you can, touch your face to your knees. Avoid forcing.
3) Extend your legs apart as far as possible. Bend forward, keeping your back and legs straight. Touch your forehead and nose to the floor. Place hands above your head on the floor.
4) Double back one leg at a time so your foot is by your buttocks. Your instep, shin, and knee better be resting on the pad. Bring back your other leg. Now lie flat on your back. Avoid going too long or you might strain a muscle or ligament.
Full-lotus posture requires a cushion and pad. Best pad is 28 inches square, stuffed with kapok or cotton batting 1 and a half inches thick. The "zafu" a cushion) is round, stuffed with kapok, is 12 inches or larger in diameter. The zafu elevates your buttocks so you won't strain. These pillows are frequently advertised in "Tricycle Magazine". Rolled up blankets may replace the zafu. Cushions better be 3 to 6 inches in thickness.
All about Zen/Mindfulness Breathing
A straight back facilitates good breathing. Breathe from the lower abdomen, not the chest. When inhaling, the lower abdomen becomes slightly convex as it fills with air. When exhaling, the lower abdomen becomes concave.
Breath is taken in naturally and easily by relaxing the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. At the same time allow the lower abdomen to inflate. The diaphragm is then contracted while the abdominal muscles are tensed. This prevents chest breathing.
Expire naturally to avoid strain. Toward the bottom of the exhale, you can contract the diaphragm to make it work in opposition to the contraction of the abdominal muscles.
After establishing a good posture, take a deep breath, hold it, and comfortably and quietly let it go. Repeat this 3 times, breathing slowly through your nose. Breathe naturally from your belly after you do the 3 deep inhalations and exhalations. Let go of manipulating the breath. Let the breathing take care of itself. Fast, medium, or slow--it does not matter.
As we mature in practice, our breath almost stops. Breathing becomes longer and longer, softer and softer. At times breathing appears not to be stirring.
To get your center of gravity down in your lower abdomen, so your breathing is more abdominal, imagine your nostrils are two inches below your navel. In a minute or so let go of this visualization and let your breathing become natural.
A sagging spine and growing thoughts give way to quickened or jerky breathing. This increases muscular tensions which saps your energy and leads to a lack of clarity.
If you lose awareness of your breath because it becomes too fine, simply shift your awareness to your posture. More on "Breath counting" and "Following the breath" in the next chapter.
Let go of making a technique of your breathing--just allow it to happen. Let the breathing do the breathing.
Breathe through the nose except when stuffed up.
Breath should neither be rasping, nor restricted, neither too long or too short, too weak or too forced
This chapter will focus on:
1. Breath counting.
2. Following the breath.
3. Sitting practice in general.
4. Thoughts and images in practice.
5. Emotions and sensations in practice.
6. Blocks to practice.
Folks, new to Zen/Mindfulness sitting, will find breath counting a good place to start. This practice helps to focus and bring our attention under gentle control. Breath counting starts with counting each inhalation and exhalation while in motionless posture.
Step 1: Count the in breath as 1 and the out breath as 2. The next in breath is 3 and the next out breath is 4. When you reach 4, start the count over again: 1...2...3...4. Every time you lose the count or mentally drift, return to 1 and start the count over again.
Tips on Step 1:
Breath counting puts the reasoning mind to rest. Waves of thought are slowed or stilled and a gradual one-pointedness of attention is achieved.
Be kind to yourself when you lose count or mentally drift. Everyone does it. Proper breath counting is a skill to be learned through trial and error. Without calling yourself names, just return to the count and start over.
When you inhale focus on "1". When exhaling attend to "2", and so on up to "4".
When counting subvocally, say one-n-n-n-n with the respiration. Two-o-o-o-o. Three-ee-ee-ee-ee etc.
Avoid forcing the breath in any way.
Let go of counting on one level and daydreaming on another.
Step 2: When your attention and focus become so clear that your count is not lost, then the next step is to count the entire inhalation and exhalation as one unit. Example: In breath, then out breath one-n-n-n-n. In breath, then out breath two-o-o-o-0. Three-ee-ee-ee-ee. Etc. Count only the out breath. NOTE: In Zen/Mindfulness breathing only the abdomen is moving. Breathe comfortably--do not force it.
