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Lions Roar : March 2015
Although formal koan inquiry is always done with a trained teacher, you can experiment with incorporating the spirit of koan practice into your meditation. Choose a question that speaks most deeply to your longing. Sitting in an upright posture, settling in to your breath and body, breathe your question in. You can ask, for example, “Who am I?” And then breathe out, “Who am I?” However you frame your inquiry, stay with it. If your mind wanders, gently return to your question. The discursive mind, our companion ever since we devel- oped the capacity for language, enjoys being in charge of every- thing, and will rush in to give obvious answers: “I’m a woman, I’m Melissa, I’m sixty years old, I’m a teacher, a parent, a wife. I’m horrible, I’m wonderful.” Every time one of these answers arises simply set it aside and ask again. Eventually, this kind of answer stops coming, and may be replaced by a feeling of profound wonder. This feeling, sometimes called “great doubt,” is highly valued in Zen. If you are not working with a teacher, at this point in your practice you must be your own Zen master. Patiently and firmly redirect yourself away from intellectual understanding and toward immediate and intimate experience. Don’t settle for anything that doesn’t completely satisfy your longing. In this state of great doubt, something surprising might reveal itself to you. As you continue to set aside all your conven- tional answers, you also set aside all of your expectations and explanations. The mind will want to turn your experience into theories and memories. Don’t let anything turn solid. Keep asking and don’t give up. Eventually you will learn to live a new kind of life—one that is continually surprising, pro- foundly ordinary, and full of wonder. ♦ MELISSA MYOZEN BLACKER, ROSHI is the abbot of Boundless Way Zen and has a private practice in contemplative counseling. She is co-editor of The Book of Mu: Essential Writings on Zen’s Most Important Koan. How to Sit Zen master THICH NHAT HANH shares gentle guidance for beginning your meditation practice. • Set aside a room or corner or a cushion that you use just for sitting. • The sound of a bell is a wonderful way to begin sitting meditation. If you don’t have a bell you can download a recording of the sound of a bell onto your phone or computer. • When you sit, keep your spinal column quite straight, while allowing your body to be relaxed. Relax every muscle in your body, including the muscles in your face. Consider smiling slightly, a natural smile. Your smile relaxes all your facial muscles. • Notice your breathing. As you breathe in, be aware that you are breathing in. As you breathe out, notice that you are breathing out. As soon as we pay attention to our breath, body, breath and mind come together. Every in-breath can bring joy; every out-breath can bring calm and relaxation. This is a good enough rea- son to sit. • When you breathe in mindfully and joyfully, don’t worry about what your sitting looks like from the out- side. Sit in such a way that you feel you have already arrived. • It’s wonderful to have a quiet place to sit in your home or workplace. If you are able to find a cushion that fits your body well, you can sit for a long time without feel- ing tired. But you can practice mindful sitting wherever you are. If you ride the bus or the train to work, use your time to nourish and heal yourself. • If you sit regularly, it will become a habit. Even the Buddha still practiced sitting every day after his enlightenment. Consider daily sitting practice to be a kind of spiritual food. Don’t deprive yourself and the world of it. ♦ Adapted from How to Sit by Thich Nhat Hanh. Published by Parallax Press. www.parallax.org SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2015 61