Volunteers have been offering meditation instructions and dharma teachings in Missouri prisons since 2003. This effort has resulted in the establishment of Inside Dharma and the Shinzo Zen Meditation Center, both located in University City, Missouri. Inmates who learned meditation in prison now have an opportunity to continue their practice as they try to establish a new life on the outside.
Settling Into the Posture
If available, place a thick mat (zaniku or zabuton) in front of the wall and place a small round cushion (zafu) on it. Sit on it facing the wall. There are several positions for the legs. If not too cold sit with bare feet.
The cross legged positions provide greatest stability. To sit in full lotus, place the right foot on the left thigh and then the left foot on the right thigh. To sit in half lotus place your left foot on your right thigh. Try to cross the legs firmly so that a stable tripod of support is provided by the knees and the base of the spine. The order of the crossing of the legs may be reversed. It is also possible to simply sit on the floor with one foreleg in front of the other or kneeling using a bench or a cushion. To sit in a chair, place the feet flat on the floor and use a cushion to elevate the seat so that the upper thighs fall away from the body and follow the rest of the applicable instructions.
Straighten the lower back, push the buttocks outward and the hips forward, and straighten your spine. Pull in your chin and extend the neck as though to support the ceiling. The ears and shoulders should be in the same plane with the nose directly above the navel. Straighten the back and relax shoulders, back, and abdomen without changing posture.
Keep the mouth closed placing the tongue with the tip just behind the front teeth and the rest of the tongue as close to the roof of the mouth as comfortable. Keep the eyes at least slightly open cast downward at a 45 degree angle without focusing on anything. If closed you may slip into drowsiness or daydreaming.
Rest the hands palm up on the knees and take 2 or 3 deep abdominal breaths. Exhale smoothly and slowly with the mouth slightly open by pulling in on the abdominal wall until all air has been expelled and inhale by closing the mouth and breathing naturally. Hands still on the knees sway the upper half of the body left to right a few times without moving the hips. Sway forward and back. These swayings are at first larger and then smaller enabling you to find the point of balance of your posture.
Observe breathing during zazen, but do not try to manipulate the rhythm or depth of the breath. Breathe gently and silently through the nose without attempting to control or manipulate the breathing. Let the breath come and go naturally so that you forget all about it. Simply let long breaths be long and short ones short. On inhalation the abdomen expands naturally like a ballon inflating, while on exhalation simply let it deflate.
Do not concentrate on any particular object or attempt to control thoughts, emotions, or any modification of consciousness. By simply maintaining proper posture and breathing the mind settles by itself without fabrication. When thoughts, feelings, etc. arise, do not get caught up by them or fight them. Simply permit any object of mind to come and go freely. The essential point is to always strive to wake up from distraction (thoughts, emotions, images, etc.) or dullness and drowsiness. Letting go of any thought is itself thinking non thinking.