Practicing at Home

Empty Field Outdoor Altar

Establishing rituals at home and at work helps transform our relationship to our surroundings and introduces the spirit of Zen to our joys and our struggles. Buddhist rituals turn the mind toward what’s most essential in any moment, and create an opportunity for new responses born of wisdom and compassion. The value of any ritual or practice is not found in its complexity or how much time it takes, but rather in the way it touches our hearts and reminds us to let go, enter the present moment, and access our deeper intention. During practice periods, we take up some of these practices for a limited amount of time and notice their impact on our lives. Below are some suggestions to newcomers.

Zazen Setting up a particular dedicated meditation space in your home with a cushion/bench or chair can remind you to sit regularly. Many practitioners will sit daily in the morning for 30 to 40 minutes, but when you are beginning, even 5 to 10 minutes can be transformative. Daily consistency is more important than longer less frequent meditations.

Altars — Setting up a traditional home altar with a central image, flowers on the left, and a candle on the right, symbolizes our central concern and reminds us of the sacred. Common statues or pictures include the Buddha, Kanzeon, or Manjushri, but also may include a beautiful stone or another inspiring guide. Offering incense, flowers, or food and bowing to the altar are ways we pay respect to our own inherent awakened mind.

Home altar in bedroom
Home altar in bedroom

Chants and Recitations — You may decide to repeat (out loud or to yourself) particular Buddhist chants or verses that inspire you to practice. Common chants at home or work include the meal verse before meals and the Robe Verse that can be found in our chant book among others. The mantra from the Heart Sutra is a favorite in our group: Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha! Going beyond, way beyond, beyond beyond, Yes!

Mindfulness — Dedicating some period of time during the day where you forgo multitasking and distracting entertainment helps bring the body, breath, and mind into the present moment. The best place to start is during common activities like cleaning, washing dishes, raking leaves, knitting,  cooking, walking, bike riding, or driving. During this time, continually bring your attention to your breath, your hands, your sense of smell, sight, hearing, and taste — notice the mind’s wandering and how it narrates your life, then gently return to the activity at hand and notice the effect of this practice.

Bowing — Putting the hands palm to palm (called “in gassho“) is a universally understood gesture of sacred respect and something very familiar to Zen practitioners. It can be helpful to pause during transitions in your day and bow to the next thing, for instance, entering your work space, or bowing to your garden or cleaning tools. Connecting the right and left sides of the body in front of the heart has an immediate effect on our state of mind.

Interpersonal Mindfulness — Highly recommended is a practice of Insight Dialogue in interpersonal relationships. This practice is simple and allows us to meet others mindfully in a fresh way, letting go of habitual reactivity, even in conflicted relationships. The process is as follows and can be accessed through this link: PAUSE – RELAX – OPEN – TRUST EMERGENCE – LISTEN DEEPLY – SPEAK THE TRUTH.