Category: Sitting Around

Create Your Meditation Space

meditation space with meditation zafus, zabutons and dog

A Longtime Customer’s Meditation Space (and sweet dog)

To sit still you need at minimum a couple of things: time and space. We recommend you take time for your meditation practice, and also that you think a little about the space. Do you have a dedicated meditation space? A little sanctuary you can retire to when you need it? How about a clear corner of your bedroom floor? We’ve put together a few ideas to help you create your meditation space.

Your Meditation Space

Some of you may have a dedicated room or part of a room for your meditation spot. Or maybe you pull the zabuton and zafu from a closet to create a temporary sanctuary. The nice thing about a zabuton is that it defines a kind of sacred space for the moment, and cues you to settle down for the next few minutes. This is true whether you have it sitting out all the time or bring it out just when you meditate.
Many people enjoy incorporating an altar or some symbolic statues or other meaningful items in their meditation space. This could be as simple as a small Buddha statue or precious stone or as elaborate as a large altar or framed image.
There are other ways to create a meditation space by using incense, lighting a candle or ringing a bell to signify and sort of announce the intention of the space.

Where to Sit

The good news is you can make any space work. When sitting it does help to have a fairly clean place. There’s a reason Zen halls are kept clean.  It’s also helpful to have it relatively quiet, especially when it comes to human voices. Other noise, be it birds or traffic, can more easily become part of your meditation. Whatever your situation, we urge you not to let your available space stop you.

Tips to Enhance your Meditation Space:

  • Keep your meditation area as clean and clear of clutter as you can. This is true whether it is a dedicated room or a temporary spot on the floor.
  • If you are storing your cushions and creating a temporary space, keep your zabuton and zafu in an easy to access place.
  • Choose a quiet space, away from people and possible distraction. If noise is a problem for you, try a sound machine, or app on your phone to help mask outside voices. Find some kind of white noise you find soothing and put it on low.
  • Create a ritual to mark the meditation time and space, such as lighting a candle or incense. This can help connect you to the space and create a transition between meditation and daily life.
  • If you can create a dedicated space for meditation, definitely do so. An entire room is, of course, wonderful. And we have found that even a corner or small part of a room can also work very well. An altar or small table for your incense and bell is great to have.
  • If you do not have a dedicated space, still keep that area clear when not in use. This way it will not a big chore to bring out your cushions and transform your space.

Happy Sitting!

A Few Common Questions about Meditation

meditation questions
Recently we were asked to answer a few common questions on meditation for a local yoga conference. Many people are first introduced to meditation through yoga, so we took a few minutes in between making cushions to consider the questions. Below you will find the questions and our responses.

Four Questions About Meditation

1. Why is it important to have a regular time and space for a meditation practice?
When you have a regular time and space, it is simply easier to do it and not miss it.  Our lives are so busy that it is all too easy to skip meditation. With a regular place and a regular time, there is a better chance that we will actually meditate.
With a regular space and time, it becomes a part of our lives in a different way than if it’s irregular. It becomes woven into the fabric of our lives and it becomes a habit.
When we meditate regularly and not just when we feel like it, we get the opportunity to work with all of ourselves. When we meditate when we are sad, angry or distracted, all of it, we have a chance to work with our whole selves. Of course this can be frustrating, but this is part of the practice
2. Do I need to be spiritual or religious in some way in order to meditate?  Can I meditate if I am?
No, you do not have to be either. Yet, for some people meditation is a part of their spiritual or religious life. This is not required. Meditation in itself can help people in many ways. One example is in the field of mindfulness stress-reduction. Another is in the work of newscaster Dan Harris, who promotes meditation practice in a non-spiritual or religious way through his 10% Happier Meditations.
That said, meditation and silent prayer are part of just about every religious tradition in the world.
3. Is it normal to have a wandering mind, or unpleasant feelings come to the surface?
Yes! We human beings are special because we have learned to think and this has given us wonderful benefits. The only trouble is that we haven’t yet learned to stop thinking. And so it is natural that we will have a wandering mind at first.
Part of meditation is simply watching that wandering mind, allowing it, but also trying not to follow it unconsciously.
When we meditate, our minds start to slow down. Little by little and over time we feel less of a compulsion to follow wherever our mind leads.
In terms of unpleasant feelings, this is quite normal as well. Sometimes when we get still, feelings that we have long buried or covered up in the course of our busy lives, may rise to the surface. It can be helpful to know that this will most likely happen. Longer meditation retreats can be challenging for this reason. We open ourselves up to anything to come. Yet, by doing this, we have a chance to accept the difficult or broken aspects of ourselves and transform them into compassion.
4. How do I select a style that suits me and my stage of life best and most effectively? 
I think we learn what works for us by trying. There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. See what you are drawn to and try. There is no wrong place to start. For instance, you may want to try a meditation app or a guided meditation. There are many of these available.
At some point, I believe it is important to find a group, a congregation or a sangha. This social, communal aspect can be an essential support to an ongoing meditation practice.
For more meditation tips from our blog, see these: Meditation Foundation, Choosing Cushions, Starting New Practice, or LovingKindness Meditation.

