My First Time
I feel like it would be fitting to talk about my first experiences with mindfulness as a topic for my first blog entry. I practice a form of mindful meditation called “Zazen.” Zazen is translated as “sitting in Zen” and is one of the simplest meditation practices there are. A quick search of Google will provide the reader with as detailed a description of Zazen as they desire but I will describe it briefly here to give some context.
First, one assumes the seven-point sitting posture. The seven points refer to the position of the legs, spine, hands, shoulders, tongue, mouth, and eyes. Once a comfortable posture is assumed then one begins to focus on one’s breath. As we breathe in we count “one” in our head, as we breathe out we count “two.” In, “three,” out, “four,” and so on until we reach “ten” at which point we simply start over at “one” again.
This exercise sounds deceptively easy but I assure you it is not. I like to imagine that the focus of my conscious attention is a searchlight that I can use to illuminate the object of my awareness. In the early stages of Zazen the operator of this searchlight is a bit like an overanxious rookie on their first manhunt: any thought or emotion that shifts outside the rookie’s beam produces a sudden redirecting of the light out of a fearful curiosity. In, “one,” out, “two,” in, “three,” out, “four” — then all of a sudden a wayward thought creeps into the inky black periphery beyond the beam and before we know it the searchlight is swinging wildly, any focus on the breath now banished to the darkness.
The poor rookie is then berated by the superior officer for letting this distraction disturb the steady beam of the searchlight and the rookie dejectedly centers the focus of the beam back on the breath and we start over at “one.” The process continues like this for weeks, if not months, and all the while the rookie just develops more and more flop sweat without ever seeing any improvement.
But then a funny thing happens: after a while the rookie gets used to being berated by the superior officer and doesn’t fear or react to the critical words anymore. The rookie has progressed to a trainee. Now the trainee gets distracted and swings the beam of the searchlight to a particularly interesting shadowy thought but instead of the superior officer shouting the trainee is met with silence. You see, the superior officer has realized the trainee no longer fears reprimand and so has given up. And in this silence it becomes easier to focus that searchlight for longer periods on the breath.
The distractions still come but now they’re not as big a deal: we just calmly refocus the beam of our consciousness. We can thank the thoughts as they intrude because they are reminding us to go back to our breath. After all the most wonderful thing about meditation is that it’s pointless.
A famous Zen saying is that “meditation is good for nothing.” What a wonderful way of summing up such a profound practice.