Meditation: Art of Living Beyond Sensory Excitations
Our lives are dictated by the five senses faculties - sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing. These are the antennas through which we 'feel' or 'sense' the world around us. Then there is the sixth sense organ - the mind - which is non-material but is perhaps the most influential because it dictates what is likable and what is not. Together these six senses decide what we call 'normal' behavior.
The five physical sense faculties are limited to sensing what is actually going on in the present moment but the mind has the capacity to recall (or remember) things from the past also. It can also imagine things that don't or can't exist. More importantly the mind has the power to think, interpret and learn; it is an intelligent faculty. It is the mind that processes inputs received from the other five sense antennas. In fact, without the 'presence of mind' none of the five senses and contact with the surrounding world has any relevance. Therefore, attention of mind is needed for rest of the five senses to work properly.
Likes and Dislikes
Like and dislike - these two words sum up what dictates our lives. How we behave and what we do or don't do is primarily decided by what we see as pleasant or unpleasant. It may not be incorrect to say that we are all 'prisoners' of our likes and dislikes - whether we like it or not. The boundaries of like and dislike limit the space in which we live.
In today's pain killer lifestyle, with so much technological gadgets to eliminate physical labor, there are too many things for people to keep busy with what is 'pleasant' and stay away from the 'unpleasant'. This puts them in the trap of I-will-only-do-what-I-like. This obsession for pleasure leads to procrastination or avoidance of more necessary things which do not give immediate pleasure. We see this happening everywhere due to easy access to technological tools like social media sites on the internet, expanding communication network and interactive tools. It is funny that now people can't stand spare time and want to fill in every free time they have with e-chatting or messaging.
As we transcend some of the likes or dislikes we acquire more living space and hence more freedom. If we demolish all liking and disliking we come out of the 'prison' and become 'really free.'
You are the witness, to whom things happen but who remains a witness. Witnessing is the art of non-identification, and non-identification is all. Non-identification is all there is to meditation. It is the whole meditation. – Osho
Equanimity is the Key
The weapon to demolish the barriers created by habitual likes and dislikes is to develop equanimity in place of the usual craving for the pleasant and aversion against the unpleasant experiences. When the faculty of equanimity is developed objectivity begins to replace the subjective indulgence in liking and disliking. Then you don't approach things from the 'judgmental' angle but tend to be more discerning. Rather than being at the mercy of your feelings, you train to stay firm from a distance of knowing. You make your choices from a fuller awareness of what is right rather than what feels good. This is also the approach of people who are emotionally mature. You now do things because they are important and need to be done; you would be reluctant to indulge in chasing trivial pleasures.
When equanimity is developed your relationship with the five senses changes: now when eyes see something it is mere seeing (without judgment); if you hear something it is mere hearing without any preference (coming from liking and disliking). This is the right handling of the five physical sense faculties. This must also be extended to the sixth window - the mind. Its wavering nature must be brought under control or stopped altogether. To a restless mind, even a minor problem appears too big (you must have sometimes experienced obsessive thinking that has gone out of control); likewise if the mind is rather 'stable' it can handle bigger problems with significant composure - a quality seen rarely today.
Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away or become something better. It's about befriending who we are already. – Pema Chondron
Meditation – Ideal Tool to Explore the Inner World
Meditation is the tool that helps us achieve this and allows us to evolve and take our lives to higher plains and enjoy far greater degree of freedom. Meditation involves a type of inner attention that is quiet, concentrated and at the same time relaxed. There is nothing difficult or strenuous about creating this inner awareness. In the beginning, the difficulties arise because the mind has not been trained to stay with this internal attention. But with some practice you will find that meditation creates a restful state for the mind. In fact, all types of spiritual practices promise to achieve precisely this.
It is most unfortunate that today education only deals with the physical world outside of us. We are taught subjects such as physics, chemistry, biology, economics and mathematics so that we understand the world we live in. There is no school, college or university to teach us to understand or regulate our inner world that shapes our interaction with the outside world. The medical science has remained limited to studying the physical body through its numerous chemicals, and hormones; the science of mind has also fallen in the rut of correlating human behavior with brain chemicals and electrochemical signals. Thus, very little of the mind is cultivated by the formal education system and for all practical purposes we live the whole life with a wild and untrained mind. Without discipline and control it wants to do what it likes and you go along with it in complete ignorance.
This makes the technique of meditation, known since ancient times, a valuable tool for self exploration. When we learn to sit still with a tranquil mind, we experience a kind of joy that is inexplicable. It is not momentary pleasure that comes from sense gratification. All you need is a one-pointed mind free of thoughts and sharp awareness of what is going on inside.
