To Be One or Lost

“Think with the whole body.”
Taisen Deshimaru

Trying hard to attain the proper sitting posture, the beginning meditator sat upon a black cushion nearly alone in the Zen meditation hall. He heard soft footsteps as the monk stood behind him. He felt the monk’s finger gently, but firmly pushing his spine into a more correct meditation position. A single finger applied for three seconds. The memory lasted decades and guided the always-beginning meditator over and over.

Teachers and books describe the proper position for meditation, and that is useful like a map is useful for understanding terrain, but the map is not the land it describes. Teachings are just words. Following the rules for sitting properly helps the meditator to approximate a useful position, but relying on rules will make sitting meditation like a contest to be won or lost.

A finger pushing against the spine or hands positioning the head can suggest a beneficial posture, but ultimately we must find our own balance point. We must learn the feel of the right posture, so that correct position is not defined by the teacher, but is an observable state for the student.

Next time you sit in meditation, align yourself as you may have been instructed, but then let go of the rules as if you were letting go of a balloon. Let your own life energy show you the way to sit. Sit so that your breathing is the most open and comfortable. Sit so that you are upright with the least effort. Sit so that your bones and muscles balance and all of your organs rest where they are supposed to be. Don’t just judge the correctness of your posture, feel it. When you fall out of the best position, find your way back to it by feeling your senses. Sit like a frog on a smooth stone, like a fish hanging in still water, like a mountain, a waterfall, a cloud in the sky. Sit like the moon. Sit buoyantly. Sit still. Not forced still, but with the stillness of a tree on a windless day.

“Posture is basic to the practice of Zazen. Basically, your posture is the expression of your Buddha nature. How clearly and with what feeling of reverence for your life, you sit upon this cushion! It’s a wonderful feeling, to just sit. And to take a deep breath and feel every pore of you come alive right out to the ends of your hair and your toenail and scalp and cheeks—everything coming alive. It is imperative to have good posture for this experience. Otherwise your breath cannot go through you.”
Maurine Stuart in Meetings with Remarkable Women by L. Friedman

An earlier piece on Meditation Posture

Link to a description of posture in Zen meditation.

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© 2003 Tom Barrett