1960 - 2022
An aide memoire
Shikantaza (just simply sitting) is objectless meditation, in which the practitioner uses the power developed in concentration to remain in a state of conscious awareness.
There are a variety of different views on what sikantaza actially means.
Some say shikantaza is described best as, "quiet sitting in open awareness, reflecting directly on the reality of life".
Shikantaza is often termed a goalless meditation in quiet awareness, not working on any koan, or counting the breath. It is an alert condition, performed erect, with no trace of sluggishness or drowsiness.
Som scholars have said that shi means tranquility, kan refers to awareness, ta means hitting exactly the right spot and za means to sit.
For me it all comes down to "just simply sitting still in tranquil awareness".
Zen - meaning meditation - changes your spirit by reflection.
What follows is a short travelogue of nudges, reminders and observations to help you on the road to the Shikantaza experience.
On the left hand side you will see some figures in bold.
These figures should be used as a rough guide to the aproximate times that should have lapsed during your preparation and each section of your parctice.
The first figure is for less experienced maditators.
The second figure is for experienced meditators.
Everybody is different and you will find out what suits you from your own experience.
After you have sat down and become aware that you are upright and comfortable - from that moment prepare yourself - it varies with each individual.
Close your eyes lightly - and keep them closed for the entire "zesshin".
Breathe from the lower abdomen - so it becomes "abdominal respiration".
It also called diaphragmatic respiration.
Do not use your upper chest for breathing and keep your shoulders level and relaxed.
Place your tongue lightly on the roof of your mouth and try to keep it there.
You can't easily breathe in via the mouth if the tongue is in this position for long.
You must breathe in and out through the nose.
Slowly breathe in through your nose to say 5 seconds.
Slowly breathe out through your nose for say 7 seconds
Where the CO2 exhaled from your lungs is greater than the oxygen you breathed in.
Keep just this going for a while and establish a rhythm of diaphragmatic breathing which reaches an equilibrium of around 5 or 6 seconds and 5 or 6 seconds out.
Interestingly, this has historical precedent in religious practices where 6 seconds is exactly the time it takes to accomplish certain Buddhist mantra's and it is also found the same exhalation is used whilst citing the Christian Rosary.
..................................................Now become AWARE.
On a wide range of levels.
Your stillness is critical so - DO NOT MOVE UNLESS YOU HAVE TO.
From below the belt you are absolutely rooted to the spot you are sitting on.
No movement there.
Your heartbeat - feel it - really feel it.
Your body is still and your muscles have nothing to do - so they soften.
And soften they do as you take in more oxygen into your blood through the established rhythm of your breathing.
As the muscles soften your joints begin to open.
There is the rhythm of your lower abdominal nuscles.
In the stomach area the Japanese call the Hara.
And there you will find what is called the Tanden.
The single spot in the lower abdomen - about an inch or so directly below your navel.
It is your centre of gravity.
As you breathe in - they expand out - not too much.
As you breathe out - they contract - just a little more.
Maintain the rhythm.
Slowly and imperceptibly, your muscles have softened to the point where you have become aware of it and you have to micro manage your posture from time to time in 4 tiny movements.
1 Most peoples heads move a little forward, so every now and then you need to move your head back to the midline of your shoulders and tuck your chin in just a little at the same time.
2 Raise your ribcage - this is the area where most people begin to stoop from.
3 This will lead you to gently make your lumbar vertebrae a little more concave.
4 Allow both shoulders to drop evenly.
You will need to continue to make micro adjustments to your posture, (as above) as it naturally changes and you become used to feeling it necessary to do so.
Its not a thought process - its just a feeling.
And it usually ends up being a lot more comfortable.
So keep doing it please.
Maintain your breathing ryhthm.
And become aware of your senses.
Move your attention to your eyes and slowly roll them a little.
From there flare your nose a few times as you breathe in.
Push your tongue gently up to the roof of your mouth.
Become aware of your hearing.
Move your fingers a little for touch.
And now you sense of being.....here.....now....
Turn your awareness onto your brain.
That houses the mind.
The best difference between the two I have read is "The brain is indeed the physical structure. Neurons, axons, dendrites, neurotransmitters, synapses, discrete structures… All that and more.
The “mind” (consciousness) is the “emergent property” of the activity of that brain". Quora
Past , present and future thoughts - pop in and out all the time - as has already been happening to you.
Let them come and go.
Learn how to get back to your awarenes of what you are doing in the present.
Let the past go and do not look to the future - always stay in the present - it is not easy but comes with practice.
And the flow of thoughts will begin to slow down as they should have by now.
By raising or slowing our brainwaves, we can altar how we think, feel and act.
Meditation is the process of slowing our alerting beta brainwaves to the slower states of alpha and theta.
Beta is the waking, thinking state. It is our normal state of mind in which we are the highly alert.
Alpha is a slower state more indicative of relaxing and reflecting.
Meditation is often practiced in the alpha state.
Theta is an even slower state perfect for daydreaming and intuitive thinking.
Deep meditation and prayer are practiced in the theta state.
Delta is the slowest of the four states where sleep occurs.
At the slowest delta level, sleep is deep and dreamless.
Neuroimaging studies suggest that the normal resting state of the brain is a silent current of thoughts, images and memories that is not induced by sensory input or intentional reasoning, but emerges spontaneously "from within."
This is what the Zen Buddhists from the Soto sect refer to as “silent illumination”.
And that is what actually happens - as feelings come before thoughts.
But here in this stillness of the body, the rhythm of the breath opens the way to a deep, visceral awareness.
It is much like Metsuke - a much heightened form of conscious awareness than Zanshin when training in Budo, along with the physical manifestation of Kime when doing any Kata.
The head, heart and soul of it all.
Our thoughts, our desires and our experiences.
It is the awareness of awarenesses.
And it is here that you have to work hard at sliencing your inner monologue from trying to analyse or comment on what you see and experience.
It is the point when your subjective experiences becomes objective observation.
It is where subjective and objective meet.
Which ever so slowly over time begins to evolve into a clearer perception of the world inside your head and the real world out there.
Images appear and disappear in a kaleidoscope of colour.
Some are quite quick and slow to disappear.
Some just slowly emerge into recognisable images.
Many are landscapes and vistas that are new to you.
Some are people and faces you have never seen before.
You can't hold on to them for longer than a few seconds - most try to and fail.
Swirling cloud-like images float around and past you.
Giving you an impression of movement.
Slowly you reach a deep state of absolute stilness and silence.
It is often referred to as the "void".
It is as if you are at the edge of space.
You are in awe for what you think is an eternity.
Einstein said "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious;
It is the source of all true art and science".
How you emerge from this experience depends on the environment you are in.
Always try to do so slowly if you can.
Keeping your eyes closed for a few minutes more.
Tuck your chin in to your chest - round your shoulders and your spine and gently stretch forward, as far as you comfortably can and hold for a minute.
Sit up slowly and rotate your shoulders both ways by moving your arms.
Move your head up and down slowly.
And then to the left and the right.
Sit still and upright for a moment with youe eyes open.
Feel the moment.
Lao Tzu said "Meditation is vital energy".
And I do generally feel vitalised and full of energy in the immediate hours thereafter.
But for me the chief consequence of doing 45 minutes or an hour of Shikantaza first thing in the morning, is the beautiful feeling of having tapped into my inuitive self aong with a sense of clarity that remains present with me for the rest of my day. Well, almost.
It is not easy to practice Shikantaza every day - but the benefits are supreme.
Each and every day thereafter.
At the beginning of 2021
DRAW A VEIL OVER
LET GO OF THE PAST.
EMBRACE THE PRESENT.