Stress has and always will be a major part of life for everybody (maybe just 10 times more for graduate students like me)! But the important thing is how we cope with these challenges. Some people might like to go on a hiking trip, or visit an amusement park, take a food trip with friends, sing their lungs out at karaoke, and others find relief through meditation. I’ve always wondered why Japanese people are so calm and collected – maybe it has something to do with how they were taught to live their lives or the way they practice their religion. Japan has two major religions of Buddhism and Shintoism. I was lucky enough to experience for myself ‘Zazen’ or seated meditation, often practiced by Buddhists. In our case, we were aided by a monk who guided us through the whole process.
Zazen is usually performed in a quiet temple located in a secluded area, away from the busy streets and fast paced everday life. The goal of Zazen is to expel all negativity from your thoughts, freeing your mind from all the anxieties, fears, doubts or any ill feelings that you have so that you can find your inner peace. During the process we read scriptures from a Buddhist prayer book. You will be instructed to sit in full-lotus or half-lotus position. To sit in full-lotus position, first place the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh. In the half-lotus position, simply press your left foot against your right thigh. Then place your right hand on your left leg with your left palm (facing upwards) on top of your right palm, thumb-tips touching. To make sure your posture is correct, try to avoid leaning to one side of the body. Holding the proper position, concentration and breathing are the things that we should be mindful of during Zazen meditation. Another important thing that you should be aware of is the ringing of the bell to symbolize the beginning and the end of the process.
The Zazen experience was real a challenge for me! I found it very difficult to focus on keeping myself at peace during the entire one hour (!!) of meditation because of the unnatural position. But despite that challenge, the whole ritual was a great learning experience for me. It made me appreciate that our body has a way of communicating with the world to form one reality, and that you should focus your energy on what really matters, rather than trying to spread yourself too thinly (which will just end up making you feel tired and unhappy). Through the experience I also gained a great respect for people who perform Zazen regularly, because it requires incredible concentration, perseverance and patience. Now I know why Japanese people are very resilient when it comes to facing challenges.
You can experience Zazen in most major temples in Japan. We took our meditation journey at the World Heritage site, Chuson-ji temple in Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture. It cost around 1000 yen and of course you need to book or reserve ahead of time.
For more information about Chuson-ji temple and how you can find your inner peace through Zazen, kindly click on this link: http://www.japan-iwate.info/app/location_detail.php?lid=1