WHAT IS MEDITATION?
Meditation is both a state of consciousness and the method or process of attaining the meditative state.
Meditation as a state of consciousness.
“Consciousness plus thoughts is the mind. Consciousness minus thoughts is God.”
Many think of meditation as a kind of stillness of the mind, a place of ‘no thought’ or beyond thought. In that utter stillness, there is peace, bliss, or unity with the divine.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
Indeed, in the deepest states of meditation there can be a complete quieting of the mind, such that the consciousness is as still as a lake in a windless dawn. And deep immersion into the lake of consciousness gives knowledge that all is indeed united.
“Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.”
Yoga Sutra 1:1
This is the enlightened meditative state known as “samadhi.” There are many levels of samadhi and there are many levels of enlightenment. The good news is that we can experience meditative states of Samadhi even while the mind continues to produce thought and the body continues to function.
“The light is one and cannot ever be divided. All things are but the one light.”
Yogic Stages of Practice.
In Yoga, there are eight ‘limbs’ or stages of practice. The first five limbs (Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, and Pratyahara) are preparatory to the last three (Dharana, Dhyana, & Samadhi) which concern specifically the state and practice of meditation. In other words, we practice ethical behavior, yogic postures, breath work, and inward focusing of the senses (the first five limbs) in order to attain the various meditative states of Concentration, Meditation, and Bliss (the final three limbs of yoga.)
In the tantric yogic understanding of consciousness, we ordinarily experience three states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. Yet there is a fourth transcendental or “turya” state that is ever present throughout waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. Only through meditation do we become aware of this turya state and learn to abide within it. It is a place of consciousness that links us with the universal and transcendent. It is the state of unitive consciousness, the source of wisdom, joy and bliss. The turya state is the place of what is sometimes referred to as “witness consciousness.” When we enter the turya state, we experience “sat-chit-ananda” the joy of understanding the true reality of all being.
WHY SHOULD I PRACTICE MEDITATION?
“Meditation is perhaps the most powerful tool for health.”
Woodson Merrell, MD-Beth
Israel Meditation Center.
Fortunately, you do not have to be immersed in Samadhi bliss every time you meditate to enjoy its benefits! A regular practice of mediation can help in the following ways:
• Reduce production of cortisol, the body’ stress and aging hormone
• Increase calming hormones, serotonin and melatonin
• Increase immune system functioning
• Experience deep relaxation and rest during meditation
• Greatly relieve insomnia
• Decrease likelihood of heart disease and cancer
• Reduce high blood pressure and maintain healthy blood pressure
• Heighten memory, sexual function, and ability to control weight
• Decrease symptoms of PMS
• Improve anxiety and depression
• Notably decrease Migraine headaches
Psychologically and spiritually, meditation:
• Increases positive emotions like love, compassion and generosity
• Helps the mind to focus and problem-solve more efficiently
• Increases empathy and connectivity with others
• Motivates us to do only what is uplifting for self and others
• Improves self-esteem while simultaneously holding others in high regard
• Creates lightness, humor, and balance
• Frees us from limiting fears and the sense of separateness from others
• Helps us to see the deep interaction and co-existence of all living beings
• Motivates us to treat our own bodies and the body of the earth with respect
• Connects us to the source of love and peace, unaffected by outer circumstances
• Deepens our understanding of the true nature of reality
WHAT ARE THE BASIC TYPES OF MEDITATION?
Meditation can be guided, or it can be practiced individually, either alone or in a group.
Guided meditations consist of someone offering a set of instructions on how to breathe and how to direct to the mind to attain a meditative state or a state of deep relaxation. Guided mediations often are accompanied by soothing music and take the person on an imaginative “journey” to a pleasant relaxing place or to experience what is known as the “subtle body system” of the chakras and various energy channels within the body. Guided meditations are available on CD, DVD, and even i-phone applications.
Contemplative meditation is when one focuses on a passage of scripture, a desired sacred experience (such as the presence of the divine) or cultivates an inner experience such as loving kindness or peace. Christian meditation is often referred to as “contemplative prayer” in which the act of contemplation on the divine is considered as prayer.
