Meditation is a key component of religious faiths and philosophies from Buddhism to Zen, and has won widespread recognition in the Western medical community for the complex of physical, mental and emotional benefits it confers. There is a great deal of confusion about what meditation is and is not, largely because so much real information has been mixed in with media misinformation and outright silliness regarding this practice.
A common misconception is that meditation requires a robed, bearded guru sitting in the lotus position and chanting mantras, words or phrases in the middle of a cluster of followers. While this is certainly one version of meditation, it is by no means the only one, nor is it anywhere close to the most popular. Most Westerners who practice meditation do so alone or in small groups, and they may or may not say anything at all.
What is meditation?
The simplest definition of meditation is the act of clearing one’s conscious mind out of the way and seeking direct communion with one’s subconscious, higher faculties or Powers beyond yourself. A great deal of how meditation is defined depends upon the intended usage and outcome. A Western doctor may describe meditation differently than a yogi from India, who might have a different idea than a Zen monk.
If you have ever taken a long road trip, you may have noticed that you had periods of time where you were not conscious of the road, even though you adjusted your speed and direction to avoid obstacles and possible hazards and can recall moving around them, but not precisely when. You may even have carried on simple conversations and later had only a vague or no memory at all of them. However, you can remember vividly your thoughts and feelings during this time.
If you have experienced this, you have experienced a meditative trance. Meditation is different from what psychologists call a fugue state because you retain some level of awareness of your actions and the world around you while meditating. By contrast, a person in a fugue is completely disconnected with the world and remembers nothing of what they have done when the fugue state retreats. Meditation is a conscious working to lull the higher, more talkative mind, while in a fugue a person’s higher cognitive functions switch off altogether.
What are the different kinds of meditation?
Meditation may be broadly classed according to the intended outcome. We are most familiar with the spiritual aspects of meditation, because of religions and philosophies such as Zen and Buddhism, which have been given widely sensationalized coverage. However, this coverage largely neglects the mental, emotional and physical aspects and benefits of meditation, just as physician-recommended meditation may ignore spiritual and emotional aspects in favor of the physical and psychologist-prescribed meditation overlooks the physical and spiritual. In all cases, this works basically the same from a purely mechanical standpoint. The main difference is in the intended outcome of the meditation.
Physical meditation is intended to bring you into harmony and awareness with your body. The intense, specific physical focus is the starting point for other forms, emphasizing respiration, heartbeat and noticing physical sensation. The commonly lampooned “Ohm” sound that many proponents of Yogic meditation use is actually the first part of a two-part sound: Ohm-Sah. Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. Do this several times and listen carefully to what you hear. You may notice that Ohm-Sah is actually the world’s oldest mantra, the sound of your own breathing. This type of meditation alleviates high blood pressure and reduces or halts the production of cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.” In turn, this reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke, and may actually stimulate your metabolism, which leads to weight loss, which reduces heart attack and stroke risks even further.
The next step is to eliminate your awareness of your physical body and turn your attention inward, toward your own emotions. Thus, you have now entered emotional meditation. In this stage, the goal is to examine all your feelings at a given moment and then dismiss them, one by one, until all that is left is perfect clarity of mind. This does not mean you should seek to be completely emotionless, like a Star Trek Vulcan! Rather, the goal is to temporarily remove emotion from your higher thought processes and awareness to allow more clarity. Emotion is an essential part of humanity, and you try to eliminate it entirely from your being at your own peril. You should strive for control and mastery, not outright eradication. This type, phase or stage of meditation helps reduce anxiety and emotional stress, which further amplifies the physical benefits listed above.
Once you have successfully dealt with your emotions and set them aside, you are already engaged in mental meditation. This is frequently the hardest stage for Westerners to feel they have done successfully, because our society demands constant stimulation and engagement. The objective here is to reach a state where you are not consciously thinking of anything at all. Rather, as thoughts come into your mind you recognize them, process them without judgment or trying to hold onto them, and let them go as they will. Eventually, your mind will be perfectly blank. This is a difficult state to describe, because it is not the same as daydreaming, which everyone does, or as a fugue state, which is a danger sign of an unbalanced psyche and may require medical or psychiatric intervention. Many people try to force this state and think, “There. My mind is quiet.” Once conscious thought intrudes, you are no longer in the mental meditative state.
The final aspect is the spiritual. Now that you have shut out all external and internal stimulus, and have only the stillness of your mind, you may “commune with your subconscious,” attain “The Knowledge and Conversation of Your Guardian Angel,” “merge with Divinity,” “experience Dharma” or “find Zen.” How this will present or what you can expect to see depends on your innate beliefs, what your subconscious or the Powers that be feel you need to know and why you have sought out this state. Many people who achieve this state report episodes of out-of-body experiences or astral projection, and come back to themselves in a few minutes to a few hours refreshed, calm and peaceful.
Many beginners start with directed visualizations, such as completely focusing on a particular number, symbol or image. These visualizations are intended to give the novice something to concentrate on, but this is only a starting point. The real object is to reach a point where the novice can focus on this image to such an extent that when the image is removed from the mind, all that remains is the thoughtless experiential state in which the person’s subconscious may speak freely.
