The Simple Art of Meditation
What is Meditation, and Why Meditate?
Let's start by saying what meditation is not: it is not some kind of mystical experience (but it can become one). It is not floating around outside your body. It is not entering other dimensions (unless you mean of conciousness). Meditation is simply the deepest form of relaxation, aside from sleeping, that exists.
Meditation can be described as focus. It is simply the focussing of your whole mind on one thing. Doesn't sound too hard, does it?
Meditation is to turn your entire attention inwards, and focus on nothing. And that's not so easy. Your mind is a hot-house of thoughts. It'll constantly throw new thoughts at you - images, emotions, trains of thought you dropped two days ago. Your mind is a lightning-house (literally) of everything you have ever seen, felt, heard, tasted, done, and thought. Bringing calm to all this isn't as difficult as it sounds, but there are a few tricks to it, which I intend to show you here.
As to why you should meditate - well, the benefits are enormous. It is a practice that has existed for over 5,000 years, and in that time, people have consistently reported that meditation increases your well-being and is an extremely effective stress reliever. It makes you a more well-balanced person, and helps you to build up a reserve of peace you can call on in trying times. And, of course, it can help you achieve enlightenment. All of this with no ill effects whatsoever.
So How Do You Meditate?
Meditation is very simple. Here are the steps in a nutshell:
- Find a comfortable and relatively quiet place to sit. This can be on the floor or on a chair - whatever's comfy.
- Hold your hands together in your lap, and try to keep your back as straight as is comfortable for you.
- Close your eyes.
- Clear your mind.
That's it. Keep it up as long as you like. Of course, there are a few difficulties involved in that last step.
Your mind is the epicenter of thought. Everything is processed by it - everything you see, everything you touch, everything you hear goes through your mind before you perceive it. Not to mention all of your thoughts, memories, emotions, and so forth. So how can you really calm the mind? How can you achieve total focus?
How to meditate
Calming the Storm
There are hundreds of products out there that promise you enlightened meditation. They range from CDs and tapes of meditational music to books and various "complete kits". And they're all junk. During meditation, you focus completely and totally inward, shutting out the outside world. And shutting out all of those tapes, guided meditation cds and everything else. Ergo, they're useless.
What is useful is the following. If you're having trouble stilling the mind, try these little tricks. You won't need them with a bit of practice, but they're a blessing for those who are just starting out:
- Focus on your breathing. Don't count it, don't imagine that it's carrying good in and bad out. Just focus totally on the act of breathing.
- When you have a thought, just let it go. Don't quell it, just simply open your train of thought like you'd open your hand and let it go.
- If you're still having trouble, here's one that can really help (try not to do this while driving - you're bound to have an accident): Listen to yourself thinking that thought. In about two split seconds, that thought will be gone, and your mind will be completely clear.
That last one is very powerful, and can be used as an instant calmant in just about any situation. However, it is also very effective at completely "resetting" the mind, and should be used carefully in your daily life to avoid accidents (seriously!).
A very funny talk on Dharma and Meditation
Practice Makes Perfect
There's nothing like instant enlightenment. It doesn't exist, and anyone trying to sell it to you is lying. However, with practice, you can approach mindfulness in all things - the ability to give everything it's full focus. You'll be better at dealing with stress and stressful situations, and you'll be a healthier and happier person.
And practice pays off quickly. The first few times, you'll notice that everything around you is colored more brightly, and your heart will be lighter. After a while (a few weeks), you'll have access to deeper and deeper states of meditation. At that point, an alarm clock may be useful, because you can easily lose track of time.
I hope everyone gives meditation a go. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments below, and I'll do my best to answer them.