Integrative or mindfulness meditation is a practice that focuses on acknowledging and accepting completely all that is within the practitioner’s awareness at any given moment. Through awareness of breath, thought, and sensation one ultimately experiences that which is the source of moment to moment experience and comes to have deep acceptance for things as they are.
Concentrative or Mantric Meditation involves the gentle focus on either a mantra (sacred word) or an object such as a picture, a candle flame or a flower. A mantra is considered to have a sacred vibratory quality that can facilitate deep and accelerated attainment. Although there are many mantras to practice with, in TM (Transcendental Meditation) and esoteric tantric yoga, practitioners may receive a private mantra through initiation or transmission from a master meditation teacher.
In Kali-Ki Wisdom School, we practice silent mantra meditation with the mantra ‘hamsa’ which means ‘I am That I am.”
HOW DO I BEGIN?
Intention. First, set the intention to practice with regularity. The frequency of practice is up to you, but of course daily practice is best. Frequency takes precedence over length of practice. 10-20 minutes to begin with is sufficient. Twice daily is optimal.
Place. Find a comfortable quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Ideally set aside a place that you will use exclusively for meditation. Place meaningful objects, pictures, close by. Create an altar or puja. Have a candle and a timer if you wish.
Seat. Make sure that you are able to sit comfortably. You may sit on a chair, or use meditation cushions and pillows. It is important that you sit upright with straight spine unless you have physical limitations that require you to recline otherwise. Leaning slightly forward with your sit bones firmly rooted to the cushion is best. The hands can rest on the lap or thighs.
Stretch and breathe. Before you begin your meditation do a few gentle yoga stretches. This releases physical tension and makes the mind attentive. Once you take your seat you can close your eyes and take several soft even breaths.
Hamsa Mantra. This mantra is pronounced ‘hum suh’ and it is considered to be the natural sound of the breath. (Listening inside the skull, the inhalation sounds like “hum”, the exhalation like “suh.”) The Sanskrit means “I am That” or “I am pure consciousness.” To begin, silently and softly pronounce hamsah with the inhalation and exhalation. After a while the mantra may no longer coincide with the breath, which is fine. Thoughts may intercede, and that is okay too. As soon as you remember the mantra, gently go back to it. You will do this again and again. After a while it is more like you are listening for the mantra to repeat itself inside your head. This is a very simple and very powerful practice. Be kind to yourself and to the practice.
WHAT ABOUT THE MIND?
Mahirishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation would often repeat this mantric prayer, “Oh my mind, be good to me.” Even enlightened masters can have busy minds!
Commonly referred to as “Monkey Mind” the image is that thoughts are like unruly monkeys chattering and howling in the canopy of the rainforest. Some teachers suggest that only by getting above the canopy can there be peace and silence.
In truth, the brain is an organ which is meant to produce thoughts, and most brains are very prodigious in this regard. Do not despair the chattering mind. Be kind to it. (After all, worry over mind-chatter can just create another layer of thought in an already over-productive brain!)
With consistent practice of meditation, the mind will slow down naturally, easing off the old feedback loops. However actively attempting to press the “pause” button may cause the mind to rebel and chatter even more. So be aware of the thoughts, emotions, and sensations that arise within you, and then gently and kindly bring the awareness back to the mantra, to hamsah. Don’t push anything away, simply invite the mantra back in. Even when the mind is harsh, expressing self-doubt or feelings of anxiety or unworthiness, simply come back to the mantra.
Remember the sun is always shining behind the clouds.
If even for a brief moment the mind rests in the ever-present sky of consciousness, then you are meditating and the practice will bring ever-increasing benefit to your life and well-being. You don’t even need to be aware that you are in a meditative state to receive its benefits.
“Always new, hidden, yet old and apparent to all, the Heart, the Ultimate shines alone with the brilliance of the Supreme.”
“The affairs of the world will go on forever. Do not delay the practice of meditation.”