Following the Breath
After you've mastered breath counting, you can follow the breath. Here you follow each inhalation and exhalation with attention. At the start of exhaling, breathe naturally and then squeeze the respiratory muscles so as to nearly halt your breathing. The air remaining in your lungs can escape slowly. The longer the comfortable exhalation, the better. Soon this breathing is second nature to you. Your breathing will do the breathing.
Allow your attention to follow your breathing by being aware of your abdomen rising and falling or by paying attention to your breath going in and out of your nostrils. Either focus point is okay. Choose one and stick with it. When attending to the nostrils, focus on the area around the tip of the nose or the upper lip.
Each respiration is the essence of the present. Each breath is fully felt. Indentify with the breath like a starved wolf becoming one with its food. Unaware of its eating, the wolf just eats.
Tips on Following the Breath
Let go of visualizing the breath because visualization and imagination are limiting concepts. When we visualize or imagine something we add something to our experience.
Just sit and feel yourself breathing. Your effort is directed at nothing. If you are focused on your breathing, you will forget yourself.
Breath is allowed to follow its natural rhythm, but as your practice develops, it automatically deepens and slows, growing more even.
When breathing--often no I, no world, no body, no time.
Sitting and breathing is just sitting and breathing. Nothing added--nothing removed. Intention becomes full attention.
Keep your attention fixed on your breathing. If your attention drifts, return it to your breathing. Attend to each breath for its full duration. The entire in breath and the entire out breath.
Sit with the strength of a large mountain.
Tips on General Sitting Practice
Limit sitting to 30-35 minutes at a time. This rule better be adhered to at the start. Later you may experience day long sitting, but these are special occasions. Long sitting can be taxing. During long sessions always get up and walk around being mindful for several minutes.
Zen/mindfulness is letting go of thinking good or bad. Zen/mindfulness is neither conscious endeavor nor introspection.
The instant you hold a fixed view of the way things should be--you return to thinking.
Be aware of clarity, yet let go of being attached to it. Clarity grows with practice.
Sitting is just sitting and being aware without striving.
Set a specified time for sitting and then follow through on it. Sit even when you do not feel like it.
Patience and no drowsing are virtues in practice.
Become the movements of your respiratory muscles.
Consciousness by nature is always thinking of something. Left alone it begins to daydream.
Discovering Non-conceptual experience takes as long as it takes. We are individuals with differing capacities. Zen/mindfulness requires daily practice. There are surely faster routes to Non-conceptual experience. Crack open a word/phrase, pop a feeling into full essence. There are hyper speed tracks to Non-conceptual experience. However patience, a strong attention span, the ability to sit through makyo, build the interior of a practitioner and are rewards possibly ranking with the treasure of Non-conceptual experience. A wise man with no patience or compassion is like a __________________.
Alert, clear, single-minded, and effortless sitting can only be achieved with much practice.
Self-conscious effort can cause tension in different areas of the body and may result in aches and pains.
Before you sit, notice how your practice will bring clear and valid experience. Also know you can never capture the experience intellectually.
If we practice daily with our minds free of discriminatory thoughts, we will find it easier to become absorbed in our daily tasks. If we perform our acts with full attention and clear awareness, it will be easier to know emptiness during sitting.
Let the body hang from the spine by its own weight. The experience of letting go will carry to the breath and to the attention.
When the thinking and imaging content of our minds come to rest, the wandering mind disappears.
Avoid getting up too quickly from sitting. Rock gently from side to side. Rise slowly and walk around.
By allowing your attention to rest in the pit of your belly between the navel and the pelvis, our random flow of thoughts and images slows. Our attention is unwavering when anchored here.
A still body often isn't felt. Its image vanishes away. Just breathing. And someday no label for that.
Sitting is not a ritual. Sitting is simply a process of attending to your breath while in good posture.
Absorb yourself in your practice whether sitting or walking. Practice is being fully in the present. Before long any notion of present drops away.
In Zen/mindfulness there is no goal or journey. You are aware and attending to what is happening now. At some point even a sense of now evaporates.
Unconscious images often arise during practice. Observe them and let them be. You are allowing them to be there with no intention of getting rid of them or keeping them. Our nature will take care of everything.
Don't cling to the present or the now. They will be here on their own and even they fall away.
When your attention is fully cultivated, it flows without effort like a well-trained piano player. He/she plays--he/she is absorbed.
If we experience a strong pain in our bodies, our practice becomes stronger. Our attention stays easily on pain without drifting.
