The fastest speed is not the speed of light, but the speed of mind.7

Many men have come to associate meditation with the practice of yoga. A common image of a yogi is that of a turbaned, revered guru sitting cross-legged in seeming meditative bliss. Maharishi Maheshi Yogi did much to popularize meditation in the West by introducing Transcendental Meditation (TM) beginning in the late 1960s through his book, Science of Being and Art of Living: Transcendental Meditation, and his many well-attended TM workshops. Maharishi Maheshi Yogi's TM served as the basis for Herbert Benson's groundbreaking research into the relaxation response, which further popularized meditation as an effective method of reducing stress and inducing the physiological benefits of relaxation.

Meditation now forms an integral part of many well-recognized medical programs. In his best-selling book, The Relaxation Response, Dr. Benson detailed many of the health benefits of meditation. Meditation helps us to enter the alpha state of brain wave activity, which is associated with relaxation and the reduction of stress. This, in turn, can help reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and speed of breathing, as well as promote healing. Meditation forms a key component of Dean Ornish, M.D.'s, celebrated program for treating heart disease. The Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center bases its program for addressing stress-related disorders and chronic pain on Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.'s, mindfulness meditation training. A growing number of prestigious university training hospitals, such as Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, are incorporating meditation into their patient-care programs.

The words "meditation" and "medicine" are both derived from the same Latin root word. Western medical research is only now validating what practitioners of yoga have known for thousands of years: Meditation can be good medicine—a powerful tool for healing body, mind, and spirit.

One of the goals of hatha yoga is to help make the body strong, steady, and free of discomfort as a prerequisite to stilling the mind in the practice of meditation. In raja yoga, the eight-limbed path to enlightenment, dhyana ("meditation") is the seventh, penultimate step, preceding and leading to the state known as samadhi ("bliss" or "ecstasy"). Meditation is thus accorded a very important place within the practices of yoga. Contrary to a popular conception, however, meditation is not a necessary precondition to achieving enlightenment. An individual can also achieve full self-realization through other paths, such as those of karma yoga (selfless work) and bhakti yoga (unconditional devotion). (For more information on the major paths of yoga, see Chapter 1.)

Meditation can be so beneficial that it is worth exploring in greater depth. In addition to its proven benefits to physical health and well-being, meditation can help a man cultivate mental and emotional stability, foster creativity, and provide a means of gaining greater insight into his higher self and purpose in life.

Meditation can be a powerful way for a man to still the mind so that he can silence for a moment the incessant chatter that occupies the rational, thinking mind. There are many ways in which to meditate, reflecting the rich diversity of meditative traditions. Each individual man's experience of meditation is unique. At heart, though, all meditative practices seek to reunite men with their deepest essence. This aim is the heart and core of yoga.

Meditation is an approach to centering oneself, of heightening one's awareness, and becoming truly present. It is not daydreaming, mindlessness, pondering weighty matters, or projecting one's fantasies. It is an opportunity simply to "be"—to realize that we are human "beings," not human "doings."

A universal concern that nags at many men, often on an unconscious level, is finding the answers to questions such as "Who am I?" and "What am I here for?" According to yogic tradition, it is necessary for a man to still the mind in order to realize his true essence. All too often, we become caught up in the affairs of the world to such an extent that they control us. We are tossed about between two extremes. We become attached to that which gives us pleasure and fear that which causes pain or discomfort. Our attachments and fears keep our minds cluttered and confused so that we are not able to go deeper into our true nature.

Fig. 16.4: Closed Eye Meditation Seated on the Floor

To answer the question "Who am I?" and so fulfill his deepest purpose in life, it is necessary for a man to still the chatter of the mind—to retreat to the realm of silence where he can truly hear the responses to important life questions emerge spontaneously.

To allow us to plumb our inner depths, yogis have developed various meditative techniques throughout the ages to help center and still the mind. By stilling the mind, we can let go of the incessant chatter that clutters what is sometimes referred to as our scattered "monkey minds." The principal method that is common to many practices of meditation is that of stilling the mind by bringing the awareness to a single object of attention. This aim can be achieved by focusing on the breath, an image, or a special sound.

Yogis know from time-honored experience that it is very difficult to empty the mind of all thoughts. It is the nature of the mind to think. Left to its natural devices, that is just what the mind will do: think incessantly. In order to help break the mind's natural tendency to chase uninterruptedly thought after thought, yogis encourage us to bring our full awareness to a single point of attention. By that means we can begin to exercise some control over the mind. By focusing on one object of attention, the meditating man, in effect, blocks out all other thoughts, thus effectively interrupting the incessant flow of thoughts. And in that moment of interruption—in the space between thoughts—a man has a window of opportunity to view and experience his true nature.

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