When exploring mindfulness, we often hear about the importance of a daily practice, but is that really enough? 10 minutes a day may be all you need in terms of meditation, but wouldn’t you like to go a little bit further and see if you’re missing out?
This is why I also advocate for a weekly practice. I believe that meditation is important enough that everyone can find 10 minutes a day. After all, you wouldn’t say that you don’t have time to eat, right? I do however understand that people don’t have the time to meditate for 2 hours a day. This is where a weekly practice comes in. A weekly practice is an opportunity to pioneer new areas of mindfulness. An example of this is during one of my 2-hour sessions, I was able to recover old childhood memories and reframe them in a more positive light. This is an extremely powerful tool that the average student of mindfulness may not have access to with just a 10-minute per day practice. I also feel the benefits days later. During my last practice, I was able to step into an area of mindfulness that lasted the entire week. During move out day, I found myself involuntarily taking a deep breath rather than panicking about the piles of clothes I needed to sort through. I didn’t even need to remind myself to take the breath, I did it automatically! This leads me to believe that I was able to access my sub-conscious mind during the 2-hour session.
Anyways, the place where I practice weekly is the Ekoji Buddhist Sangha. For those of you who may not know, a Sangha is a community of Buddhists, who often gather and share in ritual and meditation together. This particular Sangha is open to students of Tibetan Buddhism, Ligmincha Buddhism, and in my case, students of Zen Buddhism. Our weekly practice consists of 40 minutes of sitting meditation, 10 minutes of walking meditation, 20 minutes of chants and sutras and afterwards we join for tea and discussion. I personally enjoy Zen Buddhism as a gateway into the world of mindfulness, but I totally understand those who wish to adopt a more secular approach.
All of our sitting meditation is done facing a wall. The reason you may see people doing this is to pay tribute to Bodhidharma, the Indian monk credited with bringing Zen Buddhism (or Chan Buddhism) to China. Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin temple, and was greeted by monks. Glancing at the elaborate temple, he decided instead to head to the nearby cave, feeling more welcome amongst the drab cave walls. He stared at the cave walls and meditated for nine years. Due to this, the basis of Zen Buddhism has always been rooted in humility. You can’t get much more humble than staring at a white wall and meditating for a few hours. This is how we pay homage to Bodhidharma, our first Chinese ancestor. I also like this because it restores the purity of meditation. Some people believe that mindfulness is an activity reserved for the powerful elite, but this notion couldn’t be further from the truth. Meditation is one of the most basic and egalitarian activities we can enjoy. No one can take away our ability to meditate and therefore mindfulness can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of his or her current situation.
After the first meditation session, we break with the gentle sound of a singing bowl or gong. We then slowly walk around in a circle together. The point of this walking meditation is to walk so slowly and mindfully, that you are aware of each motion. This is a good practice to adopt even if you are on your way to work. Each step should be taken carefully and mindfully. If you bring this practice into your daily life, you will eventually be able to savor and appreciate the small aspects of life. One of the best things about Zen Buddhism is that it is all experiential. Very little of our practice is taught through word of mouth, most of it is just learned through example. For instance, I was never taught the purpose of the walking meditation, I just picked up the meaning by observing the impact it has had on me.
After the walking meditation, we sit for another 40 minutes of zazen, or seated meditation. The second session is a lot different from the first session. Sometimes I am able to go even deeper, and other times I get a little bit more restless. I feel as if this undoing is good for me. Some people might disagree with this, but I believe that giving up 40 minutes of your time in and of itself can be therapeutic. This act of letting go, and pushing other things aside makes you realize that what you were planning on doing today really isn’t that important in a broader sense. How much work could you really get done in 40 minutes? A phone call and a few emails? Is that really worth giving up a potentially transformative experience? My answer is usually “no”.
We then end the session by chanting a few different texts. Buddhism is different from many religions in that there is no one sacred text. This may seem a bit odd, but if you understand Buddhism, particularly Zen Buddhism, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. The one text that is universal is called the heart sutra. When you hear this chanted the first time, your head will begin to spin. The sutra is designed to be the undoing of dualistic thinking. You are taught that there is a difference between form and emptiness, ignorance and wisdom, but in reality they are the same. Once you begin to let go of these dualities, you begin to have an appreciation of Zen and the beginner’s mind.
After the chanting, we often do a dedication to our ancestors. This involves a series of bows. To me this cultivates humility. The old me never would’ve bowed to anyone, let alone someone I cannot see in front of me. Through this practice, I have developed a deep respect for cultures and traditions, and by giving up my pre-conceived notions. I have not lost anything, in fact I have learned much.
I know I mentioned a lot of things in this article, and each one of these could be an article of its own. If people have found this article helpful, I can continue to share what I’ve learned in further articles, perhaps focusing on more specific elements I have learned during my practice of Zen.