An untrained mind clings to the pleasant and condemns the unpleasant. Bare attention brings our mind to a state of rest. Bare attention, when developed through practice, becomes habituated and effortless.
Eventually the momentum of practice becomes so strong that practice becomes habituated. When our practice comes out of ease and simplicity, this ease and simplicity comes out of effortless awareness.
Observe sensations hot, cold, heavy, painful, light, etc) and their associated feelings as they arise. Observe them without clinging to them, identifying with them, or pushing them away.
Allow your attention to relax when observing painful feelings. Tension shows aversion. Relax when pained and view the flow as it appears and vanishes, appears and vanishes from moment to moment.
Understanding means little in practice. Doing is the key. Directly demonstrate what being fully in the moment is instead of just believing it. The moment you recognize the present you are out of it.
Be wisely skeptical by keeping open-minded with a touch of doubt.
Commit yourself to your sitting.
Let go of believing in higher or lower, better, and perfect. Let go of opinions and preconceptions if you want to know what Non-conceptual or non-dual experience is.
Nothing forced--nothing sought.
Eventually our notions of technique dies and we are just breathing.
Overseriousness is a block. The Buddha laughed and joked. Bodhidharma was a prankster.
Let go of attempting to control or to achieve peacefulness or serenity.
That's not what Zen/mindfulness is about.
If we practice at home we will face neighborhood sounds. We can't stop the noise, yet we can accept sounds. Noise contains quiet.
Eating and drinking too much before sitting can make you groggy and award you with gurgles.
Avoid sitting with an absent mind.
Tension in your body? Awareness dissolved tension.
Non-conceptual experience is not something to figure out. It can't be grasped.
If you want to practice, let go of all your previous ideas and just practice. Go with what happens in practice.
What is more important? To be rewarded or to enjoy your life in the effort to bring success or to find meaning in your efforts.
Let your mind alone and it will become clear.
When sleepy, have sleepy practice. Often sleepiness is related to strong practice. The cortex is quieter than usual. Illusions may appear at this time. Non-conceptual experience can sometimes appear when we wake up or fall asleep. Allow sleepiness to happen--sit with it. Each time you start to nod off, accept it, and calmly bring yourself back.
Washing your face or taking a drink of water between sitting periods can alter the intensity of your feelings, pain, or sleepiness.
Let go of seeking the "good" of quiet or avoiding the "bad" of noise.
Accept pain in sitting. Live with it. (Don't force injuries) Let go of excessively avoiding pain.
If you are preoccupied with difficulties in practice and really overwhelmed by them at the time. Jot them down in a notebook and agree to pick them up after practice. Problems are best resolved outside of practice. However, some emotionally based challenges can be objects for practice as you get firmer in experience. Just observing feelings can have a profound effect on integrating them. We pay attention to them with no intention of getting rid of them or keeping them.
Stuck feelings may be dealt with by using the Accept This, Love That meditation on the Process Page. Also Active Feeling may be integrated into Zen/Mindfulness practice.
Processing or integrating disturbing and stuck emotions and physical sensations with Emoclear processes can be very helpful with moving Zen/Mindfulness practice along.
When our initial enthusiasm for practice dies down we become more aware of distractions and how difficult sitting is. This is when commitment pays dividends.
Sitting and Non-conceptual experience are the same. You sit and breathe. Tall order for an adding and subtracting mind.
Let go of gaining anything or thinking you'll get something. We sit and express our nature.
Practice is not excitement, but attending to our usual routine.
Let go of goals "in" practice. Just sit and breathe.
Practice whether joyful, tired, or cranky. Joy in practice is neither good or bad. Let go of clinging to joy.
Stopping your mind does not mean stopping your mental activity. It means your mind follows your breathing and attends to your activity.
Bodhidharma once said: "When you sit, you sit. When you eat, you eat. That is all."
People just starting out better practice with effort. The effort here is to sit at a specified time no matter what. The effort is to return your attention again and again to your breathing, breath counting, or activity.
Good practice is doing your practice with your entire mind and body, without gaining ideas.
Calmness of mind is never aimed for. Calmness of mind does not mean you should halt your activity. Real calmness better be found in the activity itself, in the absorption.
Progress comes in small steps.
Non-conceptual experience maybe something special before you do it. The experience is nothing special after you do it. Well maybe for 10 minutes of wowing.
