The importance of meditation has been taught from time immemorial, and today, meditation is more relevant than ever. The West has had many great meditation teachers and currently the United States is experiencing renewed interest in meditation, as more people are closing their eyes and looking within for relief from pressures of every day life.
Scientific research has demonstrated that meditation has significant psychological, physiological and sociological benefits, as well as reducing stress, increasing energy and improving mood and physical performance. People meditate to be more productive and feel better throughout the day.
Meditation is a technique that reduces mental activity, bringing quietness to the mind and deep rest to the body. The mind and body are connected; massage the body and the mind relaxes. When the body rests, it eliminates stress and fatigue, a phenomenon we experience nightly. Meditation does not replace sleep, but by deeply quieting the mind, it can produce a profound state of rest and rejuvenation.
All too often the mind is running uncontrollably, consuming energy and creating anxiety. With regular meditation practice, it is possible for the mind to be at peace when it is not being used, similar to using a car when necessary and parking it in the garage when not needed.
Of the many types of meditation, one thing they all have in common is focusing of attention. Contemplation focuses the attention on a specific subject in search of understanding. Mantra meditation involves one pointed attention on the oral or mental repetition of a sound. The sanskrit word for meditation is Dhyana. Dhyana also refers to a specific kind of meditation which concentrates the mind by gently focusing the attention between the eyes.
Meditators may differ in their opinion as to which form of meditation is best. However, any type of mantra or focusing meditation performed correctly can produce excellent results, quieting the mind and energizing the body. The most beneficial meditation is one done consistently.
Anything that focuses the mind on one thing without analysis or judgment can be a preliminary form of meditation— music, dance, devotion and selfless service. When attention is focused and the mind is not required to do anything, the mind will become quiet. In more advanced meditation, when thoughts, concepts, feelings and imaginations of the mind recede completely, one doesn’t vanish but instead remains as the perceiver; the consciousness that perceives or witnesses the thoughts projected in the mind. That consciousness, by nature, is secure and supremely peaceful. The realization of consciousness as our real self is said to be the ultimate goal of meditation.
Four Important Meditation Steps:
Make time for regular meditation practice. To get the sweetness, one has to chew the fruit.
Don’t try too hard. We are accustomed to making effort when we want to accomplish something. Meditation works differently. Try less to accomplish more. A mind that has habitually been over stimulated will take time to settle down. Dedication and patience wins. New meditators often feel they should experience something of cosmic proportion while meditating, but it’s not about thoughts and visions. Don’t meditate for subjective experiences, but instead meditate for the benefits it can bring.
Don’t engage thoughts, analyze or make judgments during meditation, just watch or listen. The mind will drift off of the mantra or area of focus, at which time the only thought one needs to entertain is the thought to effortlessly return to thinking the mantra or focusing the attention. Meditation is repeatedly doing this process. Thoughts are part of meditation; one should not become frustrated when they appear, but just return to the process.
Avoid habitual fatigue, stress and poor diet, the enemies of a healthy life and meditation. If one feels sleepy or tired after meditating, it could be because the body is getting needed rest, or it could be normalizing of the body and nervous system. If it persists, it may be necessary to reevaluate life habits.
How to Develop a Regular Meditation Practice
Get proper instruction. Meditation is fundamentally a very simple process, but it’s important to have the confidence of knowing it’s being performed properly.
Set a time, duration and place to meditate and be disciplined in the commitment to practice regularly, preferably daily. Within three months, meditation can become as habitual as brushing teeth.
Try participating in a meditation intensive or retreat, which offers people the opportunity to increase meditation time and to deepen personal experience. Once one experiences the peace of heart and clarity of mind that is possible with meditation, one will not want to miss it.
Find inspiration and motivation everywhere. Many people are motivated by reading spiritual books, doing yoga, singing or the company of others with similar interests.
The benefits of meditation, regardless of our subjective experience in meditation, come spontaneously as a result of taking time to quiet the mind. Real happiness and well-being is an inside job.
Agastya’s teacher, Shiva Rudra Balayogi will be visiting Austin, May 16 through 22 to teach meditation, and conduct a four-day meditation retreat. For information, visit SRBY.org.