"Just sit" - a weekend workshop with Zen Monks

Enyuji 圓融寺 looking from the tea room to the alter shrine where zazen is done

Enyuji 圓融寺 looking from the tea room to the alter shrine where zazen is done

On Friday morning I saw information about a Zen workshop on Saturday and Sunday, with Japanese Zen Monks. I chased it up and got a place - thank you to the lovely Zoe for organising it at Zen Central Yoga Studio. And thank you to the monks and sumie teacher for coming out from their temple, Annonji, in Iruma, Saitama-ken, Japan.

For those of you have never done zazen, Zen Meditation, it is what most people think of as meditation when they say "I can't meditate. I just can't make my mind empty." The core concept of zazen is to let go of any thoughts that come into your mind. Thoughts float in. Thoughts float out. Nothing more.

Zazen at Enyuji 圓融寺 in Meguro-ku, Tokyo

Zazen at Enyuji 圓融寺 in Meguro-ku, Tokyo

I went to a zazen meditation at Enyuji in Meguro-ku, Tokyo when I was in Japan last year. There was a bit of a talk first (that day it was on the transient nature of feelings), then 20 minutes of zazen (sitting, letting the thoughts go), then tea and a chat. It was interesting, amazing, lovely, and inclusive.

This time the zazen sessions were longer, but interesting in what they told me about myself. We were also instructed in sumie (ink painting) but a lovely gentleman from Kawagoe (I love Kawagoe!). There are more photos here.

Painting, calligraphy, tea ceremony, flower arrangement and martial arts are all activities that are used in Japan as mindfulness activities - a way of allowing that 'nothingness' to expand in the mind, until the everyday, persistent thoughts no longer intrude. In the same way, we use guided meditations, yoga nidra, bead meditations and chanting to take our mind off everyday worries, these activities do the same.

Sumie workshop with Kawaku-san teaching us while Teshin-san (L) and Jinen-san (R) look on.

Sumie workshop with Kawaku-san teaching us while Teshin-san (L) and Jinen-san (R) look on.

Zazen is more like that time you have to yourself after the guided part of the meditation. The time where you need to practice letting your thoughts go yourself. "Just sit. Just practice. That is all you need to do," Jinen, the head monk of the group, instructed. He indicated a wave pattern with his hand explaining the thoughts should just come and go. Thoughts ease into your field of attention then ease out, without you grabbing onto them.

Daruma, another visiting monk, who is an ex-US marine and ex-business person said that even though he still needed to practice, he has found in every day life that he is less reactive. More "Ok, there must be a reason for this". Being more responsive than reactive. And I know we all have days when we wish we have taken a moment before responding, rather than reacting immediately without much thought.

Everyone should try zazen, and also try guided meditations, to see which works better for you. I have met several people who complain about the instructor talking through meditations they've attended, ie guiding it. I have met several people who can't sit still, who cannot focus without the guiding voice. I am one of these people - I need a voice or a sound eg singing bowls. Everyone is different and you need to find the style that works best for you, especially at first. With more meditation and mindfulness practice of any kind, all of us become more comfortable with a longer period of silent meditation.

We are looking at providing zazen style meditations here in Redcliffe. The classes would include some 'sitting' (zazen), a walking meditation, and some tea. Please let us know if you are interested.

As with all our meditation classes, it would be run on a pay-what-you-are comfortable-with basis. I would rather people feel comfortable to come rather than avoid something they need for the sake of money.