I've heard some objections in the Zen community to the word meditation. What we do is very different than some other kinds of meditation where one leaves their consciousness, or repeats a mantra over and over again.
In Zen, we practice what is called Shikantaza (只管打坐?)
Dogen, our 13th century patriarch, said: “In this moment of sitting look into what sitting in itself is. Is it turning a somersault? Is it a state of vigorous activity? Is it thinking? Is it not thinking? Is it doing something? Is it not doing anything? Is there sitting inside of sitting? Is sitting inside of the bodymind? Is sitting free of 'sitting inside' and 'inside of the bodymind'? And so on. You should investigate thousands, tens of thousands, of points such as these.”
A contemporary translator of Dogen, Okamura, tells his students, “sit, don't move, don't think.” Are these men saying the same thing?
Here's what I do:
I drive to the zendo to sit. A car goes through a stop sign without stopping and I slam on the breaks. My heart is racing. I'm tired and frazzled. I walk to my cushion, only to realize that I forgot my cushion in my car. So I go back to the shoe rack, get my shoes, my keys, my red stocking cap and look for my cushion in my car. No, I remember, it is in the closet in the temple with the extra zabutons (mats). So I get my zafu (cushion) and two little cushions that I put under my knees that are gradually (after six years) making their way to the mat.And that's what I do when I sit.
Remember, I'm borderline ADD, easily distracted. I make my way to my place. It might be a day when I'm the doan (time keeper/bell ringer). I make sure I can see the clock, position the chant so I can see it when the time comes, and arrange the chant cards all going the same direction (is that a little OCD, I don't know?).
I might read the chant as the fukudo (person who strikes the han to tell us when sitting will begin) does her job. I try to get comfortable, knowing that I will try not to move for 35 or 40 minutes. I look around the room to see if anything is not the way it should be. Then I place my hands together under my rakusu (small robe hanging from my neck), almost close my eyes, looking down at approximately 45°.
Sitting has begun. Now for the question ... “what goes on in my mind.” A tsunami has occurred in my head. I survived a near death experience, I rushed to get to sitting, I am lamenting that I should attend something after sitting that I really am not interested in attending (luckily my friend asked me to go to dinner). These thoughts are going through my head. Quickly they become fodder for observation. I'm on the shore, watching the waves. They are what they are. I notice that they don't hang around. They aren't getting anything to eat. It isn't that I'm ignoring them, but I'm not feeding them either. Gradually they get bored.
Then I realize I'm tired. I suspect that I drift off a little, but soon feel revived. Then I might start to count my breaths. I try to count to ten. This informs me whether the tsunami has quieted down. I check my posture. I think about by shoulders. I look at the time and wonder what happened to the last ten minutes.
A thought crosses my mind. And another thought. And another thought. Each time, I try to let them go. At first I thought that "my thoughts" were those pegs at a county fair that you'd hit with a mallet as they popped up to win a prize. But now they are much different. It isn't me against them. They aren't my enemies. They aren't my friends. They are just my mind doing what it does, breathing, so to speak. Just that!
Gradually I slow down. Gradually I am sitting, not just physically but mentally.
I remind myself that this is not an athletic event. I'm like the photographer who has taken 1000 pictures. I'm a 1000 picture photographer—no better, no worse. Some day I'll be a ten or twenty or thirty year sitter. I'll sit differently. Maybe I can quiet the tsunami faster. Maybe I won't come to the zendo with a racing mind. In any case, this is what I am now.