Starting Out

A Brief Word on Zen

The word ‘Zen’ carries a lot of misconception in our society. By its nature, Zen is not something which can be fully described. The words on this page are only a basic guide, for people interested in sitting with Ordinary Mind Zen Melbourne.

Zen points our attention to life in the present moment: our body, our thoughts, our everyday lives. It brings non-judgemental awareness, or mindfulness, into all aspects of life.

Further reading can be found on the pages What Practice Is.

“In practice, we return over and over again to perception, to just sitting. Practice is just feeling”
-Charlotte Joko Beck


Zazen, or meditation, is at the heart of Zen practice. We normally meditate on a small round black cushion called a zafu, sitting in a cross-legged position. Kneeling on meditation benches or sitting on chairs is also fine.

Posture is important, with the spine vertical yet relaxed. If you haven’t meditated before, we can also offer advice for the positioning of the legs, hands, eyes and shoulders, all of which allows for settled meditation.

Most beginners start with a breath meditation, which involves being aware of the breath as it enters and leaves the body. We silently count each outbreath from one to ten. When the mind starts to wander, as it inevitably will, we simply notice this, and gently start our count again.

For beginners, breathing is usually the main practice. Once this has settled however, there are other practices in Zen, the main ones being Shikantaza, and Koan Study.

We’re happy to assist any beginners, with both posture and breath meditation.

Practising with the Group

Zazen is practised in both individual and group settings. Individually, a meditation each day (eg. early in the morning) helps maintain practice. Likewise, group meditation (eg. Monthly Meditations) helps us to guide and support each other.

For those new to Ordinary Mind Zen Melbourne, the Monthly Meditations are the best introduction. They are held over 2 hours, and are open to anyone with limited or no meditation experience, so please feel free to bring along any interested friends.

If you’re coming for the first time, we will explain the process we follow before commencing. A brief summary is:

  • The meditation is in a hall (dojo), sitting on cushions, stools or chairs.
  • To minimise distraction, dark plain clothing should be worn. Bright colours and perfumes should be avoided
  • At commencement, sutras (texts) are read aloud.
  • Bowing also occurs, which shows respect for the practice, the teachings, and each other.
  • Zazen is then undertaken in periods of about 30 minutes. In between, there are short 5-10 minute periods of walking meditation, called kinhin
  • Both zazen and kinhin are carried out in silence, except for bells and clappers which mark the beginning and end of each period.
  • During kinhin, participants needing a drink or bathroom may quietly bow and leave the room, then quietly return and rejoin kinhin before it concludes.
  • After about 2 hours the meditation concludes.