Let’s talk about the art of Zen and you and how that relates to your self-care. When most people hear the word Zen, they probably think of some austere monk sitting straight backed, eyes closed, in perfect peace somewhere in an ancient mountain temple. Some may even think of just some supreme state of peace or happiness. Either of these interpretations can be true but the core of Zen relies on the practice of meditation and the benefits it bestows upon its practitioner. Meditation can become a powerful tool in your self-care regiment by increasing your clarity of the world, reducing stress, sharpening self-awareness, and improving cardiovascular health. Together Zen and you can create a better version of yourself.
What exactly is Zen?
With its true origins in India, the term Zen specifically refers to a Japanese offshoot of Chan Buddhism. Buddhism came to Japan in the early 8th century CE and overtime Zen grew up out of it and evolved into a uniquely Japanese practice and concept that eventually spread to the west following World War II. What separates Zen and makes it unique from other forms of Buddhism is its emphasis on the actual practice of meditation through zazen rather than on knowledge of the doctrines of Buddhism. It is a more hands-on and practical form of Buddhism that can b easily molded and adapted to a variety of cultures and lifestyles without having to completely change one’s belief systems.
The practice of Zazen
The practice of Zazen forms the foundation and link between zen and you. Zazen at its core refers to a path to insight into yourself and the nature of existence. It may sound too highly philosophical and grand, but it is quite simple when you break it down. Through zazen, you let go of all thoughts becoming empty through sitting meditation. While the classic lotus or half lotus position is preferred by adherents of Zen, I think for modern life the most practical form is simply sitting with a
straight back in a chair without resting on the backing. With this method, you can easily practice zazen anywhere you would like.
The following simple routine will help you begin practicing zazen: 1) place a chair facing a blank wall, 2) sit in the chair with your back completely straight and your hands placed on your knees, 3) with your eyes open the whole time, take one deep breath and exhale slowly through the mouth, 4) keep breathing the reminder of your session only through your nose, 5) do not try to wrestle with thoughts as they enter your mind, simply acknowledge their existence then let them go. Ideally your would maintain this state for around 15 to 30 minutes or longer if time permits. The more you practice and partake in meditation the more you will find your own rhythm and the better you will get at emptying your mind and letting thoughts go.
Benefits of meditation to your self-care
Zen meditation, zazen, can be very beneficial to your overall well-being and health and would be a great addition to any self-care regiment. The top two benefits, in my opinion, are the reduction of stress and improvement of self-awareness that zazen can provide. Chronic stress can kill you, and while technology seems to be making life more comfortable than ever, the amount of stress we endure today is greater than ever. Stress can lower your immune function, increase blood pressure, and accelerate heart disease. Managing stress through 15 minutes of meditation a day seems like a small sacrifice in the long run. Gaining self-awareness will help you understand your body and pay more attention to the changes going on within you. When you can detect that something is wrong with you and take steps to discover why, it can lead to the early discovery of ailments that could become something much more serious if left alone. Self-awareness will also reveal your own limits and make you want to suppress them.
My own personal experience with Zen
During college, I spent a year in Japan and had the opportunity to experience zen meditation firsthand at an actual monastery. My group dressed in monk’s robes and entered the meditation hall, sat uncomfortably with our knees fold under us while attempting to perform meditation without really knowing what was going on. It may have been the gentle sound of a gong in the courtyard or the low murmur of chanting monks but somehow I felt myself being transported away from my body and felt a sense of detachment I had never felt before. It was a life changing experience, and it made me want to understand more about zen and meditation.
I don’t think it is necessary to go all the way to Japan to figure meditation out. I never returned to Japan, but now I perform zazen in my own home. I have seen firsthand how it can help relax your mind and heal your body. Body aches that wouldn’t go away for days gently subsided thanks to simple acts of meditation. Some days have gone really bad but thanks to the way Zen has taught me to relax, I can quickly shrug it off and keep moving on. My perspective on life has completely changed from a dark murky cloud to something a bit more tangible.
Zen and you
Don’t dismiss Zen as some mystical art that only monks can perform after years of training. Zen can be practiced by anyone, and it can be done literally anywhere. You could sit on a park bench, in a parked car, at your office desk, or at home. The more you practice the better you will get and the more benefits you will see. A healthy mind leads to a healthy body and a healthy mind is a true prerequisite to self-care. Nothing can cripple you faster than negative thoughts and mountains of stress. If you truly want to be the best you can be, then give mediation a try. Zen and you will go very far.