The Second Phase of Meditative Development by Master Sheng-Yen

2. Initial Efforts to Apply the Methods of Meditation

When first taking up the practice of counting breaths, your attention will often wander away from breath and number. Or, many associated thoughts will intrude, such as concerns over how to count the number or how to regard the breath.
 You are able to sustain the count for short stretches, but usually this is interrupted before long. By repeatedly bringing your attention mind back to the method, the confusion of wandering thoughts gradually is brought under control, and a steady stream of focus begins to develop, enduring for longer and longer stretches of time. 

In breath/one out breath/ breath/three out breath/four...what did he say was for lunch? Do I even want to go for lunch? Are there enough soups in my locker...Damn it!! I'm suppose to be counting the breaths... in breath/one out breath/two...Sound familiar?
 Any of you that have taken up the practice of Zazen and are using counting the breaths as a method of practice have experienced the above or similar scenarios. Believe me, you are not alone. The frustration that you experience has been experienced by meditators since meditation was first introduced so don't feel alone or think that you aren't good enough to do it! It's all part of the process and it doesn't matter what you use as a 'method', you WILL experience setbacks, frustration, and periods of doubt. It's the nature of the game.

The question is: How will you deal with what arises? I asked my teacher this question of how to deal with the frustration that I'm experiencing and he said to smile and laugh at myself. WHAT? Yes...when your concentration falters (and believe me, it will), stop, take a deep breath, smile and start over. You see, you have to have compassion on yourself and understand that you are doing a good work for yourself and everything else! You have to have faith in the natural process of what you're doing. With the concentration of the mind comes the natural unfolding of the inherent wisdom that is already there! Sitting Zazen and allowing the mind to settle into the method until the method and who is doing the method falls away is what reveals who you are and your place in the completeness of things! It is here that you find what placed you upon the path to begin with...a peace within the suffering, a calm moment within the storm. 
 So you keep coming back to the breath and keep coming back and then something subtle and magical're able to count all the way to ten without your mind wandering not even once! Just noticing it makes you feel joyful and strengthens your faith in the practice. But, you've only scratched the surface. There is so much more that awaits you. So, for this month just stick with the counting, the stopping, the smiling, and the starting over. Remember, it's called a 'practice' for a reason and you have to stick with it!
 In Gassho, Horaku