Why We Meditate
Meditation is one of the most important aspects of learning taiji. It is through practicing meditation we discover the "stillness within motion" that is required for successfully practicing taiji
Why must I meditate in order to achieve enlightenment? demanded the prince of the teacher. I can study, I can pray. I can think on issues clearly. Why this silly emptying of mind?
I will show you, said the teacher, taking a bucket of water into the garden under the full moon. Now I stir the surface and what do you see?
Ribbons of light, answered the prince. Now wait, said the teacher setting the bucket down.
Both teacher and boy watched the calming surface of the water in the bamboo bucket for many minutes. Now what do you see? asked the teacher. The moon, replied the prince.
So, too, young master, the only way to grasp enlightenment is through a calm and settled mind.
But there are even more benefits to be had from meditation practice, even for those who do not practice taiji. Clearing the mind and relaxing the body relieves stress and promotes healing, both psychological and physical. The short "vacation" of meditation rejuvenates us, helping us to better cope with the reality around us. So, while we may not achieve "enlightenment" in the sense of suddenly having the Secrets of Life revealed to us, the practical physical and mental benefits we will achieve through meditation are well worth the investment of a few minutes a day.
With consistent meditation practice, over time, our minds become more and more disciplined, and it becomes easier and easier to control our reactions and our thoughts no matter what disturbing external circumstances confront us. Gradually we develop mental equilibrium, a balanced mind that does not automatically oscillate between the extremes of excitement and despondency. This is true peace of mind.
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Pine Tree Dojo Meditation Hall
The Practice of Meditation
Practice meditation in the morning or evening, or at any time. Practice for 3 to 20 minutes at a time, and practice daily, if possible.
Whatever posture you choose for your mediatation practice, in all postures, touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth, and close your lips lightly. This is important for continuity of qi flow.
Begin by taking several slow, deep breaths. Relax your body into your chosen posture and allow your breathing return to normal. With your mind, lightly "touch" each out breath, and relax. Breathe quietly through your nose...
If you find that your mind needs more to focus on than "following the breath," try counting each in and out breath. Count to ten, then begin again at one.
When thoughts come into your mind, let them go. If they persist, be aware of them, but do not think about them think non-thinking and return your attention to the breath. Relax.
When you end your meditation, turn your attention to your body and gently return to normal activity.
And try to smile during practice. Tension is often noticeable in the facial muscles, and smiling helps to relieve that tension. Also, it has been scientifically proven that smiling, even if you don't mean it, causes the brain to begin producing endorphins and dopamine which elevate mood and help relieve pain scientific proof that laughter is good medicine. Smile!
If you feel a pain or burning sensation in a joint or muscle, that is said to be a blockage of qi (life energy) flow. Try to free the blockage by relaxing or shifting position slightly. If you can't clear the blockage completely, and your position becomes uncomfortable, it's time to stop. You can do more next time.
If you are recovering from illness or injury, and have persistent pain, do not focus on relieving that pain, focus instead on relaxing the tenseness the pain is causing in other parts of your body. And remember to smile. It really will help reduce pain.
There are many different postures to choose for your meditation practice. In addition to the taiji postures, you may also practice sitting, standing, lying down, or walking.
Zhan Zhuang Meditation
Standing practice. It may look as if the practitioner is "just standing there," but this internal martial arts exercise is training the practitioner's mind (yi) to develop and control both his qi and his physical body. It is a kind of directed meditation.
There are many, many ways to "just stand there;" positions vary depending on what the practitioner is trying to achieve.
The amount of time spent standing is less important than the quality of one’s practice. Beginners may only be able to stand for a few minutes. Advanced students may stand for an hour.
If you can find a competent teacher, you may learn to use your mind to direct the flow of your qi. But please do not attempt to control your qi flow without expert instruction.
Below are descriptions of some of the simplest practices the beginner may wish to try.
