Zen, between practice and meditation
In recent years, the term Zen has become commonly used to indicate a type of meditation, a state of relaxation, a way of life inspired by certain principles and has often been associated with tidying, nutrition and sports. But what exactly is it? And how can it be inserted into everyone’s life, regardless of one’s belief?
Personally I find that Zen offers great food for thought, applicable to the life of each of us and that it can be of profound inspiration during a path of personal growth .
This will be the first article of a small cycle on Zen, where we will see a presentation. In the coming years we will deepen it, declined in the different areas and contexts.
What does the word Zen mean?
Zen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese character “Chan”, which in turn is the translation of the Sanskrit term “Dhyana”. Its literal meaning is “vision”, but in the West it is often translated also as ” meditation “.
However, it would be wrong to consider it a mere technique for obtaining certain results. It is a mental form with the aim of providing us with a way that brings us back to our true self, to the present, to the “here and now”, detaching ourselves from useless distractions and mental attitudes that isolate us from reality.
This is one of the aspects that has fascinated me most and is inspiring me in psychotherapeutic practice. How many times do we drown in a thousand worries about the future or do we get stuck in mental patterns that never belonged to us or no longer belong to us?
According to Zen, by eliminating our mental superstructures and overcoming attachment to the material world, it is possible to reach the Absolute Truth and live it in its fullness . It is never specified in detail what this Truth is, but everyone is driven to find His.
Another of the most characteristic aspects of Zen is the importance of the paradox. It takes the mind in a different direction than it is used to during the routine. In this way it is no longer possible to act “on autopilot”, replicating the learned and repeated behaviors. Rational thinking is kept at bay and it is possible to free creativity and intuition.
This practice is very similar to what we are trying to do also in Psychotherapy because it allows us to implement new ways of acting, driven by new perspectives and animated by alternative visions of things.
How many times do we continue to behave in the way that generated the problem, hoping to get different results? ” The most dangerous illusion is that there is only one reality.” P. Watzlawick
Zen meditation or Zen practice?
If, on the one hand, there are many people who feel attracted to Zen practice, for many others, it can be configured as an additional type of meditation, devoid of real meaning. It is absolutely acceptable. The road to awareness must be traveled by choice and with one’s own time.
“Slow down, and what you are chasing will approach and take you.” (Zen phrase)
The most used (and, so to speak, more orthodox) practice to approach the Truth of Zen is Zazen meditation , or the classic cross-legged sitting.
In Zazen the central point is to harmonize the body, breath and mind and conscious breathing is used as a means of connection. Once you have finished this practice, it may be useful to take a slow walk, continuing to keep your breathing aware and cadenced (Kinhin).
The results of recent scientific experiments have indicated that meditation acts on our brain waves , leading to the production of typical waves, much slower than those of wakefulness and daytime activation (alpha waves).
To conclude the first article on this introduction to Zen, I would like to leave you a small example of practice that I have experienced to be excellent in my morning routine and that of several patients. It is also an excellent tool to “take with you” in case of generalized anxious manifestations or panic attacks , although I repeat it is not a pret-a-porter technique, but an additional resource to learn to get to know each other and get back in equilibrium.
Zen meditation exercises
It is advisable to start gradually, with ten minutes a day for the first week until you arrive, slowly increasing, to reach a practice lasting about twenty minutes.
Find a quiet place to sit in a comfortable position (avoiding annoying cramps or pins and needles), but not too comfortable to risk not keeping your back erect or dozing off.
It is possible, especially at the beginning:
- sit with your legs crossed so that each leg rests on the opposite thigh (full lotus);
- sit with one leg resting on the opposite calf (half lotus);
- sit on your knees with your legs folded on the sides of a pillow;
- sit on a low bench with your legs under it;
- sit in a straight-backed chair.
In any case it is important to keep the back and head in an upright position , the ears aligned with the shoulders and the chin slightly lowered. In silence with your eyes open without, however, focusing on what surrounds you; look down and focus on your breathing.
Inhale and exhale three times through your mouth. Then, join your hands forming a zazen mudra (left hand resting on the right hand, with the palms facing upwards and the tips of the thumbs touching each other).
Now concentrate on breathing: count to ten by inhaling and exhaling.
The mind follows the breath therefore, while you do it, do not think about the fact that you are breathing. There is no mind and there is no body: one is simply aware of breathing.
Especially in the first practices, or on particularly busy days, it is easy that as soon as you try to concentrate, a thousand thoughts will demand attention. Other times, simply, thought represents an escape … An escape from ourselves and from the time we are taking to meditate.
It is perfectly normal and it makes no sense to engage in a mental battle to sink them. Simply go back to your breath and slowly the river full of thoughts will subside.
“- I can’t concentrate, I can only think about my meditation room … and how to furnish it …”
“- Do you want to tease me?”
“- And you want to tease me ??”
“- The meditation room is inside you…. you have to furnish that … ”
(” Eat, pray, love “)