Zen Meditation Course 4 – Right Effort
Welcome to session 4.
In this session, I’ll talk about the amount of effort you can apply to just sitting.
But first, just take some time to get back into that meditation space.
Sitting now, with your back straight but not tensed. With your head aligned with your spine, ears over the shoulders and nose in line with the navel. The place where your head isn’t tilted forwards or backwards.
Place your hands in the cosmic mudra, one hand over the other, with the tips of the thumbs touching lightly. Feel like you’re connected to the earth, and at the same time there’s a lightness in the upper body.
Just take a couple of breaths now, in through the nose and out through the mouth, just to settle yourself a bit more. Feel the body, noticing how it is today. Is there some tension somewhere, that wasn’t there last time you sat? Or maybe that tension isn’t there today. Just notice that. Adjust your position if you want to.
Sitting like this, in zazen as it’s called in Japanese, is about bringing body, breath and mind into awareness. That’s all you need to do. So, just to settle into this space of meditation now, begin to breathe naturally, in and out through the nose. There’s no need to manufacture some kind of ideal breath, or try to control it. Just let it be, and it will settle down into its own rhythm.
Just take some time to breathe now, and be aware of your body and your breath. Follow your breath by counting on the exhale if you want to. Or not, the choice is yours.
(five breaths later)
How is the mind, today? You’re coming to this practice with a mind that’s conditioned by what’s going on in your day to day life. Some days you may have worries, on others you don’t. Your state of mind can create some strong feelings. So as much as you can while you’re sitting here now, just acknowledge them, observe without judgement. Keep breathing, and let whatever thoughts and feelings arise just be there.
(another five breaths)
I talked about thoughts in the last session. You aren’t trying to stop thinking, and at the same time you don’t want to be pulled by your thoughts into some story they’re telling you. You just want to be aware of them and then let them go. You let go of one, and at some point another one arrives. Where do they come from? They just appear out of nowhere, and your mind is like a pristine clear space that holds them for a while. Keep your awareness on your breath, and let them pass through, without getting attached to them.
(another five breaths)
You will get distracted. Sometimes you may even get a little sleepy. You’re sitting here, just being aware of your body as it is, and the breath as it is, and your mind as it is. This awareness needs some energy, a certain amount of concentration, you could say. But how much effort is needed?
Too much effort and you’re forcing it. No effort, and you’re daydreaming. So it’s a question of finding the middle way, which is actually what Buddhism is all about.
There’s an analogy, which compares the energy of awareness needed for meditation with the strings of an instrument. String your guitar too tight and the sound is harsh and dissonant. String it too loose and it’s flat and lifeless. Find the point between these two, and the sound is clear, and bright. In tune. See if you can bring that quality of awareness now, into your sitting. Not too tight, and not too loose.
(another ten breaths)
Finding the right level of mental energy isn’t always easy. Some days you might just be tired. It isn’t the end of the world if you find yourself dozing off, on those days. When you realise that’s what’s happening, bring yourself back to your breath. Often, the tiredness passes and you find yourself wide awake, again. If you’re still sleepy, you can actually get up and walk around for a while, splash some water on your face and so on. Then just come back to sitting. Your mind changes from day to day, and so does your energy. See it all as part of the practice.
We can sit for a bit longer now. Remember, your focus isn’t too loose, and it isn’t too tight. Relaxed and alert. Body, breath and mind.
(another ten breaths)
OK, you can just let go of the focus now. Let your mind do what it wants. Move around a bit if you’d like to, or have a bit of a stretch.
How did it feel, today? You would think that just sitting is an effortless thing. And really in a sense, there’s nothing to do. In our Western culture, doing nothing isn’t a luxury we allow ourselves that often. But to sit and do nothing, as it were, and allow the mind to calm down, does need a certain energy of awareness. What you may find if you continue meditating, is that the initial effort becomes less so. Same energy and quality of awareness, with less effort. You can stay in that space of awareness, and not be troubled by anything. It’s a great way of recharging your batteries.
OK, see you in the next session.
”There’s an analogy, which compares the energy of awareness needed for meditation with the strings of an instrument. String your guitar too tight and the sound is harsh and dissonant. String it too loose and it’s flat and lifeless. Find the point between these two, and the sound is clear, and bright. In tune. See if you can bring that quality of awareness now, into your sitting. Not too tight, and not too loose.