What is Meditation

When you cease all activity, mental and physical and are just being, that is meditation.

In some ways, discussing how to meditate is a bit like talking about how to sleep except that in the case of sleep, everyone has their own, direct experience of what it is to sleep. The two states are similar in that the mind is disengaged. The main difference is that in meditation you are aware and in sleep you are not.

Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about cultivating awareness. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment and you may start to better understand them as well. Of course, along the way you may also become happier and some people may even observe that you have a few extra positive traits too.

Everything begins with the right approach. If before you begin to meditate, when you remove your shoes, then it would be good to also leave any thoughts you have of the past next to your shoes. These thoughts have no relevance to your meditation. It would also be useful to leave any thoughts of the future in the same place, for these thoughts aren’t real, they’re just speculation or fantasies. Then if you’ve left thoughts of the past and future with your shoes, go ahead and leave any dialogue about the present there as well. All these thoughts pass through the filter of your upbringing, your culture, your traumas etc. and are, therefore, false representations of the events around you. Once you have done this, what is left? Being in this state of no thoughts or no mind is meditation and being present HERE & NOW is the only reality.

Learning to meditate is something that can be guided but ultimately it needs to be experienced. The concept of meditating is quite easy; achieving the actually state of meditation requires practice. One of the challenges we face in the modern world is disengaging from the multitude of distractions and stresses we embrace in our daily lives. Not only is life more complicated, it is less natural. In the past our stresses would have had a direct physical outlet such as the threat of becoming prey to a large carnivore would have been accompanied by the physical exertion of trying to escape. The hormones we release when stressed actually promote the physical activity required to escape – the so called flight or fight response. Today, with limited physical outlet we simply become awash with hormones such as cortisol  and adrenaline with no outlet to use them up. In response to this a few modern gurus such as Gurdjieff, Osho and those who followed them, developed advanced meditation techniques which contain some active component in order to facilitate the transition into stillness. One of the most famous and effective of these techniques is Osho’s Dynamic Meditation which takes the meditator through several active stages, including a full-on catharsis, before suddenly inviting stillness. It is at this moment, when the mind is no more and perhaps for only a few seconds, the magic happens.

Little by little the meditator can learn to extend this state and to reach it without having to go through a full catharsis each time. A meditative state can be achieved during any activity cooking, eating, cleaning your teeth and making love (wow what a thing that would be). In fact, most people have experienced such a state at one moment all another, when they have been so totally absorbed and fascinated by something that all thought is suspended, time seems to stand still. Bringing awareness or mindfulness to daily activities, is a practice which can transform your life.

Finally there is breath and I should also say that firstly there is breath too. Breath acts like a metronome to life itself, although most often we breathe without paying attention to it. In the same way that breath is central to life it is also central to a meditative practice and to cultivating awareness. A simple exercise of observing our breath: the in-breath, the space between the in-breath and the out-breath and then the out-breath itself and so on, noticing the different qualities of each stage, how the air passes in and out of the body, how the body expands and relaxes etc; practicing this for 5 minutes will bring profound relaxation and peace.

There is much that could be said about meditation and then again those words are meaningless without your own direct experience. No words can replace what you feel and your own understanding from personal practice. If you don’t currently meditate this journey can begin today with the breathing exercise I referred to above.

If you would like to go deeper and explore techniques such as the active mediations I refer to above, then join me on one of my workshops or my weekly classes at the Mountsorrel Memorial Centre on Tuesdays 19:30 to 21:00.

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