Meditation basically means the intentional cultivation of mindful awareness and pure attention - an alert, wakeful presence of mind.
The development of awareness eradicates ignorance - about ourselves and others as well as reality.
Meditation awakens and frees the mind, and opens the heart, helping us develop inner wisdom, clarity, joy and compassion, thus bringing spirituality and a larger perspective into every aspect of daily life.
Meditation is not just something to do; it’s a method of being and seeing - an unconditional way of living moment by moment.
Through meditation we perceive and know things as they actually are. This directly connects and brings us to truth according to the simplest definition - things just as they are.
All meditations have the same basic instructions: focus on one thing and let other thoughts and sensations pass by. The difference between meditations is in the object they choose to focus on.
Meditators often get very attached to their particular object. They may feel that the breath meditation is superior to a sound meditation, or that a particular word or phrase has special qualities, or that a beautiful visualisation is more advanced and spiritual than “just relaxing the body”.
In fact, 90% of the benefit of any meditation comes from the degree of focus, not from the object chosen. Deep focus on a twig will work much better to clear the mind and relax the body than a dreamy contemplation of a beautiful idea.
Simple objects usually take you deeper than complex ones. They concentrate and brighten the mind just as a magnifying glass amplifies the power of the sun. More complex objects on the other hand tend to refract the energy of the mind.
The Tibetans say “Give simple objects to advanced students and complex ones to beginners” because beginners need more stimulation to hold their attention.
The object that you choose does have certain effects, for temporarily “you become what you meditate on”, for you pick up on it’s mood. In time, you will find what suits you best and even be able to change your meditation to match your mood.
Breath and Body Meditations
You get to know what you meditate on very well, for this reason, meditations based on the breath or the body can be extremely valuable. Having a deep awareness of your body is an enormous asset, for as your body-awareness grows, you set up a feedback loop between body and mind. You notice how little shifts in your mental activity relax the body, and the increasing body-pleasure in turn relaxes the mind.
When focusing on your breath, you are likely to have a strong peripheral awareness of your body chemistry changing. These signals reassure you that you are meditating well and shifting the body into self-healing mode, which tends to accelerate the process.
Almost as popular as the breath is the use of a repeated word or phrase (affirmation or mantra), as these tend to have a slightly hypnotic, chant-like quality that makes them very easy to use.
Both the body-based practices and mantra have a ‘transparent’ quality, they are very good mixers. You can use them to settle the mind and then focus on something else as well. It is quite easy to be aware of the body while also focusing on sounds, or while adding in a visualisation or concept.
Meditating in this manner helps to heighten all the senses in daily life.
Once you understand the art of focusing, there are so many things you could use as a meditation object. You can meditate on anything in the sense world – sight, sound, smell, taste or touch.
With music you can fully listen, either individual notes or instruments, or become part of the music by feeling, being aware of the flow. Or you can listen to the random sounds around you – picking out the subtle detail, enjoying the silences, feeling the sounds around continually changing. You can say a word or phrase, feeling it reverberate in your body.
Taped guided meditations are also good for they can take you on a specific journey, or visualise flowers, clouds, primary colours, water, fire, wind in the trees or grass, the choice is endless.
Generally the simplicity of sense objects leads to greater depth and spaciousness of the mind.
Taking your meditation into the World
Meditation should not stay locked away in a quiet room, like something you have to hide. You can take it for a stroll through your day, doing little ‘spot-meditation’ whenever you can. So long as you consciously focus on something, then gardening or art work, doing the dishes or preparing food can be a meditation. Always being aware when the mind is wandering, let it go and bring yourself back to the present moment.
e.g. Need a break at work – have a glass of water and make it a meditation, by feeling the glass touch the lips, listen to the trickle of water, taste the water, put the glass down.
You are then in the present, focused on the sensation.
In pain – lie down and focus on it, scan the body from top to bottom, focus on the intensity, for pain is only intense energy, tell yourself it’s okay, you no longer want what this is related to in your life, that you let it go. The pain will fade, done regularly it will eventually go away, (if addressing the problem)
RELAXED AND ALERT STATE OF MIND
If we think of meditation as a trance-like state close to sleep, we can only do it when conditions are right. Mediation is always a conscious or aware discipline, even in the depths of trance, you should know what you are doing, not spaced out or out of control. If you are spaced out or not in control you are in another dimension, we can ground or centre yourself through focusing on the here and now.
When we are in a relaxed and alert state of mind, we can integrate fully in our daily lives. We are most likely to be both relaxed and alert when we pay attention to something we enjoy.
Often we can be relaxed and alert without needing to meditate at all, but these peaceful moments don’t come as often as we would like. We all have strategies to relax, but they are often slow and ineffective. Meditation, however, is fast, it is an art of relaxing quickly and consciously, whenever you want to and in any circumstances.
LEARNING TO MEDITATE
Sometimes it is easier to meditate with someone or a group than to try and meditate after reading a book on meditation, for we are likely to pick up vital verbal or non-verbal clues. Usually it is best to get use to one or two techniques before branching out to others. After awhile you will know what suits you at any particular time. You can do your meditation “cold”, or you can add effects with candles, incense, soft music, if you have real difficulty relaxing these props are helpful.
Without being hard on yourself, learn to evaluate your meditation. Notice if you are relaxing at all. Know the difference between daydreaming and focusing. Notice when you are indulging thoughts rather than gently detaching from them.
When you are able to relax quickly and clear your mind of unnecessary thought, learn to carry that relaxed and alert quality into the rest of your day.