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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Zero to Zen Master: General Plan

My basic plan for the year is to come up with month long experiments related to zen and to read some books. Nothing much fancier than that. Unless I think of something fancier. I've pondered briefly trying to identify a zendo in my area, but the thought of hanging out with a bunch of strangers and sitting quietly for long stretches of time seems kind of weird. Almost weirder than just going to church. So we'll just stick with my modest plan.

I have a list of books I'm planning to work through. I'll go over my list in the near future in some detail. As it happens I decided to read "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Zen Living" first. And despite my knee jerk expectation that the book would suck (just the title I guess) I actually like it and it seems like a pretty calm and level headed introduction.

To a large extent zen is really just about meditating. When I was in college reading about it it always had this sense of *magic* about it. If I could just "get it" some how I'd have this calmness, this well spring of spontaneity and I'd have wisdom in some deep way. And the ability to shoot a bow and arrow in the dark and hit my target. To what ever extent that stuff is true I currently am just of the opinion that zen is really just about training your attention.

In that vein I will try not to get too bound up in my books but will mostly focus on the zazen practice. For each month I'll try some variation of poses, meditation style, perhaps some koans and other little things that I think of. I'm trying not to plan too far ahead so that I can just do whatever makes sense based on what I've tried so far.

So for January here's the plan:

- meditate 8 minutes a day
- count to 10 with breath
- sit in half lotus
- keep in mind the first of the Noble Eightfold Path - right view
- mindfulness trigger: first bite of food each meal

8 minutes doesn't seem like very long, but if you've never tried it, it's *insanely* long. Also I don't have a lot of time. I think it's more important to establish a doable habit than to try to do things perfectly.

I'm doing the count to 10 thing as a sort of training wheel. I've kept up a nightly meditation routine for the last 6 months or so but I still find it so very hard to focus on my breath for the 8 minutes. I've read that counting to 10 is a good "hack" to help you stay focused.

Sitting in a slightly uncomfortable position has made mindfulness possible. Years ago when I tried meditating I always fell asleep. Now it's never a problem. Doing a "true" half lotus is beyond my skill but it's the perfect level for me to aim at for now. I would *love* to get to a full lotus during the year but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Right View. I'm not deeply interested in the Buddhist aspects of zen but I also don't want to ignore them completely. So I'll just review the different steps of the noble path for a while.

Mindfulness triggers. The goal of zen (for some) seems to be as much awareness of now as you can muster. A useful tip I've heard in this respect is to create "mindfulness triggers". In other words set up a habit of having your environment remind you to be mindful. My first trigger will be for first bites of meals.

Ok, that's enough talking about zen for now. Gotta go sit on my ass for 8 minutes before I head off too bed.

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