It’s been nearly three decades now since Soto Zen priest, Katherine Thanas, taught me to sit meditation; just sitting she called it. The morning after her instruction, I got up early to sit an hour’s meditation and I’ve been just sitting every morning since. I do so because sitting transforms my life in significant ways. I’ve included this page in my blog to encourage others to sit and find for themselves the freedom and insight sitting brings.
I sit crosslegged, either on the floor or ground, a posture that puts me in closer touch with the dirt than is common for those who don’t sit. We’re all the offspring of dirt and it’s dirt that takes us back in the end. I’m well advised to become intimate with this source of life that lies directly underfoot. Not only that, but there’s a quality of sitting that places me squarely between earth and sky, thereby wedding flesh to spirit in a marriage of one indissoluble unity. The metaphorical distinctions separating below and above dissolve, and by that means I’m made whole once again.
The act of sitting reduces distractions so that for the duration of the sit I’m sentenced to a period of solitary confinement with my own person, leaving me with little to do but to become intimate with the thoughts and feelings that visit me. Sitting is a specialized practice in attention. An old Chinese story goes that a monk asked Zen Master Ikkyu, “What is Zen?” Ikkyu replied, “Attention!” The monk apparently dissatisfied with the brevity of Ikkyu’s response, asked for elaboration. Ikkyu complied, saying, “Attention! Attention! Attention!”
Attention is what sitting teaches so that when I arise and go on about other activities, I’m more readily attentive to my surroundings. Buddhists call this quality of attention mindfulness; I simply consider it a willingness to show up for the occasion, which just happens to be the moment by moment occasion of my one and only life. This showing up, this willing and attentive presence given to my surroundings, is the very heartbeat of compassionate understanding.
“Zazen [sitting] is just our whole self doing itself by itself. Zazen does zazen.! –Kosho Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought
“Sitting is the means to rediscover basic goodness,…to awaken the genuine heart within yourself.” –Chogyam Trungpa, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior