Zazen: Meditation for the Soul

When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.

-Rumi

Zazen meditation is at the heart of Zen Buddhist practice. The practice requires you to be in a seated position--just like the Buddha--you want to sit in a way that is comfortable and stable for your body. What matters most is that your body is comfortable, present, and aligned.  The first step of zazen is to simply focus on the breath, something that’s much easier said than accomplished. The only goal of the meditation is to remain present with the shifting discomforts and moments of ease that occurs. Observing the body and identifying areas of tension can serve as a deep insight into our inner state while practicing zazen. For example, when I first practiced zazen meditation I experienced a stifling pressure in my chest, it felt like something was trying to pierce through my heart. I was so uncomfortable with the feeling I thought I would cry. I knew I wasn’t going to die, but the dis-ease felt unbearable. During the first month of embarking on this practice, I had to say many prayers. I realized that the physical chest pain I felt was a much deeper psychic pain that needed my presence. And that’s all the seated meditation asks of us: Be present.  In its simplest form, zazen is the study of self.

Practicing zazen has been like watching ice melt.  A subtle process, it thaws out those parts of you that are stone and tense. The ice melts, turning those steely parts of you built on  fear, despair, and grief into something replenishing – something that affirms life, something like water.   At least that’s what practicing the ancient tradition of zazen meditation continues to do for me.  It’s a sitting meditation practice that has been one of the most difficult and important commitments I have ever made. The simplicity of waking up every morning to sit and count my breath, has slowly melted away the parts of myself that were numb to my existence and encouraged the joy ready to sprout in my life. Weathering through the turbulent emotions that sitting faithfully brings made me awaken to the ancient restorative practices of my own ancestors. I’m certain they weathered through more than I did in their time, having to constantly navigate their Blackness, Africanness, femaleness, and their desire to be free. How many times did they sit down to just breathe? Light a candle for their past ancestors? Or simply rejoice at the sight of a flower that finally bloomed?

 Practicing zazen opened me up to that ancientness within myself, that ancient wisdom saying that humans have always formed spiritual practices that emboldened them to melt away the stone in their hearts. I’m certain it began with simply breathing.

Life doesn’t happen in soundbites, through Facebook likes, through successes, or even through failure: life happens in our commitment to simply live, and live fully in the present. In today’s world, I want to ask my ancestors how they would handle living in 2016. Trying to make a life for oneself between Instagram and capitalist enterprise, heartache and political turmoil. But through the practice of breathing in and out, and counting breath, I see that life, in its many conditions, is a gift. 

 

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