Meditation. What a word. I have been abundantly lucky when it comes to the teachers that have quite literally fallen across my path. But time and time again I am reminded how little the west actually knows and understands about teachings that are outside of our perspective and how often those teachings become skewed and misinterpreted in our society. So, I am here to share with you what I know about the differences between Meditation and Contemplation. If you are looking for a more in depth and personal practice within Meditation and the Easter Philosophies, please check out Mythic Pose online and get hooked up with Beth and tell her I sent you.
Meditation is quite literally the practice of training the mind to work for you instead of it working on its own. While the core practice sounds very simplistic, the application of the practice is very difficult. Especially since we live in a society that loves to throw everything at everyone all at once all the time. Non-stop stimulus is the way to be! No. No it really is not. Meditation is the practice of quieting the mind and the thoughts and emotions that take place there so that we can be more authentically ourselves.
When we think about meditation, we think of a beautiful backdrop of a mountain scape, or a waterfall or a slow-moving river with a bald monk seated quietly in front of it in yellow and red robes, eyes gently closed, breathing even and totally at peace. It’s a wonderful picture to be sure. But highly unrealistic when it comes to our western life styles. Let’s face it, the idea of sitting quietly for 5-20 minutes at a time is a daunting task for many. I think it’s because of this barrier of impossibility that we, as westerners, have found other ways to “meditate”. What we consider to be meditation, actually have other meanings and purposes that the proper practice of meditation helps with.
So, what is meditation if it isn’t thinking about a concept or an idea? What is meditation if it isn’t journeying to my mind palace? What is Meditation and how do I do it?
On paper, meditation is the act of doing something repetitive to allow the mind to slip back into what is called the observer. When we meditate, our goal is to find that inner peace, it’s inherent within all of us, to sit with that inner peace and just breathe. We then observe the emotions, feelings, thoughts, ideas, concepts, grocery lists and whatever else comes up and we allow them to just be what they are. We do not engage with them. We do not allow them to engage with us. We point at them, metaphorically or physically, and we label them as “thinking” then we return to the breath, and we continue to sit within that peace.
At first, and perhaps for a long time, this will be difficult. I’ll be honest and tell you it took me over a year to be able to actively sit for 5 minutes and not engage with my thoughts. Even then, that success was hit or miss for me. It was not a “Ah ha! I suddenly got it!”. It was more like “Well, today I did great, but man was yesterday rough!”. The point is, is to keep going. Keep practicing.
But what if I can’t sit and meditate? My thoughts are too much! Well, there are other ways to meditate that involve the slow movement of the body and focusing on the breath while you move. Chi Qong and Tai Chi are two such practices. There is also a walking meditation where you mark out a 4 foot by 4 foot square where you essentially band march (heel-toe heel-toe) around the square as slowly and methodically as you can while focusing on the feet contacting with the floor. Meditation can happen anywhere! Try it while doing the dishes, or if you crochet or paint.
The success of meditation comes with rhythm, repetitiveness, and routine. Being able to set a time everyday that is the same time every day (i.e. 8am everyday or 4pm everyday etc) for five minutes a day will build the practice for you, regardless of how much time you spend gently pulling yourself back from your thinking mind.
You’ll notice I said gently. This is an important note. While we are meditating, we are not getting angry with ourselves over how many thoughts are carrying on within our minds. We are not feeling guilty about not being able to quiet our thoughts. We are not yanking our consciousness back and forth between peace and chaos. We are gently acknowledging our thinking mind, labeling it, and slipping slowly back into our inner peace and returning to being the observer. Be gentle.
I’ve heard of people using mantras for meditation, is this true? It is! And it can be very helpful. I caution against using a complicated mantra, however. Stick to one to four words, preferably in a language you don’t understand and keep it as simple as possible. The mantra Aum (the inflection is on the “um”) is a great one to work with. You can even listen to nature sounds as long as its not too complex, distracting, or causes your attention to be pulled too much into the sound. If you’re doing it correctly, eventually the mantra will fall to the back of your perspective and it will become the back ground music to your meditation. It’s meant to be a “trigger” or “focus point” to let your mind know that it’s time to meditate.
Keep in mind that we are not looking to dissect the meaning of the mantra or to uncover its hidden depths. We are not looking to find anything other then something to hold our focus and to use the mantra as a tool to help guide us back to that inner peace and to becoming a better observer.
One last thing before I go, set an alarm and start with a short amount of time. The alarm should be a gentle pull back, not a fog horn on the ocean. The time should be anywhere between 2-3 minutes to start and once that becomes easier, increase to 4-5 minutes. Lastly, it’s always easier when you have a buddy. Someone else who is on this journey with you, whether they are just starting or if they have been doing this for a long time. Having that anchor and connection with another is beneficial, but if you don’t have someone, that’s ok. Some times a stuffed animal works great in their place. Next time, I will be talking about what contemplation is and eventually get on with talking about journeying. A reminder, a lot of the things I share are from the various teachers that have taught me over the years as well as a healthy mix of the things I’ve picked up along the way on my own. I’m glad to be apart of your practice now and I would be so grateful if you would like, comment, and share what I am sharing with you. That is the greatest gift you can give anyone online sharing their work with others. Love to you all, and may this year bring us all quieter minds.