12/24/08

How to Meditate

A New Years Resolution to Change Your Life

So, how do we get started? Well the actual process is quite simple, but we must realize that meditation is a spiritual exercise and like any exercise it involves preparation. A person shouldn’t begin running until he or she stretches properly or an injury might occur. In the same way, we shouldn’t begin meditating until we have made the proper preparations. Just as there are spiritual beings seeking to help us, there are also evil entities that seek to harm. They feed on negative energy, and do all they can to encourage pain and suffering. So, it is important that we don’t unnecessarily open ourselves to these dark forces.

We should then begin our practice with a prayer. If you don’t believe in God or are unsure about the existence of God, then you need only to focus on love and light or the highest energy that you can imagine. This will offer the same protection because God doesn’t care what you name him as long as your heart is open to your higher power. In your thoughts, extend that loving energy to yourself and to all other beings. Think about it benefiting all life. Obviously if you believe in God, then you should pray in the same way but now thinking of God as your Lord and protector. Also, you may want to use whatever prayers you have learned according to our religious tradition. The important aspect is that we draw upon a higher power to protect us as we are opening ourselves up during meditation.

Also, Many of us may want to direct our minds to God or our higher energy by reading a great spiritual work like the Bible, the Koran, the Uphanishads, the Dhammapada, the Bhagavad Gita, etc,. We don’t have to read long passages or spend a lot of time studying, rather it should be something that uplifts and encourages us. What is important is that we are focusing our minds on the highest spiritual concepts that we can understand. Like prayer, this will help direct us and protect us by focusing our attention.

Also before we begin our practice, we should avoid eating a large meal. This may lead to sleepiness and interfere with our breathing. Obviously, we shouldn’t engage in meditation if we are under the influence of alcohol or mind altering drugs. In order to meditate, we need to be able to concentrate and focus. Drugs will interfere with the functioning of our minds and will not be conducive to the practice of awareness and mindfulness. Also, engaging in exhausting exercise before we practice can interfere with our practice since this can be quite draining mentally and physically. In fact, vigorous exercise can have drug like effects on the mind and body since both have an effect on body chemistry. Thus, we should avoid anything that can interfere with the optimal functioning of our minds before we meditate.

When you choose to meditate is up to you. However, the length of the meditation shouldn’t be over 15 or 20 minutes in any practice session. Long sessions aren‘t needed, and can lead a person to become confused and disorientated especially in the beginning. Certain groups practice many hours of meditation daily, but they are usually instructed by a spiritual teacher. Our practice should help us operate in the world and cooperate with others. If we are meditating too long without the proper guidance then we could be using meditation as a crutch or an escape with harmful consequences. Meditation properly practiced will help us face challenges in our lives, not run away from them. Our focus should be on growth and that includes the physical, mental, and spiritual.

Rather than creating a long session, choose to practice twice a day. If you can only achieve a few moments of concentration, then that is great. The important point is that you are actually doing it. If your mind becomes flooded with thoughts and feelings then that is fine. Just let them go and continue as long as you are comfortable. As you practice meditation, you will gain more focus but there is no reason to judge or worry about your progress. Remember we have all of eternity in which to grow, and meditation practiced correctly will help us with our impatient attitudes. If at any time during meditation you become uncomfortable, then end the practice. There is no need to force anything, and it is precisely the opposite approach that will reap the greatest rewards.

An important aspect of our practice will involve the way we sit. Although meditation can be practiced standing or lying down or even walking, traditionally most people have found that sitting during meditation is easier and more comfortable. Also, it helps us avoid falling asleep or becoming distracted. The point here is to keep your spine straight. As the Bhagavad gita tells us, “Hold you your body, head, and neck firmly in a straight line.” This is necessary since it is widely known that powerful energy travels through our body as we meditate. If our posture is not relatively straight, then this energy can somehow be misdirected or unable to flow naturally up our spine and throughout our body. The ancients have referred to this force as Kundalinni, and it has various effects on our body and nervous system.

The choice of the way you sit and what you sit on is totally up to you. You must be mindful of keeping your back and neck straight, but beyond that you can choose to sit in a way that is comfortable. Some of us may choose to sit in the traditional Yoga style with legs folded; some may choose to sit on a straight back chair letting their hands rest on their lap or at their side; and others may choose to use a variation of the Yoga style sitting cross legged on the floor with their backs against the wall for support. However we choose to sit, we will want to have it comfortable but not so comfortable that it contributes to drowsiness.

