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Zen Meditation: It's not what you think!

No Escape

There are many reasons people take up the practice of meditation, and many varieties and styles of meditation to choose from.

Many people think that doing meditation will help them to leave all their problems behind. Others may be looking for some sort of altered state. There may be some styles or techniques of meditation for which this is true. I don't know.

We spend a lot of time trying to escape from pain and difficulty. Sometimes we think that we are succeeding to do this, but we are still afraid that if we let up our pain and difficulty will catch up to us. We try using alcohol, drugs, sex, food, television, sports, and many other things to escape. Sometimes this seems to work just enough that we keep at it in spite of the cost. We may also try using meditation, but if we do try to use our meditation in that way, it won't work any better than any of those other strategies.

The meditation that I have some experience with is Zen meditation. Zen meditation does not offer a way to escape from reality, to achieve altered states or to get high. It's probably best to say that Zen meditation does not offer anything at all. In spite of that through the practice of zen meditation people have become more at home in their own lives, more even tempered when encountering difficulty, and less likely to create suffering for themselves or others.

The method of zen is exactly the opposite of escape. The method of zen is to get closer, to become intimate with all one's circumstances. We learn to stop trying to run away and we discover that when we do that we can actually find greater ease and satisfaction in our lives. This is really the starting point of zen practice and it is the place that we return to whenever habits or impulses carry us away.

How can we start to do this? Find a moment away from the usual business and distraction. Sit down in a posture that is comfortable but not lazy, a dignified posture. Let your attention pass slowly from your feet to your head, checking that your body is stable and in balance. Then feel the movement in your belly as you breathe in and breathe out. Give all of your attention to “in” and “out” until you don't need the words any more. If a thought or feeling or sensation takes your attention, just notice “there's a thought” or “there's an itch in my back” acknowledge it and return to the breath. Don't try to avoid thoughts or sensations, but don't seek them out either. Just notice them if they present themselves and return the attention to the body and the breath in the present moment. There's nothing to run away from.

See if you can find a time and place to do this regularly. Every day for 10 minutes, or every other day, or twice a week, but try to find a regular schedule and stick to it for a period of time. Maybe after a month of trying this you can review how you're doing and make changes if you want. Maybe you and a friend can try this at the same time and then check in with each other every once in a while, but don't try to compare too much. It's normal for the experiences to be different from time to time and from person to person. Don't think that it should be a certain way or try to make it be a certain way. Just begin and see what happens.

© 2006, Burai Rick Spencer
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