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Meditation 101

January 25, 2011

 

We hear of meditation so often in our lives yet many of us are still unfamiliar with what it really is.  Even a dictionary’s definition is vague.  The reason is it is hard to define what meditation is in just a few words.  And even after reading any given definition, it is still difficult for one to understand.  Because in order for you to understand, you must experience it yourself

I am no meditation expert.  I have not reached Nirvana, nor have achieved spiritual enlightenment (Well, that’s debatable).  I have not been able to hear or see anything outside our “normal” dimension.  But it’s likely because I don’t meditate consistently enough to have this experience.  What I can testify to is that when I do meditate, there is a positive effect.  And over the past 6 or 7 years since I’ve started practicing meditation, I’ve created my own explanation of meditation. 

From my experience, I have learned that meditation is a process, much like any other exercise.  It is a matter of starting with basics and slowly strengthening the ability. The more you exercise those meditative “muscles”, the closer you get to a meditative state.  The more you’re in a meditative state, the closer you are to those experiences I talked about.  Don’t get me wrong, it takes a long time to get really far.  But going through the process is certainly worth it.

 This process affects people in many different ways.  For myself, I find that during the first while, the changes are imperceivable.  But as I continue to meditate daily, I discover more clarity and serenity and my emotions go through, a “sort of”, evolutionary process.  It’s a bit difficult to explain but imagine your mind is similar to a tangled ball of yarn.  Over the years, that ball of yarn becomes more tangled and knotted from all the thoughts and experiences that go through your mind/conscience.  When I meditate, it’s almost as if those mental tangles become slowly unknotted, strand by strand.  The more untangled my mind is, the more clarity I have with decisions, feelings, judgments, etc.

When I meditate, I am also able to get closer to the core of who I am.  It’s not because I become more in tune with a higher power (although this is also debatable), but because I am able to filter out all the doubt and insecurities and fears and all those other feelings that keep me from my truth.  This certainly doesn’t happen overnight, but with consistent practice I am able to see through those mental distractions. 

  I have read books and researched online for different categories ever since I started meditating, and just as there is no good definition of meditation, there are no defined categories of meditative techniques.  In other words, many techniques overlap eachother and are very similar.  Here are the techniques I am aware of:

  • Basic/Thoughtless Meditation- Exactly how it sounds.  While sitting in a comfortable position, you quiet your mind, and don’t think.  This sounds very simple, but I assure you, it’s incredibly difficult.  We are always thinking, even in our sleep.  To be thoughtless, is definitely an effort.  To do this technique, you need to be aware of any thoughts.  As thoughts come in, try to let go of them and focus again on thoughtlessness.  The great thing about this technique is that you’ll eventually see how much of that incessant “voice” is in your minds.  By blocking those voices and staying thoughtless allows your mind to take a rest from all that background noise that can potentially have a negative impact on us.
  • Focused Meditation – This involves sitting in a comfortable position and focusing on something that has little or no movement.  Candle-watching (focusing on the flame) is a good example, or your own breath (I recommend this), or imagining ocean waves/waterfall.  Focusing on only one present thought allows the mind to be temporarily free of the mental noise.  This I find is relatively easier than Thoughtless Meditation.
  • Awareness Meditation – sitting in a comfortable position but instead you are staying aware of your body.  For example, you are aware of the breath going through you into your lungs and back out; or the beating of your heart.  Note that you are only aware of this, not analyzing.  Another method is to feel the energy passing through your body inch by inch.  This is particularly helpful for people who have trouble sleeping.  While lying down, be aware of your body from the bottom up.  Start from the toes, to the feet, to the ankle, to calves, to thighs, to hips…and so on…eventually working all the way up to the top of the head.  I recommend this to people with insomnia or who have trouble sleeping.  It’s very effective for sleep.  You’ll find that you will fall asleep before you complete the whole practice.
  • Visual Imagery Meditation – visualizing guided images (whether self-guided or auditory-guided).  Generally, this involves visualizing a play-by-play story or a series of colors, or both.  This is great for improving visualization and visual memory. 
  • Prayer Meditation – when you say a prayer and then be still and focus on that prayer.  I believe that prayer is very powerful.  When you say a prayer, that message is propelled out into the universe and will empower that prayer.  This is so useful for people who need strength to endure or overcome a situation.  I do believe that the universe does respond (sometimes in ways we don’t see) to our prayers.  But most importantly, prayer strengthens our faith and reinforces our good intentions.
  • Repetitive/Mantra Meditation – this involves having a mantra (a single word or series of spiritual/religious words) and repeating that mantra throughout the meditation.
  • Active Meditation – when you are engaged in an activity that calms and stills your mind.  Yoga, Tai-Chi, gardening, and artwork are examples of this.

 Now that you know the many different techniques, you need to decide which one is suitable for you.  It’s difficult to recommend which one works best because everyone is so different.  What I do advise is start with simplicity.  You would think that the Basic Meditation is simple but you will soon find that it’s not easy to stop thinking on command.  In fact that skill alone takes much practice.  Focused Meditation is probably best to start with; more specifically, focusing on your breathing and nothing else.  I know you think this sounds easy but try it right now, take 10 deep, controlled breathes and mentally count the number of breathes in your mind.  Think of your breathing and nothing else.

 You probably found that it was not easy to only focus on the breathing.  Did you find that your mind wandered?  Maybe you were thinking about what you need to do, or what you did?  Although you continue counting, you probably lost count at 3 or 4, or digressed to other thoughts and came back to counting  

I suggest continuing this for some time starting with 5 minutes (whatever you prefer), then I would then suggest adding more minutes.  When your mind is “still” enough for all 5 minutes, add a minute each time.  Don’t worry about timing your meditation.  Somehow you will stop at the time you decided on.  Once you have gotten to a comfortable time, then try something different – maybe begin to “Om” (saying that word out loud in a slow and stretched out way like “oohhhhhhmmmmmmm…” repeatedly) and/or just to still your mind (pure thoughtlessness).  Sounds funny but this has been reported to help concentration and most importantly, help with thyroid function. 

Whatever your meditative journey is, keep in mind, the primary purpose of meditation is focusing on the present.  It gives your mind a mental break from the average 70,000 thoughts that bombard your mind.  By giving you this break, you are allowed to clear out the mental clutter and tap into the true mental alertness that everyone has.

Again, I want to stress how this process will take you some time to achieve.  But enjoy the process.  The changes, day by day, are not obvious.  But if you continue meditating daily, you will notice changes in your memory, thoughts and emotions.  Many people go through changes in different ways.  The transition is very different for everyone, but it is magical.  Each time you finish your meditation, sit for a minute and reflect on it.  This will allow you to absorb the exercise.  I assure you, if you keep at it, the meditations will be transformative.  So happy meditating and keep it up!

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