Another key element of our practice will involve the way in which we breathe. Meditation is focusing, and breathing properly will not only help us relax but it will also help us achieve and maintain focus. When we breathe while meditating, we should inhale from our nose and exhale out of our mouths. The air is cleaner when drawn through our nose, and spiritual masters from the east and west have recommended that we start our breath from there. If your nose is clogged up then you can pour a little water down your nostrils to clear the passages. If you have continual problems with keeping your breathing passages open then perhaps you may need to investigate your diet or look at other causes such as smoking or environmental aggravations. We should breath deeply from our stomach up to our lungs. We should not strain ourselves or engage in exaggerated breathing. Our breathing should be done steadily (neither too slow or too fast) and comfortably.

As we breath, we will seek to focus our minds. As previously mentioned, the heart of meditation is focus. In our Western culture, we have been trained to concentrate on the material and have generally neglected the spiritual. We are preoccupied with jobs, hobbies, sports, television, etc. and there is little or no time devoted to our spiritual life. Sure many of us do attend church, but even that can offer distractions and mixed messages that can confuse and mislead. But, meditation is simply closing down distractions and concentrating our awareness.

It is this practice of mindfulness that will eventually open the doors to our spiritual life. By focusing our attention, we will align the physical and mental to the spiritual which results in a transformation of consciousness. For many of us it will literally feel as if we are awaking from a sleep, and we will wonder why we hadn’t seen life previously in this way We may even feel some frustration with others since we will wonder why they can’t see things the way we do. But that is part of our growing, and over time we will learn to accept and respect life at whatever level we find it. We will arrive at compassion, and that awareness will draw us to helpfulness and away from judgmental condemnations.

There are many different methods of meditation used by various spiritual disciplines. The key ingredient will always be focus or concentration. For example, You may choose to focus on your breath by counting each breath up to a certain number like 4 and then begin the counting over again. Your attention should be on the breath as you inhale and exhale. Or, you may choose to think of certain aphorisms which are a word or a few words that will help you focus your mind on the highest spiritual concepts. You may want to think of words or short phrases from your favorite prayer. You can breathe in and think “Love” and breath out and think “Let Go”. On your next breath, you can think “Oneness” as you inhale and think “Thy Will Be Done” as you exhale. You can continue with different aphorisms for a total of 4 breaths and then repeat the process over again.

It is recommended that you try using a combination of both methods of meditation. This is especially helpful if you are easily distracted and find it hard to concentrate. Start by repeating aphorisms on the inhalation and exhalation of the first three breaths and then on the next four breaths count each breath(1,2,3,4). When you have reached the fourth breath, start the process over again beginning with the aphorisms and ending with the counting of breaths. This process will continue until the end of the session. The variation of using aphorisms and counting can help break up the monotony and boredom that you might automatically feel when you first begin meditating. But whatever method of meditation you use, it is important that you are comfortable with the process.

During meditation, you will experience thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations that will distract you from your focus. Your body may experience aches and pains as you relax and your mind may wander in different directions. Sometimes certain emotions will come to us and they may make us uncomfortable. Try not to focus on these distractions. As you have these various thoughts and feelings, don’t try to repress them but try not to pay attention to them. If you need to scratch an itch, then go ahead and do it and begin the meditation again. Do your best to keep your mind focused on your breathing and or aphorisms. As stated previously, If you ever begin to feel overwhelmed or too uncomfortable then end the meditation. The length of meditation is not that important. If you are only able to focus for a few moments then that is all right.

It will take many years and perhaps many life times before our concentration is perfected in meditation. But even a few moments spent in contemplation is better than years and years spent seeking only selfish gratification. Sure meditation involves commitment and discipline and it is an unknown country to which we are called. But, material existence has left us stressed and empty. Our selfish grasping and vanity has left us with nothing but a dead heart. Now is the time to awaken. There is no time like the present and indeed it is the only time we have. The past is dead and the future is unknown, but we have now to begin. Few will have immediate insights, yet we will all have insights if we continue to meditate.

We are called to oneness and the truth This is our heritage. Our suffering is the result of our perception of separation. As long as we are ignorant of our spiritual existence then our suffering will continue. Meditation will help us home. It will expand our consciousness and open our hearts to the truth. Granted, we will probably awaken from the illusion of our selfish existence slowly. But, meditation is an open road to the awareness of our true being . How long we are on the road does not matter as long as we are on the road. May your journey be filled with love, peace, and joy.

1 comment:

  1. Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?

    http://www.YogaVidya.com/gita.html

    ReplyDelete