When you sit in right posture, the mental waves grow smaller and smaller. Keep your mind on your breathing. Mind breathes. Then one day no mind and no breath.
In practice watch with an accepting eye. This acceptance is always in the background. In practice we accept things as they happen, whether pleasurable or unpleasureable, whether hateful or likeable.
Practice is never training to be a superior person or to be a sage. That all falls by the wayside.
People who struggle hard with their practice find a powerful meaning in it.
Correct posture is a correct state of mind. There isn't a need to obtain some special state of mind. When you don't seek anything, your body and mind are right there.
When we practice, all that exists is the breath's movement.
Timers and gentle alarm clocks will advise you when the session is over. After a few days or weeks you will intuitively know the time to stop within seconds.
In everyday experience you are absorbed. No you and no thing you do. There is not even one. The present is burned out.
Confidence in practice only comes from patience and practice.
Accept that our minds often behave restlessly. Let go of blaming yourself or your mind if you make errors. Accept yourself, your thoughts, and your images whether negative or positive. If you reject yourself--you reject the agent of Non-conceptual experience. Focus on the error and correct it instead of downing yourself with a label and a law only you might hold.
Practice is not a course in self-improvement. We don't remold a self. Self is forgotten in the act of doing. There is no conscious striving to get rid of the self.
Forgetting the self is just doing the task with no self-consciousness sticking to the action.
At first practice is strained and mechanical, but with time practice becomes natural and unconscious. You do it without thinking like driving on the highway.
Thinking about something other than the matter at hand separates us from experience.
Doing Zen/mindfulness with a group and a teacher can be highly motivating. Find a sitting group in your area. Good sources of information: neighborhood newspapers, the internet, universities, churches, university religion departments, stress management clinics, bookstore bulletin boards. Look under Zen, mindfulness, Vapissana, and Mahamudra. You might want to start a Zen/Mindfulnes group with friends.
Don't wait for the right mood or inspiration to practice. The right mood or inspiration comes from doing, from being in the flow, from being absorbed in the present. Set a specific time to practice and follow through no matter how you "feel" unless you're really ill). We can always get up and do important things no matter how we feel at first.
Counting breaths at the start of a session helps with getting a good focus right off.
At first you will become conscious of each step of the practice. Later, you become the practice itself. Practice does the practice.
Mistakes will happen. We are fallible and our thought processes will supply us with plenty of thought streams.
Practice involves checking illusions and mistakes and returning your attention to the practice, checking illusions and mistakes and returning your attention to the practice.
Practice is neither avoiding or clinging. Practice is just paying full attention and leaving ourselves open to what is happening. No preferences. No attachment. No condemning. No holding back.
Practice awareness is a choiceless awareness which looks upon all things equally, without preference. This is the wellspring of acceptance.
Allow the background awareness of sound to simply be there.
In observing breath thoughts, images, and feelings, we experience these objects as part of a passing movie. We may identify with the observer. When we let go of identifying with the observer our practice grows stronger. Self-lessness develops.
In practice we observe the momentary nature of phenomena. It comes in waves. We see the spaces in between. It all comes from the void and returns to the void. What watches is void. What is watched is void. The consciousness that supports it is void. The word void is void.
Form is formlessness. Formlessness is form. Know this directly. At first our moments of clarity are far apart. Gradually they come together and we are more there.
Healthy eating habits, sleep, and exercise are vital to practice. We require energy and strength. Our focus is best when we are properly nourished.
Thoughts & Imagery in Practice
Thoughts come in 3 basic varieties: neutral, negative, and positive. Neutral thought: "I wonder what movie I'll attend?" or "What's for lunch?" Negative thought:"I'll never get this right." or "I'm a flop."
"These thoughts raise negative emotions." These thoughts raise negative emotions. Positive thought: "I'm doing well." or "What a wonderful day."
These thoughts bring positive feelings.
Random ideas in practice are relatively innocuous, but ideologies, beliefs, opinions, and viewpoints as well as facts to which we're attached) obscure raw experience.
You will experience various thoughts and images from time to time. If you experience thoughts, feelings, or images as good--let go of clinging to them. Likewise if you experience thoughts, feelings, and images as bad--let go of checking or eliminating them. Perceptions and sensations are not roadblocks to practice. Neither stop them nor hold onto them. In holding on I mean: 1) Our attention focuses on sound. 2) Our vision remains on objects. 3) Our mind adheres to an idea.
