Sunday, November 23, 2008
Meditation is a mental discipline by which one attempts to get beyond the conditioned, "thinking" mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness. There are many different meditation methods.
At the core of meditation is the goal to focus and eventually quiet your mind. As you progress, you will find that you can meditate anywhere and at any time, accessing an inner calm no matter what's going on around you. But first, you have to learn to tame your mind.
Make time to meditate. Set aside enough time in your daily routine for meditating. The effects of meditation are most noticeable when you do it regularly and consistently rather than sporadically.
Some people will find a five minute meditation worthwhile, for others, the benefits of longer meditation are well worth the time.
You can meditate at any time of day; some people like to start their day off with meditation, others like to end the day by clearing their mind, and some prefer to find refuge in meditation in the middle of a busy day. Generally, however, the easiest time to meditate is in the morning, before the day's events tire your body out and give your mind more to think about.
Don't meditate immediately following a meal, or when you are likely to be hungry. The body's digestive system can be very distracting.
Find or create a quiet, relaxing environment. It's especially important, when you're starting out, to avoid any obstacles to attention. Turn off any TV sets, phone(s) or other noisy appliances. If you play music, make sure it's calm, repetitive and gentle, so as not to break your concentration. Meditating outside can be conducive, as long as you don't sit near a busy roadway or another source of loud noise.
Sit on level ground. Sit on a cushion if the ground is uncomfortable. You don't have to twist your limbs into the lotus position or adopt any unusual postures. The important thing is to keep your back straight, as this will help with breathing later on.
You can also meditate on a chair. Make sure your back is straight (whether you lean against the chair or sit free does not matter). Your feet should rest solidly on the ground.
Any position in which you're relaxed but your back is straight is permissible, even lying down - but be careful that you're not so relaxed that you fall asleep. In warm weather, consider watching the clouds.
Keep your eyes half-open without focusing on anything. If this is too distracting or difficult, close them or find something steady to focus on such as a small candle flame.
Breathe deeply and slowly from your abdomen rather than your chest. You should feel your stomach rise and fall while your chest stays relatively still. Healthy, stress relieving breathing may be done by inhaling for count of 3, exhaling for count of 6, repeat over and over for 15 to 20 minutes. This expels the used air and more completely oxygenates your blood, lowering heart rate and blood pressure. Many high blood pressure patients have dropped their blood pressure as much as 50 points, allowing them to decrease or eliminate the need for medication. This breathing exercise should be done on a regular basis.
Relax every muscle in your body. Don't rush this, as it takes time to fully relax. Do it bit by bit, starting at your toes, and working up to your head, until the tension melts away.
Focus your attention. You may notice that your mind wants to wander, bouncing from thought to thought, making observations about other things. Gently bring your attention back to a single point until it rests there naturally. The goal is to allow the "chattering" in your mind to gradually fade away. Find an "anchor" to settle your mind.
Let your attention rest on the flow of your breath. Listen to it, follow it, but make no judgments on it (such as "It sounds a little raspy...maybe I'm getting a cold?").
To overcome verbal chatter, recite a mantra (repetition of a sacred word). A single word like "aum" uttered at a steady rhythm is best. You can recite it verbally or just with the voice in your mind. Beginners may find it easier to count their breaths. Try counting your breath from 1 to 10, then simply start again at 1.
To circumvent images that keep intruding on your thoughts, visualize a place that calms you. It can be real or imaginary. Imagine you are at the top of a staircase leading to a peaceful place. Count your way down the steps until you are peaceful and relaxed.
For some people, focusing attention on a point or object does exactly the opposite of what meditation is all about. It takes you back to the life of 'focus', 'concentration', 'strain'. In this case, as an alternative to the above techniques, some meditators recommend un-focusing your attention. Instead of focusing attention on a point or an object, this type of meditation is achieved by attaining a state of zero. Take your attention above all thoughts till a point you lose all attention and all thoughts.
Silence your mind. Once you've trained your mind to focus on just one thing at a time, the next step is focus on nothing at all, essentially "clearing" your mind. This requires tremendous discipline but is the pinnacle of meditation. After focusing on a single point as described in the previous step, you can either cast it away, or observe it impartially and let it come and then go, without labeling it as "good" or "bad". Take the same approach to any thoughts which return to your mind until silence perseveres.