WHAT IS MEDITATION?
Expressed simply, meditation is the creation of a relaxed state of awareness of mind and body. Under normal circumstances, we experience relaxation and awareness as separate states, not simultaneously, and our concentration is most often directed toward the outside world - for example, when driving a car, our thoughts are focused on what is happening on the road. In meditation, our awareness is directed inward toward our private thoughts and feelings.
Traditional Eastern meditation emphasizes the need to empty the mind of its swirling chatter so as to connect with a greater reality beyond. However, we will be taking a slightly different approach - we will begin not by clearing the mind, but by filling it with a wealth of thoughts, images and feelings. In doing so, we connect more fully with our inner being and develop a deeper understanding of our true nature. We will be meditating not on a higher spiritual realm but, quite simply, on ourselves.
People turn to meditation for a variety of reasons. Many are drawn to it because they want to learn to relax and eliminate unnecessary stress and tension in their lives. The effect of meditation can be like taking a holiday - when you return, you are refreshed and re-acquainted with yourself and you have a new perspective on your life and problems. But unlike expensive holidays, meditation costs nothing and needs only a few minutes of your time every day.
Think of the stream of thoughts that endlessly flows through your head all the time you are awake. When you are alone, and your mind is not focused on any particular activity or task, these thoughts will tend to dart in all directions, more or less randomly. The truth is, many of these thoughts will be unconstructive or anxious; they will be tinged with various emotional responses, as if someone had emptied bottles of dye into the stream of your consciousness; they will probably keep you tense or even make you stressed.
Meditation puts us closer in touch with our minds as well as our bodies and helps us to understand our unconscious motives and desires - it enables us to identify negative thoughts and emotions and to work through and eliminate those feelings which are unhelpful to us. Once we discover the unconscious forces operating in our inner lives, we can make changes for the better.
The practical and physical benefits of meditation are well recognized. Correct breathing, good posture and deep relaxation encourage the body to function more efficiently and can help relieve problems such as insomnia' high blood pressure and low energy levels. Meditate in a spirit of open -mindedness and you will find that you have a clearer understanding of how your body works and who you are. You will probably start to feel more relaxed, and be able to concentrate better. You may even see your problems in a clearer perspective. In connecting with the reality at the deeper levels of your mind, you will burn off the haze of illusion. You will see what it is to be human, and therefore come to appreciate other people more. You will see the connectedness of all life.
Although we tend to think of meditation as being epitomized by the holy men of Buddhism, it is in fact central to many of the world's major spiritual and philosophical traditions. Here is a taste of how meditation fits into practices other than Buddhism.
India has long been associated with the quest for spiritual enlightenment. Yoga, a practical path to spiritual progress, has been a major focus of the country's religious life for many centuries. It recommends discipline of the body and concentration of the mind (through meditation) as a means to achieving self-realization and enlightenment. Yoga is revered in the sacred texts of Hinduism: for example, the Bhagavad Gita (6th century BCE) describes yoga as offering a solution to the problems of life; similarly, yoga is central to the Upanishads (c.800-c.300BCE), which view mind, body, spirit and world as a continuum, a whirling force of life energy.
The Tao Te Ching - the principle text of Taoism, written by Lao Tsu around the 4th century BCE - is full of wisdom and poetry that speaks to our inner being and teaches that we should accept the world as it is. Taoist philosophy centres on the relationship between opposites: the inner and outer worlds, the conscious and unconscious self. The union of opposites is epitomized in the symbol yin-yang. Meditation is recommended as the means of achieving order and unity in our own life.
Celtic Christianity placed great emphasis on the human need for solitude and isolation. Its practitioners would seek out special places in the natural world - perhaps a mountain, or a site near trees or running water, or by the sea - where, through meditation, they could celebrate God and nature as one. Celtic Christians composed many prayers for special occasions that could be repeated over and over again - in a similar fashion to the Buddhist mantra
STILLING THE MIND
This exercise will help you to still your mind by monitoring your thoughts as they come and go.
1 Sit in your meditation position. Relax, breathe naturally and easily, and focus your attention on your thoughts.
Don't stop or censor your thoughts - allow them to flow freely in and out of your consciousness. Imagine that
your thoughts are ripples on a pond. Be patient and you should eventually feel enveloped in stillness.
2 When you feel calm, centre your mind on the word "peace". Meditate on this word. Let it fill your mind and
body, and allow it to resonate through you.
3 After two to three minutes, release the word so that only the essence of peace (the physical sense of its presence) remains within you.
4 At the end of your meditation, notice how relaxed you feel- try to hold on to this feeling. Breathe a little more
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