The fundamental mechanics of meditation practice

The techniques of meditational practices are reasonably easy to learn. Yet they will never bring results unless they are practised regularly and with dedication. Sad to say, many people believe that to experience meditation it is necessary to fill the mind with numerous different techniques, none of which they practise seriously. As a result they gain nothing. This is an easy pitfall, for we are all habituated to believing that results come through learning. That is, we believe that the more facts we accumulate the wiser we will become. In intellectual terms this may be partly true but it is certainly not true with meditational practices, and for that matter with yoga in general. A person can know almost nothing intellectually and yet by knowing one meditational technique and practising it with dedication, can experience the joy and knowledge of meditation. Success does not depend on factual knowledge. Throughout history there are numerous examples of both uneducated and highly educated people who have achieved the highest states of meditation. We all have access to the mind potential, whether rich or poor, intellectual or non-intellectual, young or old, male or female. The main requirements for delving into the mind and realizing its potential are aspiration and practice. This is the way to experience the bliss and transcendental knowledge of meditation.

As we have already mentioned, there are two principal methods of inducing meditation:

passive and active. Active methods are practised during everyday life, when one walks, talks, eats and performs daily functions. This is the realm of karma yoga and bhakti yoga. The aim is to be in a state of meditation while actively involved in worldly events. This does not imply that actions are performed indifferently, or that the aspirant walks around in a sleeping state. Far from it. The person will perform his activities with greater enthusiasm, efficiency and energy.

Passive methods to induce meditation are the ones that we normally term meditational practices. This is the method of raja yoga. A fixed period of time is set aside daily solely for the purpose of introspection. These methods can also lead to meditation outside the actual time of practising the passive techniques. In other words, the state of meditation carries over into everyday life. It is this form of passive practice that we will discuss here.

Actually, even the word passive is a misnomer for it is only the body that is passive and motionless. The internal environment can be a hive of activity on a conscious level, either spontaneous or intentional, whether it is desired or not. In some people this process is automatic. Many people watch a person practising passive meditational techniques and assume that the person is either asleep or unconscious. This may be the case, but if the practices are done properly this could not be further from the truth.

The first step is to overcome disturbances of the body. It is difficult for most people to sit comfortably in one position for more than a minute or so without feeling pain or wanting to scratch. This causes the awareness to be wholly externalized - exactly the opposite to what is required, for the aim is to direct the awareness inwards to the workings of the mind.

The next step is to try to achieve calmness of mind and relaxation. Most people have a mind that is like a stormy sea. Before we can see below the surface we must first of all settle down the tumultuous waves. This is done through awareness. In other words, we try to be aware of one object, symbol or process of thought. This takes practice, but eventually it is possible to focus the awareness on one thing to the exclusion of all others. This one-pointed attention allows the awareness to pierce and enter the various depths of the mind. A dull arrow will not penetrate the target, whereas a sharp one well-aimed will decisively pierce the bull's eye. This point of awareness acts as a vehicle for the journey into the mind. It is merely a means to an end. Furthermore, this point of awareness prevents the meditator falling into a state of unconsciousness. That is, it is very easy to lapse into a state of sleep if one relaxes mentally and physically and tries to do meditational practices. This point acts as a continual reminder of our awareness. The vehicle in karma yoga is intense, concentrated work; in bhakti yoga overwhelming devotion to a person or one object, and in jnana yoga the vehicle is an all absorbing enquiry.

Many people try to concentrate too hard in order to meditate. However, concentration does not come easily or spontaneously to a disturbed mind. Therefore, to try to attain concentration they strain themselves; instead of becoming relaxed and calm, they actually create more tension. Under these circumstances it is impossible to meditate. For this reason we don't advise people to concentrate intently. Instead, we ask them to be aware of an object or process of thought to the best of their ability. That is, if the mind tends to wander, then don't fight it - let it wander, but remain aware of the object or thought process. In this way you will not only attain one-pointedness but will simultaneously enjoy a state of mental and physical relaxation.

There are many things that can be used as an object of one-pointedness. It does not matter as long as the object is able to hold one's attention easily. The following are a few of the most common objects: the breathing process, mantras such as Aum, an external or internal picture of a great sage or guru, the tip of the nose, different parts of the body or any other symbol that appeals to you. One particularly good practice utilizes awareness of the thought process itself. Remember, all these are the means that lead to meditation, not meditation itself.

We have only briefly mentioned the fundamental mechanics of passive meditational practices. Because we have spoken very generally, without detail, virtually all specific practices conform to this basic mode or pattern. Our mind, at its different layers, is in a continual state of chatter. Normally this inner disturbance together with our over-extrovert ed way of life prevents us from seeing into the mind. Meditational practices are a wav of drawing aside the curtains of the mind and peering inside. We cannot talk about meditation, we can only discuss the practices that lead to meditation. Most people are in a fluctuating state of emotional turmoil. This is a serious impediment to meditation. It is so difficult to relax sufficiently and become one-pointed even when we are alone. We are continually beset by worries, dislikes, jealousy and many other emotional disturbances and these cannot be overcome in one night. Time is necessary. Meditational techniques will help to bring about this end, but we sincerely advise the practitioner to refer to our previous discussion on relaxation1.

Meditational practices are excellent methods of confronting the problems, conflicts and other disturbances hidden in the normally inaccessible recesses of the mind. Once we face these negative aspects of our mind they will automatically drop away. Each person can become his own psychiatrist-cum-psychologist. As these problems are gradually removed, so one's life becomes an expression ofjoy and happiness. Our lives will be transformed.

It is very easy to give the wrong impression about meditation and meditational practices. It is possible for everyone to know the joy of meditation, yet at the same time effort is required. It would be most surprising if a person starts to meditate on the first attempt. In fact we have never known this to happen. Regular and sincere practice and time are required. The time depends on the individual, on his problems, on his dedication and other factors. But all effort is worthwhile, more so than anything else you are likely to do in your life. So don't expect instant meditation but persevere in your practices.

We all tend to be sceptical of things of which we have no experience. This is our constitution. With meditation it is far easier to be sceptical and disbelieving than with many other concepts, for it is intangible. Even the author was deeply sceptical when he was first introduced to the possibilities of meditation. He found it difficult to comprehend how 'merely closing one's eyes' could lead to anything more than sleep. This of course is a natural tendency. It is only through personal experience that this naivety and the accompanying doubts are slowly but surely erased. Furthermore, we emphasize that you can read volumes of books on meditation and still disbelief will exist. It is only the personal experience of meditation, even if it is the faintest glimmer, that can make us realize the power, knowledge and joy that are our heritage.

Notes

The Art and Science of Relaxation - Book I, Lesson 1, Topic 5

The Root Cause of T ension - Book I, Lesson 2, Topic 7

Relaxation - Shavasana (Part 2) - Book I, Lesson 2. Topic 8

A Guide To Practice Yoga

A Guide To Practice Yoga

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