Practicing Zen means practicing the pure meditative state, which means being awake, aware, but not thinking. The important benefit of being in the Zen state is the conscious thinking mind is quiet, providing an opportunity for other (deeper) parts of the mind to manifest themselves. That is how you connect to the deeper knowledge that is in your mind but you have never known about.
When you first try to still the conscious mind, you will learn that it is a feat of mental gymnastic. Unless you were taught as a child, you may find getting started is daunting.
Naturally, the more you practice, the easier it will be. If you practice a few minutes every day, in one or two months you will find that it’s much easier to do. But in order to get there, first you must resolve yourself to practice a little every day. You must do this even though you may think you’re not getting anywhere. You will succeed only with personal commitment and dedication. Here is a list of the basic steps for getting started:
Create a Private Place that is quiet, secure, and free from the threat of interruption. Many students call this their private sanctum, which is defined as “an inviolably private place or retreat.” Find a place where you have no noise or visual distractions.
Appraise Your Physical and Mental State. You must be well rested, in a reasonably calm state of mind, and not under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or any substance that affects your state of mind.
Get Comfortable: Remove any tight or restrictive clothing, especially shoes. Remove eyeglasses, contact lenses, watches, jewelry, beepers—in short, anything that might physically distract or annoy you during the exercise. Seat yourself with your back straight and upright, in a position you can maintain for 10 to 15 minutes.
Think Quietly for a Few Minutes: Close your eyes and spend some time in preparatory conscious thought. Think about the importance of this exercise, and recognize the benefits it will bring you.
Begin the Relaxation Scan: Relax your entire body. Focus on relaxing the feet & legs, relaxing the muscles of each area, and gradually work all the way to the top of your head. Use the mind to watch the breath and gradually allow your breath and your heart rate to slow down. Gently allow all thoughts to flow out of your mind.
If An Unwanted Thought Intrudes: Smile. It’s all right. Take another refreshing breath. Tell the conscious mind firmly, gently, and lovingly, “No!” And let the unwanted thought flow on away from your mind.
When Your Meditation Time is Up: You will know when your time is up because you will feel it. Actual clock time is of secondary importance. When you feel that you have accomplished what is right to accomplish for today, then stop.
If It Didn’t Work: When you have feelings of frustration, or boredom, nagging worry, or perhaps overwhelming emotional pressures, then just stop. There will be days when your practice will not work. Let that day go by for now. But even if you were not able to accomplish non-thought on this day, you have nevertheless quieted the body and the mind to some extent. If you are unable to make progress over some period of time, think about finding a teacher or coach. Remember: Just merely doing the exercise makes this a better day regardless of whether it “worked” or not.
Do Some Reading: Many books about Zen are available. I wrote a small book especially for beginners titled Original Zen on amazon.com. You can download it to any reading device for a small fee. A chapter in the back of that book titled Getting Started may help you. It includes advice and coaching for beginning your Zen meditation practice.