by Acharya Arawana Hayashi
Training the Mind in Meditation
Meditation practice is a method for recognizing and befriending our naturally clear and knowing mind. Today, many of us have come to regard speed, aggression and global-wide chaos and uncertainty as normal aspects of daily life. At the same time, there is a longing for simplicity and the space just to be with ourselves. Through the process of gently taming and training the mind in meditation, we can experience natural well-being and peacefulness. The mind and the body are not separate, and the posture of the body in meditation is an important support for experiencing the inherent stability and peace of mind.
Meditation itself is an expression of a synchronized body and mind. Both body and mind are relaxed yet alert and engaged in meditation. Traditional Buddhist meditation instruction includes what are called "the seven points." This is the posture that is most supportive of mindfulness/awareness meditation.
Finding the Right Height in Meditation
First, sit with legs crossed. There is no need to do this in a special way, just cross the legs loosely. A variety of cushions are available in different heights, firmness and shapes. It is best to choose a cushion or combination of cushions that allows the knees to fall slightly lower than the hips when sitting. Sitting in this way enables us to feel our connection to the earth and to the grounded quality of the body.
Finding your Meditation Seat (including a Chair)
Traditional meditation cushions like the Zafu from the Zen tradition are firmer than ordinary pillows. A floor mat like the Zabuton will support the ankles and allow for longer sessions. In the Shambhala Tradition we use a Gomden, a firm cushion that supports a simple cross-legged posture. Meditation benches are also available for people who can't sit cross-legged (the Kneeling Bench is an option) or require more height for the thighs to angle downward from the hips. If you need to, you can also meditate on a chair. Traditionally, meditation in a chair is done with the soles of the feet flat on the floor.
The Posture of Meditation
The back is uplifted and straight. You can imagine the spine like a stack of coins, or imagine a string from the top of your head to the sky. Feel as though you are suspended from that string. A straight and balanced body is important so that your breath is not constricted in any way.
The hands can rest lightly on the thighs palms facing down in the posture of "royal ease" or placed together below the navel with the palms facing up, right hand on left. Take care that the shoulders aren't pulled forward or pushed back by the placement of the hands and that the chin isn't jutting out. Allow the weight of the jaw to hang down, so that the chin is tucked in a bit. The mouth can be slightly open.
In the instructions for shamatha, or "calm abiding" meditation, the eyes are open and downcast. The gaze is soft and relaxed, resting on the floor 3-6 feet in front of you or in the space in front. The tongue rests against the upper palate behind the top teeth.
Beginning a Meditation Session
At the beginning of each meditation session, take the meditation posture and allow a few moments simply to feel the body. Paying attention to the body allows us to be present and "in" our own body. Directly "tune in" to how the body feels. Then as we begin to meditate, we can use the feeling of the body breathing as the object of our meditation. The sensation of the breath becomes a support for recognizing and strengthening the natural stability of mind.
Don't Be Discouraged
At first, the posture may not be comfortable. Just sitting still might in itself be a challenge. However, there is no need to become discouraged. With short sessions of meditation, not straining in any way, our body and mind begin to unwind and relax. Then the meditation becomes a refreshing pool of sanity, a great way to start or end the day.
Meditation Cushions category includes the Zafu and Zabuton, as well as the Gomden. Meditation Benches includes the Kneeling Bench and Cloud Bench. Watch a video demonstrating how to use the Zafu, (includes the Buckwheat Zafu), the Gomden, or a Meditation Bench.