Introduction – The act of meditation is simple, yet at the same time it is a complex subject. In different forms it has been a part of all belief systems down the ages, though in many it has been the reserve of the mystics or shamans and not the general populace. But common prayer is also a form of meditation if the mind is engaged correctly.
Here I take a brief look at simple meditative practice, its purpose and an attempt to resolve perceived problems. As such it is aimed primarily at beginners or those in the early stages of practice but without a teacher and who are having difficulties.
What is Meditation? – First, let’s demystify it. Forget about gurus, cross-legged yogis, new-agers, tree huggers or ay other preconceived images you have of the practice. Meditation is actually an innate ability that most of us have lost as we have been consumed over the centuries by the egoic mind of thought, analysis, self aggrandisement and protection. Added to that our lives have grown ever more complex, the central cause of which is our desire for material gain. In a similar way people believe they must search for God. We have never lost God. God lives within us as has always been the case, but we have become desensitised to the presence, and so it is with meditation.
The rational thinking mind was a tool for us to use, but has grown into a monster by which we identify ourselves. It is not who we really are. Meditation brings us into contact with our true selves and the present moment, a place of stillness and silence, but it is not static. Within that still place dwells all energy, all creation and all knowledge. Every moment is the seed of life.
The aim of meditation is to bring to awareness the consciousness of who we really are. To ignore the incessant chatter of the mind, to step back from it and dwell for a period in the timeless realm of our inner being. The sense of peace and understanding this brings, the connection to all of life, the entire cosmos, is beyond compare and simple meditation can be used to enhance our daily lives and the lives of those about us. The more we meditate, the more we retain the knowledge from our meditations that the lives we lead are often a very shallow representation of reality and so our actions and reactions, and our interpretations of the world, become ever finer, our judgement clearer and our negative impact upon ourselves, others and the planet is reduced. We begin to become attuned to life. Meditational practices can move on to more complex manifestations, yet the simple practice of stillness and mindfulness of the present moment can lead to full enlightenment It is simply a question of time and practice.
Simple practice. – let me reiterate, meditation is an innate ability and doesn’t require technique or method. There are methods per se, but don’t confuse methods, which are merely a pathway, with the state of meditation itself.
Sit in a comfortable, straight-backed chair, adjust the chin position to achieve a straight back and settle into a stance of poise where the spine supports itself, not the back of the chair. It is possible to simply lie down. We need to achieve relaxation of the physical body and this can be done by working our way down from the head, through the arms, down through the torso and finally our legs and feet using our mind. Focus on each part of the body and relax it. One useful technique is to first tense and then relax the muscles.
In time this conscious practice is not necessary, the act of commencing a meditation and stilling the mind will automatically calm the body.
Now comes the part many have difficulty with, stilling the mind. Beginners often complain they can’t stop their thoughts. You can’t stop your thoughts; you can only control your response to them. Most are the idle chatter of the physical mind or the protestations of the ego. They won’t go away, but in time, with regular practice the chatter will reduce, one of the long-term benefits of mediation.
I’ll digress for a moment to use two analogies. A typical mind is like the effect of throwing a handful of small stones into a pond. The resulting ripples are random and confused, as is the mind. If you could get the mind quietened, similar to throwing one stone in the pond, one thought, how much do you think you could achieve by increased focus?
The second analogy is useful in seeing the relationship between focus and interrupting thoughts. You are watching and concentrating on a TV program, this represents the focus of the higher self. Your pet dog wanders in and starts vying for attention, he represents the egoic mind and he will try to disturb you away from something he doesn’t understand. You can engage with the pet, in which case your focus is destroyed or you can ignore it in which case it will eventually go away.
So this is how we deal with thoughts, we step back and simply observe them, they will come and go but we must try not attach to them, this comes with practice. If we step back and watch our thoughts, who is the watcher? That is your higher self, your true self.
The way we meditate then is simply to let our thoughts come and go while ignoring their content. Ways to assist are to focus on the breath, a candle or a spiral pattern; this provides an anchor for the mind/ego to keep it entertained while freeing our higher selves to experience the stillness within the present moment. To use breathing, become aware of each breath, the in and the out, and the pauses between. Let the breath be natural, don’t force it, just be aware, observe it. We then allow our true consciousness to dwell in the present moment, resisting any thoughts to ponder the past or future. Aim for 20 minutes but any duration is beneficial to begin.
Difficulties – Many complain of restlessness or interrupting thoughts. The ego doesn’t like meditation, it has no control and will try to convince you of its futility, it is scared. Persevere, it will get easier and the ego will grow weaker. The benefits to health and well-being are immeasurable.
Meditation is simple. It is not difficult but it does require daily practice, some will find it easier than others. You may feel a lack of progress, but don’t give up. A 5 minute session where you believe you didn’t relax and focus is still progression, you tried and the practice counts.
My description of technique here is brief, first because it really is actually very simple, and second because the purpose of this post was to provide an insight into meditation and potential difficulties encountered. I will be writing more about meditation in future posts.
For more help and guided meditations Allison Conway, a wonderful on-line friend, has spent much time and effort on her blog in providing some excellent meditation podcasts;
meditation class for beginners