Practicing Meditation

Meditation is a mental process involving focused attention (also known as calm awareness or mindfulness). Many people confuse meditation with stopping all thoughts, but that's only one (rather advanced) type of meditation. In the beginning, meditation is simply noticing the endless stream of thoughts flickering on your mental screen; consider your observations an important part of your overall effort to be mindful, or attentive.

Many forms or styles of meditation exist, but two basic approaches stand out: meditation with a specific focus and objectless meditation. The latter is pure mindfulness without narrowing attention to any particular sensation, idea, or other phenomenon. Most beginners find this kind of meditation very difficult, although some are drawn to it. We recommend that you start out with meditation on a specific focus. The following categories of objects are suitable for this exercise:

✓ A bodily sensation, such as breathing, which makes an excellent focus

✓ A bodily location, such as one of the seven cakras or energy centers we discuss in the next section

✓ A process or action, such as eating, walking, or washing dishes

✓ An external physical object, such as the flame of a candle

✓ A mantra (be it a single sound, a phrase, or a chant)

✓ A thought, such as the idea of peace, joy, love, or compassion

✓ A visualization of light, emptiness, a saint, or one of the many deities of Hindu or Buddhist Yoga

^ Experiment with all these various focal points for meditation until you find what appeals to you the most. Then stick with it. For instance, if you choose ■ f(|l| to visualize a particular saint or deity, you benefit by always using the same figure in your daily visualization practice.

The following sections give you more information on mastering meditation.

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