The Resonant Gift of Rin Bells

A Still Sitting customer has been sharing our rin bells with his close circle of friends for years. He enjoys the connection that comes from each friend experiencing the resonance from the same bell. This past year he had the idea of creating a similar gift for his mother and her friends. His mom has Alzheimer’s and is no longer able to socialize with her close group of friends.

“Mom’s friends aren’t Buddhist…not even close. (Some of them are, in fact (now) cloistered Catholic nuns.) But how cool might it be for them to each have a rin? A rin that [my mom] has rung. A rin that [my mom] has heard. A rin, that when rung on their end, might just provide some of the resonance that I and my little circle of rin-lets have each experienced.”

He ordered 12 small rin bells as gifts for his mother and her close friends. He had them engraved in honor of his mother and included a card with a picture of his mother ringing the group of bells.

In his card he wrote,

“I thought, perhaps, even though she is no longer able to reach out to you, she might still enjoy a bit of resonance, (or connection..such that it is) in knowing that the sound you hear, is the very same sound she also hears. And on the occasions when you ring your rin, there is a *very good* chance that she has recently heard (as well as felt) the resonance of hers as well! :-)”

We are so inspired by this story. It is always heartening to hear our customers’ stories and learn how our meditation supplies are incorporated into real lives.
A bell or gong can be a beautiful way to mark time in our meditation practices. It can help us to settle into our practice as well as transition out. Have a listen to our rin bell in the video below.

We look forward to hearing how you use bells in your meditation practice or in your life in general.

Sitting Up Straight

Sitting up Straight
We feel that it’s well worth paying attention to your posture during meditation. Meditation is more than just a mind exercise; it’s a mind-body exercise. Once you have a strong foundation, the next step is to sit up straight. Sitting up straight and relaxed allows your body to open to the world around it. Sitting up straight also helps you breathe deeply, which allows you to relax. Regularly opening like this can help us all move more fluidly through life.

Tips for Sitting up Straight

To sit up straight, sit on the front half of your zafu or cushion. This will help tilt your pelvis forward, allowing your torso to be straight and strong. There are two methods we often use to help maintain a straight, yet relaxed sitting posture. These could be called the String Method and the Sternum Method.

The String Method

With the String Method, imagine a string coming from the top of your head, pulling you straight up as you sit. With this imaginary string holding you up, you can then let the rest of your body relax. Check in with your body and consciously relax each part, especially the shoulders. Many of us have a tendency to hold tension in our shoulders. Try to let your belly, your back and your shoulders all relax.

The Sternum Method

The Sternum Method is another way to work towards a relaxed and straight sitting posture. To do this, start by breathing in and out naturally, and noticing how your rib cage rises and falls with your breath. You will notice that on the in-breaths, your sternum (the front and center of your rib cage) is slightly raised. Keep your chest in this same place as you exhale so that your sternum and chest remain slightly raised and energized. This will allow your shoulders, back, and belly to relax since your chest is carrying the load.

Relaxed Shoulders

Many of us have a tendency to pull ourselves up by the shoulders. This leads to a rigid posture and sore neck and shoulders. If you hold yourself up with your string or sternum, your shoulders can relax. If your shoulders get stiff, one trick is to pull them way up, level to your ears, hold them there for a few seconds, then let them drop naturally down around a strong sternum.
When sitting, your head should be relatively straight. Not tipped forward. The whole posture should feel open, and having your head straight helps you feel open rather than closed.
You may find our “How to Meditate” video helpful with this. Also see this post about setting up your meditation foundation.
As always, we love hearing how your sitting is going. Feel free to use the comments below to be in touch.