This is the taiji "resting position" that precedes all movement. It is called State of Great Emptiness. "Wu Ji gives birth to Taiji," the saying goes.
Stand upright with your feet comfortably separated (shoulder-width or less), toes pointed almost straight forward with a slight inward turn, your weight balanced evenly so that you feel stable. Allow your arms to hang at your sides.
Bend your knees slightly and tilt your tailbone upward to straighten your spine. Lift your head and imagine there is a string connected to your bai hui suspending you from the sky. Be sure your chin is tucked in so that your spine is straight and aligned from head to tail.
Look straight ahead, with a soft, wide-angle focus.
Relax. Breathe naturally. Keep the tip of your tongue touching the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth.
Clear your mind. Relax. Grow your roots. Feel the qi flowing through your body. Breathe. Relax....
If you feel a pain or burning sensation in a joint or muscle, that is said to be a blockage of qi flow. Try to free the blockage by relaxing or shifting position slightly. If you can't clear the blockage completely, and standing becomes uncomfortable, it's time to stop.
When you are done, walk around slowly for a couple of minutes, gently patting or stroking your body.
This posture has many variations, but it is most commonly seen in practice as "tree hugging," a variation of Wu Ji stance in which all the Wu Ji principles apply, but the arms are held as if one is hugging a tree trunk, fingertips not quite touching.
Static Forms Practice
Here one assumes the position of one of the taiji forms and holds it for a length of time, concentrating on perfecting the rooting, balance, and relaxation of the body in the form.
Other Non-Taiji Postures
Sitting & Standing Postures
Sit or stand as comfortably as possible, resting your open hands, palm down, lightly on your thighs. If you are standing, bend your knees slightly.
Hold your torso upright, straight, and balanced, leaning neither to the left nor the right, neither forwards nor backwards. Your ears should be in a line with your shoulders, and your nose in a straight line with your navel. Do not lean against anything.
Lift your head and imagine there is a string connected to your bai hui (center top of the head) suspending you from the sky. Be sure your chin is tucked in and your tailbone is tucked under so that your spine is straight and aligned from head to tail.
Keep your eyes open but relaxed, looking slightly downwards at a spot in front of you, with a soft, wide-angle focus.
Lying Down Posture
If you are recovering from illness or injury, you may meditate lying down. Find a comfortable position. Straighten you body as much as possible so that your spine is straight and none of your joints feel "pinched." Remove pillows under your head if possible, but do not cause yourself pain. Relax you eyes and focus softly on the wall or ceiling, whichever is most comfortable. Do not close your eyes.
Walking meditation should only be attempted in an area where you are completely safe.
While walking, keep your body upright and relaxed, balanced. Do not swing your arms. Walk lightly, as if you are trying not to make footprints. Keep toes pointed straight forward. Distribute your weight evenly on the bottoms of your feet throughout each step; do not let your weight roll from side to side.
Set a marker in the center of your space and walk in a figure eight pattern to develop balance.
More on Meditation...
"On the Way," The Daily Zen's Monthly Journal for January 2004 has an excellent excerpt from Dogen's writings titled "Practice of Meditation."
As we begin to develop awareness of the mind, the mind itself appears to divide into two. A new aspect of the mind arises. This is referred to variously as the witness, the seer, the knower, or the observer. It witnesses without judgment and without comment. Along with the arrival of the witness, a space appears within the mind. This enables us to see thoughts and emotions as mere thoughts and emotions, rather than as 'me' and 'mine.' When the thoughts and emotions are no longer seen as 'me' or 'mine', we begin to have choices. Certain thoughts and emotions are helpful, so we encourage them. Others are not so helpful, so we just let them go. All the thoughts and emotions are recognized and accepted. Nothing is suppressed. But now we have a choice about how to react. We can give energy to the ones which are useful and skillful, and withdraw energy from those which are not.
Reflections on a Mountain Lake: Teachings on Practical Buddhism
Ani Tenzin Palmo