Iron Bell Zen - First Day Basics

Iron Bell Zen

First Day Basics

When to arrive?

It is important to arrive before the beginning of meditation (zazen).  Please plan to arrive at least 10 minutes before the start of zazen to avoid disturbing others. If you arrive after our 9:00, please enter quietly and find an open spot to begin sitting.  If you arrive late and it is your first time meditating, please wait until the second sitting and we can instruct you about sitting postures etc.

What to wear and bring?
Please wear loose clothing, comfortable for sitting meditation. Avoid anything tight, revealing, or clothing that is too brightly colored.  To make your sitting more comfortable we recommend bringing a pillow or two.  If you become a regular at Iron Bell, we suggest purchasing a zabuton and zafu.  There are many sources, but here is a good set:
What to do after you arrive?
If you arrive early on your first day, we can discuss how to sit and the approach we take at Iron Bell, which generally follows the Soto Zen tradition.  You will be asked to sign up on Mindbody, which is a program to track attendance.  Iron Bell is open and free to all, but we do take donations to help pay for the space we are graciously afforded through Denton Martial Arts Center.  Any amount helps.
How do I get ready to sit and what about all the bowing?

When you first arrive, prior to the start of the meditation session, please set up your pillow or zabuton and zafu in the sodo (meditation hall).  A minute or two before 9:00 we enter the sodo find our cushions and prepare to meditate. Prior to entering the sodo, we ask that all participants make a small bow as a sign of respect and acknowledgement of the space in which we will meditate. If you wish to follow a more formal and traditional Soto approach you can bow in the following manner: When you enter the sodo, bow in gassho (hands held palms together) walk to your seat, without walking back and forth on the green mat. When you arrive at your seat, bow towards the seat in gassho, and then turn right and bow in gassho to the opposite seats. All bowing is done as sign of respect for the space and to acknowledge our fellow practitioners. In summary, when you first enter Iron bell, please make a small bow.  When moving from our foyer into the area where we will begin to sit please bow again.  When in doubt just follow what others are doing. Please take off your shoes before entering the sodo (where the wood floor meets the green mat). There is a wooden container to hold your shoes, purses and other materials.  Please make sure the ringer to your phone is turned off.  You may wear socks or go barefoot on the green mat.

How we start sitting.
At the start of our sitting, you will hear a first bell ring; this indicates that you should make your final sitting adjustments on your cushion.  The bell will then be struck three times for the start of zazen.  After 25 minutes, the bell will be struck once to indicate the end of that sitting.  You may then get off your cushion, stretch, get some water, or use the restroom.  You have 5-10 minutes until we start the next sitting.
What to do during sitting.
There are many different approaches to zazen.  When new to practice (or a long-time practitioner) people will often focus on their breathing.  As random thoughts arise, simply direct your mind back to your breath.  Focus on each inhalation and exhalation.  Breathing should be deep and from your belly—not shallow and from your chest.  With all that said, our practice is just to sit.  To be present with whatever arises without method or goal. Do your best to sit still during zazen. See if you can ignore transient itches, irritations or minor pain. On the other hand, don’t ignore significant pain. If you need to move, please do so as quietly as possible. However, in an emergency, you can leave the sodo—but please do so as quietly as possible. Zazen ends with one ring of the bell.  Those practicing the more formal training can choose to bow in gassho after the bell rings at the end of zazen.  Stand and bow in gassho towards your seat, then turn and bow again outwards toward others across from you. Please get up slowly as your legs might be stiff. Gather your zabuton, zafu or other pillows and exit quietly out of the sodo. For all—please bow slightly as you exit the sodo or meditation hall. We look forward to having you join us.  Again, all are welcome.