The art of meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. It began as a devotional practice commonly associated with monks, priests, mystics, and other practitioners of spiritual disciplines. The meditative state has been described as one of perfect stillness: the silence of body, speech, and mind. The systematic practice of meditation enables one to go within and uncover that hidden center of the one Life, which is the divine birthright of every human being. Today information on meditation is widely disseminated and can be practiced by anyone who desires to find inner peace and happiness.
The Need for Meditation
The pace of life in modern industrialized and post-industrialized societies has become increasingly demanding and hectic. Sweeping technological changes continue to alter the way we live our lives. The pervasiveness of the modern media makes us susceptible to sensory overload by its relentless bombardment of news, entertainment, and information. Health practitioners are reporting increased levels of mental and emotional stress, even in young children. As the pressures of our world intensify, many people are turning to the practice of meditation as a means of leading a calmer life, achieving greater clarity of mind, and coming into touch with the spiritual core of their being.
In this search for inner peace, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is an inner journey. Just as the ocean contains quiet depths untouched by surface agitation, so does every human heart. The state of our emotions often resembles the churning of the ocean’s surface: we feel as though we are being swept along by waves of anxiety, fear, restlessness, and anger. Against those powerful forces, we may feel as helpless as a branch being tossed by the waves. Our inability to empty our mind of worries and concerns creates further levels of stress. Through meditation we can learn to experience inner peace, even though our outer environment may be chaotic or stressful. In the depths of the human heart wherein lies our true Self, abide perfect stillness, peace, and beauty. Meditation is the means that takes us from the surface of life to its depths.
Types of Meditation
Over the centuries, many forms of meditation have been developed. Some aim at emptying the mind of all thoughts and thought processes. Others recommend concentrating upon a quote from Scripture or an uplifting aphorism taken from a spiritual book. Some methods make use of creative visualization, while still others involve verbal chanting or the silent recitation of mantras. Another technique is to reflect upon certain qualities that we would like to realize in our own life such as patience, compassion, or non-attachment.
Although styles of meditation differ, there are some basic guidelines that should be observed. The following preparatory steps are fairly common to all traditional forms of meditation:
Find a suitable time of day when you can meditate without being interrupted. It is preferable to meditate at the same time each day to establish a rhythm. Early mornings are recommended.
You will have better results if you practice meditation on an empty stomach. Trying to meditate after eating a meal is not an efficient use of your energies.
Sit comfortably in a chair with your eyes closed or half-closed. You should not slouch in the chair but keep your back erect.
Take a few moments to relax your body and release any tension that you may observe, such as in the arms, legs, or the neck. Taking a few slow, deep breaths is helpful. Remain alert.
Slowly withdraw your attention from the outer world of sounds, sights, and other sensory stimuli. You are turning from the outer to the inner.
Meditation on the Breath
An exercise that is helpful for beginning students is watching the movement of the breath. After following the preliminary steps outlined above, turn your attention to observing the flow of your breath. Let it flow naturally without counting or trying to alter it in any way. If your attention should drift, gently bring it back. Sit quietly and continue observing the rhythm of the in-breath followed by the out-breath. Do this for 5 minutes. After a week’s practice, you can try increasing the time to 10 or 15 minutes. It sounds simple but you will be surprised how easy it is for the mind to throw up thoughts or get distracted from the task at hand. Each time you notice that the mind has wandered off, gently bring it back to watching the breath. This is a very effective way of training the mind to stay focused on one task. After you become proficient with this exercise, you may want to proceed to more difficult forms of meditation.