I'm currently attending an introductory meditation course in the zen tradition. The teacher mentioned in passing that she was trained in the Rinzai school. She instructed us to count to ten while meditating, one number per out-breath.
This internal vocalization helps me to get concentrated in the beginning of my meditation, but becomes rather distracting after a while. As far as I know, in shikantaza you're suppossed to cultivate a broad, open awareness. This works great for me after I've settled my monkey-mind a bit using the counting, but I find it hard to do from the start because it's more difficult to note when you have become lost in thought, since there is no reference point, so to speak.
So, I'd like to know what you do/don't do mentally while meditating, and what you recommend to a beginner.
PS: I'm aware of the fact that there are differences between these meditation schools, and that it is more skilfull to focus on one technique. I started attending the course because I wanted to bring more regularity to my practice. I find a real-life group to be quite beneficial in this respect, my meditions also seem to be deeper when I'm with others. I have not been able to find a shikantaza sitting group in my city though.