Introduction to Zen Meditation

At the Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Park Forest, IL, there was the first meeting of a Zen meditation Meetup group, led by Steve McCabe.   Steve McCabe is a member of the Prairie Zen Center, Champaign IL, (www., and he also leads the Wetlands Zen Group sitting group, which meets Sunday evenings at Insight Awareness Center in Homewood, IL.     He is now forming a Zen Meditation group in the South Suburban Chicago area  through Meetup which meets at UUCC in Park Forest, and today was the first meeting of the group.

1.   Reasons for joining

I joined the group on Meetup for the following reasons:

  • I have been a meditator for many years using the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique, but have wanted to try new meditation methods to enliven my meditation practice
  • I am already a member of the UUCC Congregation, and I was familiar with the meeting place
  • Steve McCabe was recommended to me by someone experienced at the church as someone knowledgeable about Zen and Zen meditation

2.  The Purpose and Benefits of Zen Meditation

For the beginner, Steve McCabe gave a simple example of what Zen Meditation is all about before he explored what we would do in the sitting meditation portion of the program.

It is about taking the contents of the mind, one’s thoughts, memories, perceptions, etc., and becoming aware of them and then dis-identifying from them so that you are centered in the awareness of those phenomena.    By doing this, you are training yourself to, in a sense, not to “go with the flow” but rather to be separate from it.     There are physiological benefits to meditation, such as lowered blood pressure,as well as psychological benefits, like greater mental acuity and ability to focus, etc.

I liked Steve’s very simple but elegant way of describing, in simpler words than mine written above, what the purpose and benefits were.    He then went on to describe how to meditate.

3.  Preparation for Zen Meditation

You need to sit, either on a cushion, pillow or blanket on the floor, or on a chair, if you prefer, so that your spine is straight, and your head is erect, with your gaze going towards the floor.    It is not necessary for you to close your eyes, as some practices have you do.    You should move back and forth so you can make you’re an equilibrium point on your sitting bones.    If you are alone, you should set a timer for 20 minutes.    Sometimes a nice starting point to a meditation is a small chime or gong, because the mind can focus on the gradual dissipation of the tone as its way of starting the meditation.    You should make sure you are wearing loose, comfortable clothing and wearing enough clothes so that you will not be feeling either too cold or too warm during the meditation session.

4.   Zen Meditation Process–Sitting Meditation

Now, during the meditation, you will count from 1 to 5, although some people count from 1 to 10, so that with the intake of each breath you will count inwardly “1”, then release the breath, going on to “2”, etc.    When you get to “5”, then start the series over again.   Gradually you will notice your breath start to slow down, but you may also notice that thoughts start to stray into the meditation.    Once you notice your thoughts straying, you simply return your focus to the breath and start back from “1”.    When you do this, you make no judgment about either the thoughts themselves or the fact that you’ve strayed from the meditation.

5.  Zen Meditation Service

We actually had an entire Zen Meditation service, which consisted of the following

a)   a 20-minute sitting meditation

b)  a walking meditation, where we stood up and walked in a slow, consciously deliberate series of steps around the circle back to where we started from

c)  another 20-minute sitting meditation

d)  a short service where the principles of Buddhism were read, and we asked for help for important people in our lives

The point of walking meditation is to break up the sitting meditation sessions through movement, but to engage in movement in a deliberate way where you are aware of what you are doing.    It is called a meditation for that reason in that you maintain conscious deliberate focus on your actions.    Steve challenged us to try ordinary tasks at home in that same meditative state.

6.   Conclusion

Ironically, I woke up that morning thinking of the gigantic list of pre-Christmas activities I had to accomplish that day, saw the light rain outside, and felt that I didn’t have time for Zen meditation.    And then I realized, hey, when I’m stressed (as many are at holiday time), it is exactly the time for Zen meditation.    On the drive back, rather than listen to music or the radio, I drove in a consciously deliberate manner and viewed the winter landscape with an intensity that was really amazing.    It’s great when you no longer live on “autopilot”!    This is part of my New Year’s resolution to learn a new meditation technique, and I find the group a congenial group as well, since they are obviously interested in learning more about Zen as I am.

I look forward to making this a regular part of my life next year.   As an additional bonus, I had heard about the Insight Awareness Center at 18110 Martin Ave., Homewood, IL 60430 from someone else at  UUCC Park Forest.   That is where a Zen Meditation service is held on Sunday at 7 PM.    Learning that Steve McCabe is holding a service there as well as at UUCC has now prompted me to visit the Insight Awareness Center in the New Year.

For those either in a meditative practice now, or for those wishing to start one, I recommend the Zen Meditation practice.    When I returned home, I got so much done and went from one task to another in a totally un-stressed state of mind.

Give yourself the gift of Zen for the holidays!






One Response

  1. I always marvel at people who differentiate between Zen and TM.

    TM is a form of _dhyan_ meditation. When the _dhyan_ Buddhists left India they ended up in China, whre _dhyan_ the word was distorted into _chan_. One might assume that the practice started to get distorted about that time as well. When teh _chan_ Buddhists left China, they ended up in Japan, where _chan_ became distorted to _zen_. One might assume that the practice was again distorted.

    Virtually all meditation practices tend to distort how the brain functions. The simple functioning of the Default Mode (resting) Network of the brain becomes changed over time and researchers and proponents extoll the virtues of this kind of change:

    This is despite the fact that such practices actually change the brain in the direction of EEG and brain activity found in people with Autism.

    TM, on the other hand, has exactly the opposite effect, at least in normal people, as the distortions common in autistics.

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