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Lions Roar : September 2016
I FIND THE PRACTICE of sitting down, shutting up, and paying attention is the most useful path to a more healthy life. It will help you find peace and sometimes open you up to ever- deeper possibilities. Sit Down The Buddha told us there are four postures suitable to medita- tion: standing, walking, lying down, and sitting down. They all work. They all have a place. That said, for most of us it seems best to begin the practice by sitting down. Taking our place this way establishes our intention and allows us to focus on the basics of the practice. Just sit. If you can hold your body upright, it is better. You can sit on the floor on a pillow or on a chair. Whichever you chose, it helps to have your bottom a bit higher than your knees. This establishes a triangular base that supports your torso. Pushing the small of the back slightly forward and holding the shoulders slightly back helps create that upright position. Place your hands in your lap. In Zen, we like to sit with our eyes open. Some traditions prefer to close the eyes. Experiment a little. Find what seems to work best for you. Personally, I like to see where I’m going. Shut Up For the most part, we are running a steady commentary on life. We’re judging, we’re refining, we’re planning, we’re regretting. We tend to run tape loops around anger or resentment, around desire and wanting, around how we think things are or are supposed to be. What if we just shut up? The invitation here is not to put a complete stop to our thoughts, whether they’re those old tape loops or more creative and possibly even useful thoughts. Truth is, stopping all thought is a biological impossibility. But we can slow it down. We can stop our thoughts and feelings from grabbing us by the throat. Pay Attention But pay attention to what? Our minds can wander, and wildly. We plan and we regret; we wish for something else. We rarely are simply present. So, how to deal with it? Here’s a start. Take five breath cycles, putting a number on each inhalation and exhalation, counting one as you inhale, two as you exhale, and so on to ten. The invitation here is to notice. When you don’t notice—and realize you don’t notice—return to one. Don’t blame yourself. Just return to one. Don’t blame something else. Return to one. Just notice. Just pay attention. Or you allow your attention to ride on the natural breathing without counting. Or you can just pay attention. Perhaps you’re stressed. Perhaps you have some burning question about life and death. Perhaps you intuit there is some- thing more to all this than you’ve been told. Sit down. Shut up. Pay attention. You never know what it will reveal. ♦ JAMES ISHMAEL FORD is guiding teacher of Boundless Way Zen and the author of several books, including Zen Master WHO? PHOTOBYLIZAMATTHEWS Sit Down, Shut Up, Pay Attention Succinct guidance from JAMES ISHMAEL FORD for a more spacious, peaceful life.