To sit is to restore ourselves, to become fully present and fully alive in the
here and now.—Thich Nhat Hanh
How to Sit provides simple directions on the mechanics of posture and breathing, along with instructions for how best to achieve the awakened, relaxed, state of clarity to cultivate concentration and compassion. Thich Nhat Hanh shares a series of secular guided meditations that help us return to our breath, spend some time in the present moment, and come home to ourselves.
Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the greatest teachers of our time. He reaches from the heights of insight down to the deepest places of the absolutely ordinary.—Robert Thurman, Inner Revolution
You may already know how to sit. Or, you may just know how to plop your body down, how to slouch, how to keep your body in a chair for a certain amount of time, or how to space out. For this book, sitting is none of those things. For this book, to sit is to come home to ourselves, to return to our breath, and to spend some time in the present moment.
Sitting meditation has two aspects of practice. The first aspect is stopping, so that we can calm body and mind. The second aspect is looking deeply to understand the roots of our perceptions. When we practice these two parts of sitting meditation, we become aware of the joy of being alive and we will find that our in-breath and our out-breath begin to nourish our body, mind, and spirit. Each breath begins to bring us happiness. To sit with nothing to do but breathe in awareness is a great happiness. Many of us bounce about like yo-yos in our busy lives and never have the chance to taste this joy.
When we hear the word “meditation,” we may imagine a person sitting very peacefully in a beautiful setting. But meditation can be practiced almost anywhere. We can practice meditation when we walk and when we perform our daily activities. Whenever we practice mindfulness, we’re practicing meditation. The function of meditation practice is to heal and transform. Meditation helps us to be whole, and to look deeply into ourselves and around us in order to realize what is really there. The energy used in meditation is mindfulness. When mindfulness is present, meditation is present.
You Only Need to Sit
While practicing sitting meditation, you need to feel completely at ease. Every muscle in your body should be relaxed, including the muscles in your face. The best way to relax the muscles in your body is to smile gently as you breathe. You should keep your spinal column quite straight, but the body should not be rigid. This position will relax you and you can enjoy the feeling of ease. Do not make a great effort, do not struggle, do not fight. Let go of everything as you sit. This prevents backache, shoulder ache, and headache. If you are able to find a cushion that fits your body well, you can sit for a long time without feeling tired.
Some people say they don’t know what to do when they are sitting. They have been taught a correct meditation posture but do not know how to make their breathing light and even. The exercises found here will help them realize the oneness of body and mind. At the very least, they will learn that it is possible to do “something” while sitting.
“You only need to sit” is an exhortation of the Tao Dong (Soto) meditation school. It means that you should sit without waiting for a miracle—and that includes the miracle of enlightenment. If you sit always in expectation, you cannot be in contact with or enjoy the present moment, which always contains the whole of life. Sit in this context means to sit in an awakened way, in a relaxed way, with your mind awake, calm, and clear. Only this can be called sitting, and it takes training and practice.