What comes to your mind when you think of Meditation?
For most people it is visions of eastern sages in Himalayan caves who have renounced the world. For others it is something only for hippies or lost 'New Agers' who have no grip on reality at all. But does the ancient art of navel gazing have any tangible purpose? Is it something which would bring benefits to the life of every person? The answer is most assuredly YES. Meditation is sorely misunderstood and misrepresented in our society. As a result it is seen as useless and inaccessible to the people who could most benefit from it.
The classic image of the yogi sitting in a pretzel position, spending his entire life avoiding all contact with the outside world, is not necessary in order to practice meditation, (thank God!). It is not necessary to leave your life, change your diet or your circle of friends. It is not necessary to struggle with visualizing beautiful scenery in your mind, or wrestle with trying to stop your thoughts.
The benefits of real meditation are both immediate and far reaching, and are available to all people of any age, background or belief. So, what are the benefits of meditation?
The number one killer, medically speaking, in the western world today is stress.
Many of the diseases from which we suffer as a race, and as individuals, are directly attributable to the amount of stress in our lives. Our bodies and minds are impacted with the impressions of virtually every experience we have ever had. These impressions are supported by layers of judgement, through which we view our world. These impressions, and the mental structure which accompanies them, create an enormous burden on our minds and bodies. The energy it takes to maintain all of our habits, beliefs and judgments, is mirrored at the surface level of our mind as a constant barrage of chaotic thought.
There have been studies done that show that the average person thinks somewhere between 90,000 and 130,000 thoughts every day! The majority of these thoughts are of no value to our lives, many are actually self destructive, and mutually contradictory.
As in our minds, so in our bodies. This is something that even western medicine is coming to realize. Beginning at a very young age, our bodies begin to function on adrenaline and stress rather than deep rest and innate energy. By the time we are young adults, our sleep at night no longer provides nearly enough rest to release the impressions of even one day of activity. The stress begins to accumulate, taxing the body’s energy, weakening and prematurely ageing the nervous system.
Along with sensible diet and exercise, the most effective way to restore balance to life and erase the subconscious habits that keep us locked in an increasingly stress filled existence, is to meditate. Meditation very quickly leads to deep rest and frees the mind from limited perspectives and patterns.
So, if all the thoughts are the problem, then the way to meditate properly is obviously to make the mind stop chattering, right?
Have you ever tried to make your mind be still? If you haven´t, take a moment and try it now.
If you are one of the rare ones who actually made your thoughts cease, it probably only took a moment or so before the thoughts started up again, maybe with even more force than before! Forcing the mind to be still is not the answer. It further stresses the nervous system, and is the reason why most people stop meditating after only a few days. It is not so much the thoughts that are the immediate problem; it is our identification with the thoughts that is the initial point of stress.
True meditation is a very simple practice. During the time spent meditating, the mind will begin to move to deeper and deeper levels of experience, which in turn allows the body to experience deep rest.
In true meditation, after about 20 minutes, the body will experience levels of rest which are roughly twice as deep as the deepest sleep at night. It is this level of rest, with regular practice, that allows the nervous system to release a lifetime of stored up impressions and the mind to return to a state of clarity and focus. Taking a small amount of time each day to meditate is something that is beneficial for everyone to do. It helps restore balance and harmony to life, physically and emotionally.
As well as the obvious gifts in terms of stress relief, regular meditation brings other benefits to life. With regular practice, the mind naturally begins to function at deeper and deeper levels. Most of us are meeting our world from the perspective of chaotic thought and lifelong habits of judgment. Once the mind becomes accustomed to moving inward, we actually begin to operate from these levels throughout our day. This brings increased energy, clarity of perception, focus, peace, joy and creativity. As these things naturally increase we are more able to meet, and deal with, the challenges of our lives.
So, the benefits of meditation are obvious, on every level. How do you find a genuine and effective practice of meditation?
If you do an Internet search, or even glance at an alternative health magazine, you will see that the number and variety of meditation practices available is daunting. With so many different systems of meditation, how do we find something which will not only be effective, but which is accessible to a modern life? There are several things one should look for when seeking out a True meditation technique:
1) The technique itself should involve no belief at all.
It is then possible for the technique to pull the awareness beyond the structure of the mind, and can be practiced by any person regardless of background or culture. The meditation technique will then have its effects whether one believes it will or not. It is also important because the technique will also be beyond the beliefs and dogmas of those who teach it. You should not be asked to take on any guru or teacher in order to learn, or blindly believe anything that is told during the meditation course. True meditation is completely experiential.
2) The technique should be taught in the native language of those who learn it.
It is of value for there to be a connection with the technique at the surface, thinking level of the mind. This allows for the technique to be enjoyable to use. It is difficult for most people to comprehend that meditation would actually be enjoyable, yet techniques exist that are exactly that. They are increasingly charming to the mind at deeper and deeper levels, and so effortlessly draw the awareness inward.
3) It will not be necessary for the body to maintain rigorous or difficult postures while meditating.
If the body is in pain or discomfort then most of our awareness will remain there rather than easily moving to deeper levels of the mind. Comfort is key.
4) The technique will be easily applicable with the eyes open.
We spend the majority of the day with our eyes open. It is important to be able to experience the benefits of meditation throughout our day, reducing the effects of stress as we go about our lives.
5) The technique should be able to fit with any life.
That is to say, if there are certain times when meditation must be practiced, it is not always going to be available to certain schedules. It should be possible for anyone to use the technique at the times that are available to them.
6) While there is a fee for most meditations, this should not be unreachable to people.
It will be a way for you to actually commit to what you are learning, and also a way for the teachers to continue to share the teaching.
So, armed with this information, the search begins. There are many websites that offer information about meditation techniques. Talk to friends you know who meditate. Attend free introductory talks, or read available information about different techniques. Most of all, when you find something that you feel will work for you, something that fits most, if not all of the above points, then learn the technique and enjoy exploring the possibilities. With time and practice, a True meditation technique cannot fail to increase the quality and enjoyment of life.