A closed mind is like a closed book; just a block of wood.

Chinese proverb

2. How Do We Meditate?

While there are a wide variety of meditative techniques available to choose from, we prefer the method perfected by the Zen Buddhists (the most non-religious religion outside of the Temple of Earth): that of zazen.

In zazen, one sits quietly and simply watches the mind. No more, no less. It is in the quality of watching that one measures his success. For, it is impossible to think and to watch at the same time. Although religions would have you believe that that endless chatter in our brains is our rational mind at work, our position is that it is only the bubblings of our ego and emotions – the purely rational mind is something higher and free from petty concerns, wants and desires. And so the zazen practitioner develops his concentration to the point where he can clearly watch his mind and so develop a detached, “witnessing” state—a state where the world appears as it is, and not as we wish it might be. The more focused is this faculty, the more he achieves the ability to use his rationality to its fullest potential.

This may sound simple, but we assure you it’s not. The grace and diligence required to accomplish such a Herculean task as mastering the emotions – hard-wired into our nervous and hormonal systems – can seem almost too much for the beginner. Therefore it’s important to start off slow. Many meditation courses will throw you right in the deep end – requiring upwards of six hours of meditation a day. Some Buddhist meditation courses expect you to do as much as twelve or more hours a day of sitting still and watching the mind, walking in slow motion and chanting mantras in Pali (a dead language like Latin). This is no different from expecting a beginning jogger to run a marathon on his first day. In fact, just as marathon runners are no healthier than people who run a half an hour a day, we contend that people can get most of what they need from meditation in a half hour a day or less (of course more doesn’t hurt, but the returns diminish after a half an hour or so.).

How Do We Sit?

Although the characteristic image of a serene monk sitting crosslegged on the floor is forever associated with meditation rest assured that you don’t have to sit that way. For most westerners it is impossible to sit this way for more than a few minutes before circulation stops and joint pain sets in. The most common reason meditators have sit this way is simply because most people in Asia don’t use chairs in the first place. Nevertheless, many claim the position is necessary to align the chakras, but since chakras and their alignment are immaterial to us, forget about it. The most important reason that TOE recommends meditating in a common position (whatever is common for you) is that ultimately we should be able to calm our mind at any time of the day, in whatever happens to be our normal posture or manner of sitting. If you meditate on the floor or in a cross-legged position, you might find it difficult to do so behind your desk at work in a chair, when you need it most (e.g. the boss just chewed you out).

Next: The challenges of meditation

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