What meditation is not
This is a slippery question, because while we typically think of the lotus position and the guru, nearly anything may be a meditative act if it is entered into with the proper mindset. While we have largely focused on the better-known concepts and usages of meditation to this point, Sufi mystics, Wiccans and others have continually discovered and rediscovered ways to meditate that do not rely on absolute silence and stillness.
For example, many shamanic , Yogic and New Age practices have been known to incorporate alcoholic beverages, psychoactive drugs, chanting, intense dancing or other physical exercise and sexual techniques to attain the mental stillness that allows for the more intense spiritual connection. You can do this yourself while walking, doing repetitive physical tasks such as moving papers around your desk at work or even making love to your partner.
Therefore, we can say that it is not what you are doing that determines whether a given activity is a meditative act, but how and why you are doing it. The combination of intent and outcome determines whether it is meditative or not.
What is the best way to meditate?
Like the previous question, this depends on the individual. Most people find they are most comfortable in quiet, peaceful surroundings such as a park or in one’s bedroom, but a metal concert or in the middle of a busy mall may work just as well. Try different methods and places and see what works best for you and your personality. Some people require guidance to achieve the proper focus for meditation, while others can do this naturally and intuitively. If you can reach this state on your own, then by all means do so. If you need guidance, it doesn’t make you bad, wrong, weak, stupid or incompetent. It simply means you need a little more assistance.
Always begin with your breathing. Close your eyes and concentrate on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth until you have set a steady, smooth pace. Starting with the crown of your head, feel each muscle and muscle group individually. Relax the areas that are tight as you work your way down to the soles of your feet. This may initially take a long time, but as you become more proficient you will learn how to identify trouble spots and relax them very quickly.
Next, focus on your heartbeat while keeping your breathing steady and even. You will feel it begin to slow down, and this is perfectly normal. Take this as a sign you are doing it right. You should feel physically relaxed comfortable at this point. Once this has happened, it is time to deal with your emotions. This may take the longest, depending on how intense your emotions are. Let them flow as they will until they are no longer a focal point. Physical relaxation may help with this, but much depends on what emotions you are feeling and how intensely.
At this point, you are free to work on your mind. The idea is not necessarily not to think, but to not pursue thoughts as they come to you. As with the emotions, let them come as they will and go when they choose, without attempting to detain them or try to make sense of them. They are simply a part of your mental landscape and when they go away, you should be fully in the now, in the calm peace of the “no-mind” state without cares or worries.
What happens next? That is up to you. You may wish to attempt astral projection, or simply stay in the meditative state for a while. Your subconscious, or another source, may try to give you information. If this happens, do not dismiss what you see, hear or feel lightly. You may find the solutions to very difficult problems are revealed to you, or the answers to resolving a conflict in your personal life or with your family. It is generally a good idea to keep a notebook close, so you can write down any strong impressions or feelings you receive.
A beginners guide for Meditation
The term meditation suggests different types of practices that include methods that are designed to foster relaxation, increase internal energy, develop compassion, generosity, patience, forgiveness and love. Moreover, a specific type of meditation aims to sustain single-pointed concentration to enable practitioners to enjoy lasting sense of wellbeing in any life activity.
Meditation is basically a method use to train the mind and stimulate the consciousness to attain specific benefits. The process of meditation is easier said than done however; once you master the techniques it will become one of your favorite pastime and all will be worth it. There are several benefits that you can get when you practice regular mediation and these are the following:
- Improved physical health
- Improved mental strength and abilities
- Improved sleeping habit
- Reduced stress
- Enhance spiritual growth, etc.
Below are some meditation guidelines for beginners to start enjoying the above-mentioned benefits.
Step 1: Seating position – While most of the instructors suggest that you start in lotus position, it is even better if you choose a position that will allow you to sit or stand comfortably for at least five to ten minutes. Also, make sure to be in a relaxing and peaceful place away from any disturbances.
Step 2: Prepare to meditate – There are several techniques to prepare yourself to meditate but the simplest yet the most effective way is to apply proper breathing. While doing so, you have to relax both your body and mind then prepare to enter in the state of meditation.
Step 3: Start to meditate – At this point, your mind and body must be prepared to start meditating. As a beginner, start by thinking carefully on something you think worth the effort and meditate on that. Seasoned meditators can shift from one significant thought to nothing at all. They can effectively clear their minds in order to stay in meditative state longer.
At first, you will find it hard to meditate because we normally have a wandering mind, but if you focus on your progress and not on the results you will definitely see some improvements on your meditation skills; hence good results will soon follow. Keep things simple at first, record your meditation experiences if you need to and follow the basic techniques mentioned above. You’re good to go.
Meditation can be whatever you choose it to be. Whether you seek harmony with the Divine, peace within yourself or the ability to drift beyond the confines of your own body and learn more about your world, meditation can be a powerful key that opens many doors. If you enter into the meditative state with a positive outlook and neutral expectations, you will find it works more quickly and easily than if you try to force it. Try this powerful technique for yourself. You will find you feel better, calmer and more content with yourself and the world around you.