Zazen – a meditative experience in Kyoto

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”
― Gautama Buddha

(See page 2 for the German version)

The new year has barely begun, and already I feel as if I am never able to achieve everything I planned to do. Time is running and it seems as if what I am doing on a day is never enough. It’s like a curse. And I’m talking only about my free days, here, apart from work …

So I was the more excited, when the idea came up to participate in a zazen meditation. Tailored to meditation beginners, for one hour, where we would meditate twice for about 15 minutes, which should be doable. Or so I thought.

A few days later we met with about 20 other young Japanese people at a temple in Kyoto and were instructed to take place in a tatami room with seating cushions on the floor. It was a frosty winter day and the small electric heater struggled in vain against the cold that crept through the thin wooden walls. Nevertheless, we sat down on our square cushions and the priest, a young man with bushy eyebrows and bright eyes that promised that he led a wiser life than any of us, in his deep voice explained the meaning and method of Zen meditation. To be in the moment consciously. Release unnecessary thoughts. Clean the heart and be able to start again, as if newly born. We were supposed to put our hands in your lap, with both palms facing upwards and the thumbs touching each other. The seating position should be upright and cross-legged or, if possible, in lotus position, and we should turn our gaze a few feet in front of ourselves on the floor, eyes half closed. The priest also explained the method of „beating“. During the meditation he would walk around with a stick and, if desired, stand in front of someone, and hit that person twice briefly on the upper back to release tension and bring wandering thoughts back to concentration.

An incense was lit and after the priest made a sound with two small wood sticks, the meditation began. There was a certain tension in the air, while each participant tried to concentrate on his upright seating position and his breathing. I stared in front of me, until my eyes began to tear, counted my breath and tried hard to ignore everything else: The tapping of the bare feet of the priest on the floor, as he slowly walked through our rows, the wind outside, the loud sound of the stick, when someone had wished to be beaten, and especially the many thoughts that were always trying to come back into my head. Before long, my legs were starting to hurt due to seating position that I wasn’t used to, but I tried to ignore that as well. Slowly inhaling. Slowly exhaling. Counting. Letting thoughts pass away one by one, like a flowing river.

After hearing the sound of the wood sticks that indicated the end of the meditation time, it felt a little bit like a salvation – which was not just due to the fact that I was now able to stretch my aching legs, but also because I actually felt better, my head feeling clearer and the thoughts being more positive. It was a good experience, which I would definitely participate in again!

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