The Gift of Lovingkindness Meditation

Still Sitting Meditation SupplyLovingkindness meditation is a way of offering friendly kindness to yourself, to others or to the world.
Lovingkindness is based on Buddhist teachings that emphasize compassion, love and kindness. This is also be referred to as Metta meditation. In Lovingkindness meditation, there are phrases to repeat to yourself throughout the meditation.  The phrases below are taken from Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation by meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg. It is a book that we often recommend for those looking to start or restart a meditation practice. For our review of this book, please take a look at this post.

How to Practice Lovingkindness Meditation

In this practice, phrases are repeated to oneself. Depending on which resource you follow, these may vary somewhat, but the general feeling is the same. The phrases are intended to ground you in offering feelings of love, compassion and kindness.

May I be safe, may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I live with ease.

Or if you are focusing on someone else:

May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you live with ease.

You can start by setting a timer for 10 – 20 minutes, sitting comfortably, with a straight spine, and silently repeating the phrases to yourself at a relaxed pace. If you are short on time, start with just 5 minutes. In lovingkindness meditation the repetition of the phrases is the anchor, rather than the breath.

Resources for Lovingkindness Meditation

Many meditation teachers and authors have guided meditations available online to either guide you or provide further information. Below is an audio from Sharon Salzberg to get you started. Of course, there are so many others out there, it might take a few tries to find one that resonates with you.

Here is an example of a way to use lovingkindness in your daily activities from a video project Salzberg developed called Street Lovingkindness:

The above video is an example of how once we are fluent in the phrases and feelings to evoke, even sitting still is not required. Whether sitting on your cushion at home or standing in line at the grocery store, offering lovingkindness to yourself and those around you can be a powerful practice.

A Look at the Earliest Buddhist Statues

This guest post by Robert Cain takes us on a tour of some of the earliest historical instances of Buddhist sculpture. 

The Buddha at Daibutsu is one of the largest in Japan.


Sculpture is the visual art form most closely identified with Buddhism. The types of Buddhist statues that we see today took time to develop, and changed significantly along the way. This post will highlight some of the earliest portrayals of the Buddha and Buddhism in sculptural form around the world.

India

Footprint of Buddha, 1st Century


Following the Buddha’s death around 400 BCE, the earliest portrayals of his presence were symbolic—footprints, a vacated seat, or an empty space beneath a parasol. An early Buddhist expression that paved the way for the later statues was the stupa, a large hemispherical mound housing relics.
The Stupa
Stupas became central features of Buddhist monasteries, attracting veneration from monks and pilgrims. At first Indian artists used perishable materials—wood, thatch, brick, and bamboo—to build the structures. Stone was used starting in the first century BCE. The use of stone allowed for the creation of relief carvings that depicted events, both actual and legendary, from the Buddha’s lives (there were thought to be 550 previous incarnations). These carvings were added to gateways and railings, thereby heralding the beginning of Buddhist statuary.

Dhauli Giri Shanti Stupa


In the first century CE the human form began to predominate in Buddhist statues.   Hellenistic art, which come into Gandhara (now northern Afghanistan) in the wake of Alexander the Great’s conquests, greatly influenced the first such representations. Statues of the youthful Buddha might have Apolloesque curls, and a toga-like garment, sometimes covering both shoulders.

A standing Buddha from Ghandara, 1st- 2nd century


Another style emerged in the Andhra Pradesh area of southern India early in the Common Era: a somewhat bulkier Buddha, with a serious, unsmiling face and robe revealing the left shoulder. This style influenced the statues of Sri Lanka, and similar types are found today throughout Southeast Asia.

Gupta Empire Statue


The succeeding period of the Gupta Empire in northern India (320 to 550 CE), saw the creation of an “ideal image,” which combined Greek-inspired elements with more sensual elements from Mathura sculptors. Buddha images had their hair arranged in tiny individual curls, robes had a network of strings to suggest drapery folds or were transparent sheaths. Faces had a downward look and suggested a spiritual aura. These Gupta images became the pattern for future generations.
Bodhisattvas
Over the following centuries a new form of Buddhism emerged, characterized by an expanding pantheon and more elaborate rituals.   The concept arose of heavenly bodhisattvas, as well as goddesses. A key element in Mahayana Buddhism is an emphasis on salvation, which is facilitated by bodhisattvas, compassionate beings who assist mortals in the attainment of enlightenment.  This Buddhism often produced statues not only of the Buddha, but also of a variety of bodhisattvas.

Tibet and Nepal

In Nepal and Tibet, where exquisite metal images and paintings were produced, divinities were created in both sculpture and painted scrolls. Ferocio
us divinities became protectors of Buddhism and its followers. Further theistic elements were introduced and images depicted god and goddess in embrace, as well as the concept that salvation resulted from the union of wisdom (female) and compassion (male).

