I started a Zen Buddhist practice about eight years ago.
I’d reached a point where the tools I had to deal with life weren’t working anymore.
The core of zen practice is zazen, or seated mediation. The image in your head of a robed monk sitting legs crossed on a cushion is exactly right. That’s what we spend most of our time doing.
With members of my sangha, I might sit for an hour or a full day. A few times a year we’ll sit for a week in sesshin. The longer retreats are harder to do with my work and family commitments, so each morning, I sit.
Dogen, the founder of Zen, wrote a set of instructions for sitting called Fukanzazengi. This is what he says about the physical practice of zazen:
At your sitting place, spread out a thick mat and put a round cushion on it. Sit either in the full-lotus or half-lotus position. In the full-lotus position, place your right foot on your left thigh, then your left foot on your right thigh. In the half-lotus, simply place your left foot on your right thigh. Tie your robes loosely and arrange them neatly. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left hand on your right palm, thumb-tips touching lightly. Straighten your body and sit upright, leaning neither left nor right, neither forward nor backward. Align your ears with your shoulders and your nose with your navel. Rest the tip of your tongue against the front of the palate, with teeth and lips closed. Keep your eyes open, and breathe softly through your nose.
Once you have adjusted your posture, take a breath and exhale fully, rock your body right and left, and settle into steady, immovable sitting.
I use an app called Insight Timer and it has several features that I like. Of course, it keeps track of time. There are a variety of recorded bells that you can choose. You can adjust the number of bells and when they are played. These customizations let me build the same progression of bells and timing that we use at our Zen Center for zazen. Insight Timer also keep track of your sessions and provides some graphs to help you see your practice better.
This morning, the app notified me that it had 1250 days with a session of zazen. It was a nice reminder that any practice, whether running or writing or sitting, is an accumulation of effort and something changes in you, for the better.