Letting go of thoughts is letting thoughts wear out. We acknowledge thoughts, then gently return our attention to our breathing or our activity. Over and over our attention gently returns. Eventually we grow disinterested in our thoughts. They lose force and meaning. Our attachment to them falls away.
Let random thoughts and feelings come and go. Let go of forcing them away and let go of lingering on them. Return your attention to your breathing.
Fleeting thoughts, which naturally occur, are not a problem. We do not halt our consciousness. No matter how intently we become our breaths, we still perceive.
We pay more attention to the thoughts that have the most meaning to us. We are attached to these thoughts until we let go and swing our attention back to our breath.
Thinking paints our reality, shapes it, magnifies it or minimizes it, plans it, measures it, qualifies it, takes from it and adds to it etc.
Thinking holds us from directly experiencing.
Let thoughts and images arise and vanish on their own. Our consciousness remains observing and relaxed in the coming and going flow.
Here is another two types of thoughts: 1) Fleeting thoughts which quickly come and go. You may note a sound or a brief thought. "This feels good" or "My mind is clear." 2) Dreamy thoughts: long thoughts and images. They often come from moderate exhalations. To overcome dreamy thoughts: let them go, slow your breathing, and return your attention to your breath.
Let go of judging and evaluating thoughts because it gives them strength. When thoughts come--simply observe them. No rejection--no clinging. Experience will show you that thoughts come and go, come and go. You directly experience thoughts and sensations impermanence.
Let go of trains of associations. Let go of analyzing thoughts. Let go of questioning why and about where thoughts come from. Be aware that thinking is happening. Let go of taking the thought to be "I" or the self.
Is thought the thinker?
When you are detached from your thought processes, thoughts don't last long.
We can use concepts and the intellect without being slaves to them. When is it most appropriate to think?
Watch out for thinking: "This is Non-conceptual experience." or "That is Non-conceptual experience." Thinking this way is conceptualizing experience.
Thoughts can enslave us or provide freedom or fall somewhere in-between.
Pleasure or pain--what differentiates them?
A goal of seeking detachment is attachment. Breathing is sufficient.
Let go of thinking past or future or present. Just sit.
Accept each thought by labeling it "thinking", then come back to your breathing. Give thoughts no value and let go of calling them good or bad.
Let go of blocking thoughts and images. Let go of forcing thoughts and images away. Let them go by. Forcing and blocking will create more thoughts. Allow. Permit.
Fleeting thoughts result from a lack of alertness in practice. These background thoughts are like background noise. Gradually fleeting thoughts die out on their own. Consciousness soon calms on its own.
Accept that you have thoughts and feelings during practice. Let go of putting yourself down for having them.
We make waves in our consciousness--nothing comes from the outside.
And at a certain level is there really an inside or an outside?
There is experience and there are concepts. We often confuse ideas with direct experience.
Emotions and Sensations in Practice
If you have repetitive worries--write them down. After practice you can take action on experiencing the underlying feelings that are firing up your worries.
If fear comes up--observe it, yet don't identify with it. Fear can also be fully felt and cleared with a clearing process.
Positive feelings, in practice, lead to clinging. Negative feelings lead to aversion. When we become mindful of feelings we can observe them with detachment.
Emotions often emerge in practice. Allow them to come and go. They spring from our thoughts and imaginings.
Noticing and acknowledging our emotions is progress toward becoming responsible for them. Anger, anxiety, calm, depression, happiness, and joy all come from our evaluations about events, others, ourselves, and things.
If anxious or restless, count breaths and breathe deeply from your belly for a few minutes before you return your attention to your practice. Later you can full experience these feelings so you can integrate them.
Worry agitates the mind and makes attention difficult. Worry asks: what if? In asking "what if", worry focuses on a negative outcome.
The small self gains a negative label. If worry appears, ask yourself what is the worst that can happen and can you cope with it? Sit with worry and gently bring your attention back to your breath or activity.
Later you can give its underlying anxiety your full attention. If it continues to intrude then by all means make its fueling anxiety the focus of your Zen/mindfulness.
Be aware of "I can't stand-itis." You can stand feelings and difficult practice. Ask yourself if you could stand it for a billion dollars, Non-conceptual experience, "true love", or some other highly valued reward. If you can stand this situation for any of these highly valued awards, then we can assume you can stand it period. Standing the difficult builds frustration tolerance.