China

Buddhism may have been known in China as early as the second century BCE. There were centers with foreign monks serving as translators and teachers by the second century CE.  Although statues of Buddha are found in tombs of the second and third centuries, there is little evidence for widespread production and use of images until the fourth century CE. In addition to freestanding sculptures, numerous images were carved in cave temples at various sites. Multiple schools of Buddhism came into being in China from the fourth to the tenth century. These included Pure Land, which stressed devotion and faith as the path to enlightenment and Chan (or Zen), which emphasized mediation and mindfulness in daily activities.
Chinese Buddhist sculptures often illustrate an interplay between China and other Buddhist centers. Works with powerful physiques and thin clothing derive from Indian prototypes, while sculptures featuring thin bodies with thick clothing are in the Chinese style. After Buddhism largely disappeared from India in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, China, along with centers in Korea, Japan, and the Himalayas, became the focal point for the continuing development of practices and imagery.

Korea

Statuary in Korea was not contained in enclosed temple complexes, but rather took the form of large-scale images for public display and worship, as well as statuettes for use in the home. The early styles derived from various Chinese styles. These included the Bakje, with its gentle faces and harmonious proportions, and the Bodhisattva Maitreya with its seated posture, right leg bent over the left and the right hand touching the face. The Tang China (618-906) style, with its round faces, dreamy expressions, and fleshy curvaceous bodies, influenced not only the Buddhist statuary of Korea, but also that of East, Central, and South Asia.
Japan
Buddhism reached Japan from the continent in the mid-sixth century. Artists and builders from China introduced Chinese styles of sculpture and temples into Japan. The splendid temple complex at Nara became the location for the most important examples of early Buddhist art in Japan. As in India, China, and Korea, distinctive styles developed in Japan over the following centuries
The history of the earliest Buddhist sculptural representations is a rich and fascinating world to explore. It is a much bigger topic than can be thoroughly covered in a single post. Hopefully this provides a glimpse into these early developments and perhaps a little context for viewing Buddha statues today. 

Holiday Gift Guide

Candles
Thank you for considering giving the gift of meditation to your loved ones this year. This is a gift that can truly last a lifetime. For a little holiday inspiration, we’ve highlighted a few of our favorite gift ideas below. Wishing you a warm and peaceful holiday season.

Holiday Gift Guide

Our Meditation Starter Set is a great gift for anyone new to meditation. It includes a two piece cushion set, a book of your choice, and a lovely ceramic incense starter kit.

The 3 Piece Cushion Set can come in any of our fabrics with your choice of kapok or buckwheat zafu. You choose from our large variety of patterns and colors to create your own set.

The Mango Wood Oryoki Set comes with wood utensils, a set of cloths and 3 mango wood bowls in either natural or chestnut. This set makes a truly elegant gift.
oryoki-mw-chestnut-blue-large
Buddhas & Statues can be wonderful gifts for the meditator who has it all.

Samue Jackets are the traditional work jacket of Buddhist monks and nuns in Japan. They are great to wear to the dojo, for meditation, around town or working around the house because of their comfort and functionality. We are thrilled to have new lightweight pants and jackets in black cotton, in addition to our traditional thick cotton jacket.
Bells & Drums are wonderful additions to a meditation practice.  We carry a selection of our favorites, including gongs and clappers. You can listen to the sound each one makes on the website.

Stocking Stuffers

Happy Holidays!

Sitting Tips: Your Meditation Foundation

Rooted

Rooted


We thought we’d go back to the basics and share a series of sitting tips. Whether you are completely new to meditation or are an old master, it can be helpful to revisit the foundations of the practice.
In order to sit comfortably and deeply in meditation, your posture is ideally relaxed and attentive. Finding a  position that works well for you is important. You may feel as rooted as the tree above sitting anywhere, but most of us need the help of a few cushions, or even a nice stiff chair. Your body will thank you for taking the time to find a supportive sitting position.

A Strong Meditation Foundation

Creating a good foundation is the first step. When sitting in meditation, it is recommended to make a tripod with your knees and bottom. This tripod allows you to sit upright while at the same time being relaxed and stable. If possible you want your knees to make contact with your zabuton or the floor. If you are just starting out, or not accustomed to sitting in this way, this may be tricky at first. This is where support cushions can come in handy. Most people find that it works best to sit on the front half of their cushion or zafu. This helps the knees touch and the pelvis to tilt forward.