What Meditation is Not
It also helps to have the right view about meditation and to keep in mind what meditation is not. Meditation is not thinking about problems or analyzing them; it is also not fantasizing or day dreaming or letting the mind wonder aimlessly. It is all about suspending thinking, ideation, imagination and other mental activities and replacing them with inner awareness and attention; in fact, it is all about observing the mental activities with a dispassionate and detached attitude. A true observer remains uninvolved and unconcerned but merely notes everything without bias or judgment. Your success in meditation is judged by only this yardstick: how neutrally you can observe and how soon you catch the mind when it diverts to thinking or imagination. So it is all about developing mindfulness. Regardless of religious or spiritual beliefs anyone can practice mindfulness – it is a universal science or art like physics or judo and karate open to everyone who wants to learn.
I can’t concentrate on breathing for long
Question: Can you maintain concentration for one full in- and out-breath?
Answer: Yes, I can.
Suggestion: Then, concentrate only on one breath at a time!
Primary Goal of Meditation
The primary goal of meditation is to reduce the mental wondering. Instability of the mind originates from two sources: one, due to the input provided by the five sense instruments through their contacts with the outside surrounding; two, the intrinsic nature of the mind that it can't stay with one thing for long.
Therefore, any effective approach to curtail or stop this mental wavering must involve two things: withdrawal of senses from their outside objects and fixing the mind on a suitable object. The usual way to draw the senses within is to shut the eyes and choose an isolated and quiet place away from outside noise. The mind is then given an object such as the breathing process, to focus upon.
What makes meditation hard: A simple thing like sitting down quietly and concentrating on the in- and out-breaths, which is happening naturally, is not so simple in reality. As you sit to meditate memories surface to distract you; mind is frequently lost in imagination leaving the task of watching the breaths; then the usual habit of thinking keeps diverting your attention from breaths. As a result, the mind doesn’t really know how to stay in the present moment, here and now. In order to keep away all these distractions the mental effort of mindfulness must be continuous and intense. Basically, mindfulness is the only effort you can make to develop concentration.
Meditation is not a means to an end. It is both the means and the end. – Krishnamurti
No one can learn meditation in a day or in few hours. The effort must continue regularly every day, for say half an hour or an hour or more, for several weeks. This physical discipline to sit regularly is of utmost importance because there is always some excuse to skip the practice. Initially one can aim to fix the mind on breaths for one minute without distraction, and then it can be increased gradually to 2, 5 or 10 minutes and longer. Diligent meditators can maintain the focus on breathing for an hour and longer. Achieving such ability is a wonderful thing; such a controlled mind is a precious asset. In today’s restless society it is a rare feat though, but is fully possible with some sincere efforts.
As long as you stay with the breaths, you are cut-off from the sense based inputs and the sense faculties have little influence on you during that period. As the concentration becomes stronger with daily practice the consciousness undergoes change; gets reflected in changes in your attitudes and behavior.
In today’s world, people want quick results. This is what they expect from meditation also. They practice only for a brief period for few days and expect miracles. They are soon frustrated; this is like planting a tulip bulb and expecting flowers within a week. Besides impatience, boredom is another reason people quit meditation because they must feel entertained in everything they do. Consistency of daily practice is the law if you want real results. Physical relaxation and emotional calmness begin to appear in few days but subtler benefits take time and are not as dramatic.
Benefits of Having a Firm Mind
Many people meditate only for stress relief or relaxation. Meditation creates a tranquil mind that relieves muscular tension but the goal need not be so trivial because the consciousness beyond sense faculties is full of enormous potential. You can evolve to grow bigger and move on to live on higher plains with much expanded consciousness. A tranquil mind is the source of creativity and intuition; therefore, writers, poets and creative thinkers are directly benefitted.
The proper practice of meditation, as described above, transforms a highly reactive and judgmental mind into a discerning mind. It is a mind with significantly less bias for or against situations, events and people. It is rather neutral towards feelings of comfort and discomfort, pleasure and pain and likes and dislikes. It is significantly detached and dispassionate. It is an objective mind that knows that nothing good (or bad) can last forever. It faces an uncomfortable situation knowing that it would end sooner or later and it doesn’t get unduly elated in good circumstances realizing that it would end too. The mental swinging from depression in sorrow to elation in happiness is drastically reduced; it is replaced by balance, poise and equanimity. Thus, the whole outlook and approach towards life, people and situations change. As a result, you begin to take new and different positions in place of the conventional restricted approach. You become capable of performing equally well in any situation because you are no longer spurred into action by craving, hatred or fear which drive any ordinary folk. In nutshell, you begin to act rather than reacting habitually.
What type of mind you have?
The mental state beyond the realm of five physical sense faculties, memories, ideation, imagination and thinking is a profound state of consciousness. Being in control of the mind you are in a unique situation to correct compulsive habits and addictions – which are created and nurtured by the restless and reactive mind. A mind free from restlessness is also quite receptive; it can be used to develop positive traits of self-confidence and goodwill towards all. This means freedom from the dictates of the usual feelings of insecurity, jealousy, anger, hatred and endless craving for sensual pleasures. It is for you to decide whether you want to remain restricted as slave of your sense organs chasing temporary pleasures or want to transcend to higher plains of consciousness full of potential and promise of lasting happiness and peace.