Anger is agitating in practice. It comes from believing others, that they should do something or should not do something. Better to prefer or want, rather than to demand. We forget in anger the other person or the world is multi-faceted and has many positive, neutral, and negative qualities. If angry in practice, jot down what you find anger provoking, then return your attention to your breath or activity. The anger can be handled after practice.
Guilt is breaking an ironclad should or must law. Further, we down ourselves with a negative label. Better we return our shoulds and musts into preferences and wants and note we are fallible, yet multi-faceted persons with many positive, neutral, and negative qualities.
Blocks to Practice
Let go of demanding anything dramatic happening.
Each distraction can be labeled distraction before you return your attention to your breathing.
Let go of seeking Non-conceptual experience. Just sit and breathe.
Be aware of any infatuation you have with Zen/mindfulness. This period of infatuation is usually short-lived. Soon we realize practice takes setting time aside and doing.
When feelings of achievement subside along with your thoughts of Non-conceptual experience, then you will resume "just sitting".
Over focusing on pain and discomfort can be a ploy our mind uses to protect old habits. If you experience tension and anxiety, your pain and discomfort might increase. You can stand it. Fuse with the pain and it will gradually transform.
Let go of being attached to sitting practice. Work with hearing, walking etc.
Boredom may be produced by expecting excitement or that something "big" should happen. Boredom is a belief we've added to our experience. It's best to sit through boredom. You learn directly that you can stay with it. Boredom in sitting is neither good or bad. You don't have to do anything or expect anything. You breathe and you are there.
Some of the most common blocks to practice are: 1) Clinging to sensations and feelings. 2) Anger. 3) Low tolerance for pain and frustration. 4) Restlessness. 5) Lack of belief in the process and outcome. 6) Low tolerance for unnaturalness. 7) Fear of experiencing unconscious images and thoughts. Fear of change and having new challenges. 9) Demand for instant success. 10) Fear of losing emotions. 11) Fear of losing control. 12) Fear of remaining in some state forever. 13) Demand our sitting goes perfectly. 14)Fear of failure. 15) Concern over our changing relationships with others. 16) Having too many things to do. 17) Waiting for inspiration or the right mood to sit. 18) Forgetting to sit. 19) Being too upset to sit.
When drowsy or tired, pay attention to the sleepiness, yet don't identify with it. You may want to alter your posture. If you're really tired you might want to get up and take a brisk walk.
When restless you can make restlessness the object of your awareness. Sit and observe restlessness. Restlessness comes and goes. You can return your awareness to your breath. Sitting very still in a straight posture also can overcome restlessness.
If you have doubt--pay attention to it. Acknowledge it without indentifying with it.
Let go of striving after calm, love, serenity, power, or wholeness in your sitting. Striving after anything brings waves of thought.
Inner calm is a natural byproduct of nonstriving consciousness.
An object to be abandoned is no different than its antidote. Watch out for desire and aversion, subject and object.
Illusions come when our focus is developed to a certain point. Dreamlike in content. Illusions are not from Non-conceptual experience. Whether positive or negative, let illusions go by and return to your breathing.
When caught up in a fantasy, it can completely occupy you. When it weakens, you will notice your mind has strayed before you return your attention to your breath. In fantasies we plan and tell stories. Daydreaming and planning have a place in life, but they are not for practice.
Questioning your ability to practice is often a way our minds balk at change. Watch out for too much questioning and doubting. Worry and concern during practice produces plenty of thought. Return to your breath. Just sit and breathe.
Obstacles and frustrations can help you learn correct practice.
Refrain from using intoxicants because they create tiredness and a drifting focus.
Watch out for "it doesn't feel right for me" because most new experiences will not feel right at first.
Avoid any competition in practice. You will be focused on the future and leave the present.
You will hear traffic, insects, running water, or a ticking clock. Sudden sounds like breaks squealing, motorcycles, and roaring jets can be distracting. Stay away from human voices in person or on TV or radio). Later when you have developed your practice, noise will not disturb you.
We have a lifetime of mental conditioning to overcome and our natural discomfort with some changes. Let go of putting yourself down. Work on developing your practice. Focus on mistakes and how they can be corrected. Let go of focusing on yourself for human errors.
Breath counting and attending to breath better be done fully and with commitment.
Have fun, Steve