What is Soto Zen Meditation?
There is nothing special or different about Soto Zen meditation. It is not something weird or esoteric. It simply involves being still within, and allowing one’s real self to emerge from beneath the jumble of thoughts and emotions that usually fill an individual’s mind.
How Can One Practise it?
How can someone be still in this way? There are various techniques, but in Soto Zen Meditation the practitioner simply sits. The physical sitting position doesn’t really matter very much. Sitting on a zafu or meditation cushion using one of the lotus positions is traditional if the person is comfortable that way. But sitting on a chair or stool is fine, and often more suitable for western meditation practitioners who are not used to sitting in crosslegged psoitions for long periods. The eyes are kept open, and meditators usually face the wall. The technique is not to concentrate on anything, but instead to simply observe one’s thoughts or emotions, and come back to sitting still.
What About the Mind?
What about thoughts? When they arise, the practitioner tries to simply let them be. He or she doesn’t try to push them away, but does not try to hang on to them or actively ‘think’ either. It’s a little bit like sitting on a bridge watching the traffic going by. It is not necessary to try to stop the traffic, but one doesn’t have to get in there and try to speed it up or change it either. Thought is a natural process, and the meditator is not trying to do anything unnatural. Instead, the person is simply trying to be themselves as they truly are.
So What Comes Next?
In the beginning, meditation can seem very difficult. The practitioner may feel as though he or she has more thoughts and emotions than ever before. Time may appear to pass exceedingly slowly, and he may feel uncomfortable or downright miserable – worse than before he started! But all these feelings should be treated in the same way as thoughts, by not being held on to or pushed away, but simply accepted for what they are. When the meditator finds that he has started following his thoughts, ie thinking, it is best not to worry about it. Just by noticing what is going on, one has already begun meditating again. So the person shouldn’t get upset about it, but just come back to sitting still.
And What Can it Lead to?
This may all sound boring or pointless. But out of this simple practice, many things in one’s life can change. The details vary for different people, but simply keeping up a regular practice means that in time life becomes more peaceful, fulfilling, and natural. One feels calmer, more content, and less inclined to violent emotional swings for no good reason. In fact, it’s amazing what a few minutes of looking at a wall every day can do for one’s peace of mind!
When life gets busy, it’s easy to feel disconnected, even uprooted from one’s own life. The following nature meditation is designed to connect the individual with his or her self again by imagining the body as a tree, swaying in the breeze.
After practicing the tree meditation, one will feel grounded and connected again to nature and the self. This exercise is highly recommended after a stressful day or event, any time that one feels disconnected.
Preparation for the Tree Meditation
Drinking some water beforehand may relax the body and prevent distractions. Minimize interruptions by silencing the pager or cell phone. Explain to family members or roommates the need for privacy, and carve out some space to relax and be.
Directions for the Tree Meditation
One will need comfortable feet and ten to twenty minutes of uninterrupted time. Spend thirty seconds to a minute stretching the body and focusing on the breathing before beginning.
Meditation Suggestions for Daily Life
The tree meditation may be useful to reconnect with one’s body as well as mind and spirit. It could be practiced during cold weather when one misses nature, or at any time one desires a relaxing escape from the present.
A shorter version of the tree meditation might also be practiced in the midst of a stressful situation or encounter. Take a deep breath and imagine the roots connecting the body to the earth. Even though stress may be high, that stress does not have the power to uproot and disconnect the individual from his/her own life.