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Starting a Meditation Practice with Zen


By Justin Casteel


Everyone knows someone who they would describe as “Zen”. It’s a word that has entered our social consciousness, and people throw it around quite a bit. But, what is Zen anyway? Most people’s concept of Zen is a state of being “chilled out” or relaxed. Real Zen is a little bit deeper, and I hope to be able to shed some light on Zen and how it can be used to begin a meditation practice.

Zen literally means “meditation”. The word comes from the Hindu concept of “Dhyana” which has the same translation. Zen Buddhists are called the meditating Buddhists. The whole concept of Zen meditation is the understanding of the original mind, sometimes called the ground of being. This might sound like an esoteric concept, but in Zen they think of it in quite ordinary terms. The Zen practitioner seeks to understand the mind before thoughts arise. He seeks to understand who he is originally- without labels, judgements, philosophy, or emotional baggage. In Zen, the goal is to achieve a level of watchfulness that can burn up thought patterns and habits that cause us to fool ourselves, or otherwise create pain and problems.

Zen is deeply related to the concept of “mindfulness”. Mindfulness is the practice of using our innate faculty of awareness to be fully engaged in each moment to enhance both our ability to perform well and enjoy our activities, but also to prevent the mind from getting distracted and causing unnecessary problems. Think of this in terms of writing an email. When someone sits down to write an email, the mind comes in and says, “Hey, don’t forget to wash the dishes. Have I checked my Facebook recently? Maybe someone “liked” one of my posts. Oh, and I forgot to watch that new episode of my favorite show so I can talk to people at work about it tomorrow. Did I pay that electric bill? What am I having for dinner tonight?” Even if these distractions don’t prevent the email from being written, it can make the whole process take longer or become stressful. In Zen meditation, we learn to quiet the mind and focus on one thing at a time. A Zen master would say that we are learning to live fully in each moment of time. This makes Zen quite unique, as there are no rules to follow, no philosophy to memorize, and no complex rituals. Instead, writing an email becomes a ritual and washing the dishes becomes an important spiritual experience.

Zen meditation is also quite ordinary. The highest technique in Soto Zen is called “shikantaza” which translates to “just sitting.” Just sitting sounds quite simple, but try it some time! At first it might seem very relaxing, but you will notice the mind starts getting distracted right away. You might feel uncomfortable, or get frustrated that you’re not seeming to accomplish anything. The brain often demands to be constantly entertained! Learning to let the brain be quiet while still being watchful is actually a very practical skill that can be developed through the practice of meditation. The value of being quiet and watchful is inestimable and can be life changing if practiced regularly. But beyond obvious benefits like enhancing concentration and being more disciplined, the Zen master would remind you not to focus on the goals, but to focus on the process. It’s like a flower unfolding- there is no specific point at which a flower becomes a flower, but instead it is the process of budding, blooming, and eventually falling away that makes a flower truly beautiful. So, if you are interested in meditation, just sit, be awake in your sitting, and try to be like the flower- beautiful where you are in your process of unfolding!


Inspiration Corner

  • When our only reality becomes emerged within an “exaggerated importance “of material wealth we feel a certain lack and so, we desire more and more to fill this void.  In truth the material riches of this illusive reality we have created cannot fulfill a spirit robbed of the unseen treasures that are life’s true gifts.  May Peace, Light and Love surround you and yours always, D

  • Sometimes it is our fear and need to know the outcome that keeps us from stepping outside of our comfort zone and grabbing hold of the opportunities that offer us the greatest potential for growth.

  • The cycle of life begins with the innocence of pure acceptance, becomes entangled within the insecurity of doubt only to rise from the mire blossoming into the radiance of knowing and wisdom.

  • Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.

    Saint Francis de Sales

  • Listen, for within the whisper of the wind and the soft rustling from the leaves of the trees lie the wisdom of long forgotten truths.

  • Listen, for within the whisper of the wind and the soft rustling from the leaves of the trees lie the wisdom of long forgotten truths.

  • Life offers us many opportunities.  However, to truly experience the potential we must first be willing to choose and embrace the possibilities.

  • The color of one’s skin and the beliefs they hold are simply the cloak one wears and the staff they carry as they travel life’s journey.  What connects us all like family is not found in the outside appearance but rather in the light from within, which is the brilliancy of our individual Beings.

  • How often have you asked, and then when the very thing you have desired is offered you hesitate to grab it?  Perhaps the time has come for you to recognize the abundance that is within your grasp.

  • It is important that you take responsibility for your life.  After all, it is you who created your experiences.

  • Be happy, be healthy and be whole, for your tomorrows are created by the choices you make today.

  • Learn from the past, hope for the future, but always live in the now.

  • The only real obstacle in your life is the one you believe you cannot overcome.


  • Learning to love unconditionally is the key that will unlock the door to understanding your true life’s purpose.

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