Today’s world is a whirlwind of constant activity. Cell phones, faxes, the internet, cable TV, all provide a never-ending stream of sensory input. From the day we start school our life has a schedule we feel must be kept. We do more, we know more, we have more and yet, somehow, we are emptier than we have ever been. We have lost ourselves. The peace we seek seems to elude us always.

Meditation provides us with an opportunity to find ourselves. The different practices in Buddhism are based on the various sutras. These sutras are a compilation of the teachings of Gautama Buddha. Buddhist meditation derives primarily from the Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra. This sutra speaks of the emptiness of all things. The basic message is that the world around us is an illusion that we create. This does not mean that things do not exist. It means that how we see and experience the world is shaped by our individual perceptions. The same thing we think is good someone else sees as bad. This is true of all five senses. To find truth we must quiet these senses.

The form of meditation most commonly practiced is zazen, sitting meditation. Although most often practiced sitting cross-legged on a cushion this is not mandatory. I use a small angled bench when I sit zazen. I am able to sit longer periods without pain in my legs. The most important thing with regard to posture is to keep the spine straight. This allows you to breathe freely. As you sit, focus on your breath and try to quiet your mind. This is harder than it sounds. Our minds are used to perpetual motion. We think about the past. We worry about the future. We must always solve another problem. Stopping this chatter, our “monkey mind”, is a daunting task. However, until we stop this “monkey mind” we cannot truly be in the present moment.

Upon quieting the mind, different methods are applied. One is to keep the mind free of any conscious thought. Another is to meditate on a koan. A koan is a question that on the surface appears to have no answer. Perhaps you have heard, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” This is a famous koan. A third method is to meditate on a teaching. A mind free of distraction attains a deeper understanding.

People of all religions can use meditation. Most religions have a tradition of silent contemplation. Many Catholic priests are using Zen meditation techniques. Clearing their mind of distractions, they are better able to focus on the teachings of Christ. Regardless what your beliefs, to live them you must deeply understand them. Meditation is not a religion. It is simply a way to open yourself to your personal truth. In a world of chaos, meditation provides an island of calm.

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