MEDITATION is a practice of quieting the mind that has been in use for thousands of years. Though certainly of spiritual value, it has no religious bias. Today, millions the world over practise this simple, pleasant self-improvement technique daily.
During the 1970s, meditation was brought to the West in a glossy, mystery-shrouded package. People were conned into paying hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars and warned not to reveal their new secrets to anyone.
Then, a professor at Harvard Medical School named Herbert Benson wrote a best-selling book, The Relaxation Response, in which he slew the dragon of meditative sham.
After extensive research, Benson claimed that meditation is, in fact, a remarkable vehicle not only for permanently alleviating stress and promoting emotional stability, but also for producing a normalisation of physiological factors such as blood pressure, circulation and heart and pulse rate. However, he wrote, no one form of meditation corners the market of resultant wellbeing. In other words, all types of structured meditation work … provided you apply it every single day.
Our minds are cluttered with verbal rubbish. Voices talk to us, nag us and tell us how inferior we are. We reflect on mistakes of the past and apply them to events expected in the future. Meditation says: “Shhh. Be still and be here now.”
Ideally we would empty our heads of every single thought. Since practically speaking this is impossible, meditation does the next best thing. It teaches us to concentrate on one single thing to the passive exclusion of all else.
Example: Hold your hand out about 30 centimetres before you. Focus on it. As you do you are aware there is a world beyond, above and below your hand. Nonetheless, your hand provides a foreground subject for your concentration while all that lies beyond is background. You know full well walls, ceilings and floor (or sky, trees and ground) exist; simply ignore them as best you can by keeping your attention on your hand.
Such is the value of a mantra. By definition, a mantra is a syllable, or series of strung-together syllables, that have no pictorial representation for you. Nonsense words, really.
The most popular mantra used by meditators around the world is om mani padme hum.This is generally pronounced ohm mah-nee pahd-may hoom, though there are variations. Literally translated from Sanskrit, this means ‘the universe is the jewel in the lotus of my heart’. But it is the vibrational quality which makes it effective as a mantra.
While there is only one hard-and-fast rule to meditation – do it daily – there are a number of sensible suggestions.
Basically, try to make meditation a desired habit. If you do it at the same time and in the same place each day you create a familiar routine that in time will become an automatic action.
Probably the best time is early morning, for it sets the pace for your entire day.
The best place is one that is peaceful and free from disturbance. A pleasant room, the garden or beach: whatever feels right. Those who live in family or crowded arrangements need to inform others to give you space and quiet during this period. People have been known to make a small space in a closet or wardrobe their cozy meditation ‘altar’.
Best not to meditate soon after eating, as a just-fed body makes for a sluggish mind. Nor prior to going to sleep, for meditation, while relaxing, also gives you energy, and you may find it difficult falling asleep afterwards.
Position is important. Two main things to keep in mind are to be comfortable and keep your back as straight as possible without holding it rigid. Sitting cross-legged, knees on floor and maybe 15 centimetres of cushion or bench elevating your bottom, is the preferred position. Sitting in a straight-back chair, feet flat on the floor, is a fine alternative.
Do not lie down, nor sit on a bed as the mind identifies these with sleep.
Close your eyes and take a few long, slow, deep breaths, visualising the air coming into, refreshing and leaving the body. Clear the mind of thoughts as best you can and begin to slowly recite the mantra: om mani padme hum…oh mani padme hum…oh mani padme hum… Not too fast, not too slow – by doing it you will find a rhythm perfect for you.
best 20 minutes of the day
The ideal meditation period for beginners has been found to be 20 minutes. This is one case where more is not better. While meditating, don’t be upset when thoughts come in. They will, of course; your job is not to be attached to them. Remember, your mantra is your hand in front of your face. Simply focus upon it and let everything else remain in the background.
If you discover you have stopped reciting, or perhaps have nodded off for a bit, no problem: just return to the mantra until the original 20 minutes are up.
At 20 minutes, stop reciting and remain silent for several moments, focusing on your breath.
Gradually open your eyes, readjust to your physical surroundings and slowly rise to your feet. It’s important that you do not stand up too quickly. Those with low blood pressure be especially conscious of the change in position and mind state.
did i do it right?
Sometimes you’ll feel like you were orbiting the third moon of Saturn during your meditation and will swear the minutes just flew by. Other times you’ll won’t be able to shut down the stupid voices inside and reckon it took an hour. There are times you’ll feel terrific during and after, other sessions you’ll fidget throughout and afterwards think: What a waste. So, did you do it right?
Well, the only way to do it wrong is not do it at all.
To make meditation successful is to look upon your practice not as a chore, a bitter pill you must swallow or else, rather as a daily meeting with the Christ or Buddha or god self (or, for atheists, the highest universal energy source) that exists within you.
And please understand that meditation is a slow and natural process; no miracle drug, this, instantly zapping a particular symptom of disease.
lies i tell myself
Whether they learn meditation free from this instruction or pay some exalted guru thousands, understand that most people – more than half – who begin meditating and are convinced they are realising a measure of personal success, will quit the practice within a year. Here are the prime lies they tell themselves:
- I no longer have the time.
- If it really worked everybody would be doing it.
- I believe it works for some, but not for me.
- I’ll begin again on Monday.
Lies, all lies. There is only one valid reason for discontinuing the practise of meditation: I don’t believe I’m worthy of being calm, healthy and happy. And that, dear reader, is the biggest lie of all.