During the last twenty years a steadily rising number of people have experimented with meditation as a way to either relieve the stresses and strains of modern life or to enhance their natural wisdom. However, it seems very few persevere and build the practice of meditation into their life in a disciplined way. And of those few even fewer would probably say meditation was easy, and if they did there’s a good chance they would probably not be meditating, more likely daydreaming or simply losing their attention in a candle flame or the sound of a distant bell.
Every year many if not most of those who attempt to meditate will give up almost instantly, thinking either “This is not for me”, or more commonly, “I can’t do this”. There are a number of reasons for this, not least ‘high expectations’. We live in a world where we learn that we can travel anywhere and have almost anything we want almost instantly; a world in which we are able to achieve, acquire and accumulate experiences fast. In the push button era we are the ‘expectant generation’. And when we sit and attempt to meditate there is likely to be an expectation in the background that we will have some kind of instant result or success. Perhaps some pre-read literature fills us with an expectation that we will see an amazing light and become enlightened, or there will be a feeling of such a deep and profound peace that we would never ‘desire’ anything else ever again or that an ‘ascended master’ will make contact, whisper deep esoteric secrets in our inner ear, and resolve our earthly sufferings. And then, when nothing much happens, otherwise known as a non-event, we are easily disappointed, disillusioned and discouraged from further practice.
In addition, because our attention is focused on what is happening within, we are more likely to see and feel not such positive thoughts and not such harmonious feelings, and to notice how easily distracted we are. All serve to discourage us even further.
And so it is with high expectations that we sit and ‘do’ our meditation, which is often the second obstacle. Perhaps we have not yet quite gasped that meditation is not something that you ‘do’, it is a way to ‘be’. It is a way to create a state of being, prior to action. And to most of us who are addicted to action, if not fully paid up members of ‘rushaholics anonymous’, this means we will never really get started, and we will likely wonder to ourselves, “Come on, why is nothing happening when I ‘do’ my meditation?”
The third and perhaps main reason why meditation is not so easy for most is that in our impatience for light, peace and a transcendent state we miss the two essential steps prior to meditating. Step one is relaxation and step two is concentration.
Consciously relaxing your body and giving it permission to be still, ensures it is less likely to interrupt, distract your attention and re-occupy your awareness. We have the habit of being ‘body conscious’ most of our day-to-day life, and this only serves to limit our consciousness, confine our awareness and keep us focussed only on the ever fluctuating input from the senses. For many meditators the very reason they practice is to free themselves from the habit of losing one’s consciousness in the form that we occupy, and thereby restoring mastery of the body and its senses. Consciously relaxing the mind also serves to give the mind permission to be quiet. It won’t because we are habituated to being mentally busy and it won’t just stop. But by giving it permission to be still and to rest awhile, we are acknowledging that we are not our minds. By talking to your mind this sense of separation will eventually become helpful in any meditative practice.
The idea of concentration sounds easy but for most of us it’s not. If you try gently concentrating your attention, without tension, on anything, you will find it drifts after only a count of 6 or 7… if you even get that far! And without the ability to hold your concentration meditation cannot begin. The practice of concentration can happen anywhere and anytime that you choose. It could be upon an external object or on an idea, it could be on a sound or simply your breathing. Not be mistaken for meditation, increased concentration also enhances effectiveness in other areas of life.
The balance between relaxation and concentration is called equipoise. Your attention and awareness are relaxed and yet gently concentrated, with the emphasis on ‘gently’. Then meditation can begin.
Cultivation of Self Awareness
The simplest definition of meditation is the cultivation of self awareness. And that is also the aim, although it is an aim without achievement, like a journey with no destination, yet you still know where you are going, which is no where! The quality of your life begins with the quality of your thoughts and decisions. The effectiveness of your actions and interactions within your relationships with others begins with the quality of your thoughts and decisions. Without self awareness you cannot see what you are doing well and not so well at the levels of your own thoughts and feelings. In fact, the vast majority of people cannot even see that it is ‘the self’ and not someone else who creates their thoughts and feelings! When you fall under the illusion that others are responsible for what you think and feel, and therefore for what you do, you will create a stressful life as you become dependent on external sources of stimulation in order to ‘feel’ OK. As your self awareness expands through the practice of meditation you will gradually learn to lessen your dependence on external ‘things’ for your feelings and begin to generate your own. Meditation reconnects you to you! Which really means ‘restores’ to your awareness your true nature, which is calm, contented, yet dynamic and alive. Within your true nature is the pulse of your heart, your spiritual heart, which is the intention to connect, to give, which is the ‘pulse of love’.
You begin to see exactly what you are doing within your consciousness that is disturbing your calm, killing your contentment and suppressing your aliveness. You will start to see what you have become attached to in the world and how that attachment is creating your sorrows and your fears. You will start to notice the never ending queue of desires and cravings that can never be satisfied but keep you in a state that swings between anxiety and frustration. You will become aware of your dependency on others, your judgments of others, your apparent inability to accept certain others, all of which sabotage your ability to connect and build mutually enriching relationships i.e. to be loving. You will begin to see the quality of your intentions, and in which areas of your life you have become selfish, revealing why you may be creating feelings of ‘stuckness’ and even the self perception of ‘victim’. And you will start to see how cheaply you sell your attention to so many superficial things in life, and how they drain energy and weaken resolve.
When you practice meditation you will see all these things if you remain open and if you want to see them. But when you read a list like this you are just as likely to think, “Why would I want to see all that?” And who could blame you because they all seem so negative and dark. But the reason is simple. They are disturbing your peace, distorting your capacity to give and receive love and they are killing your happiness. Each of these inner phenomena are like clouds that block the sun. They block out the light, warmth and beauty of your true nature. Behind such clouds, at the core of your being, you are deeply peaceful, immensely loving, infinitely wise and profoundly contented.
Once your awareness is relaxed, and your attention is gently concentrated, your meditation begins with watching, observing, witnessing the clouds in your consciousness. Not becoming lost in the patterns described above. Not hooking onto them and being dragged along by them. Simply watching. And as you do, you will start to ‘see through’ them and they will gradually cease to have power over you. You will cease to empower them and you will slowly but surely stop losing your attention and energy in what are unnatural aberrations within your consciousness. And then, into your awareness will come your true nature, which is clear, light, loving, peaceful and content. And when you allow those aspects of your true nature to inform and shape your thoughts, feelings and actions, even in the most challenge situations, then both the process and outcomes of day-to-day life become very different.
Patience, practice and perseverance are, as always, the keys to developing and deepening your meditation practice. And what might begin as an exercise in a chair for ten minutes a day will, in time, blossom into a capacity to be in the highest state of being anywhere, anytime. You cannot read books and go to seminars in order to learn to do this. Ultimately only you can teach yourself as the learning does not come from outside in but from inside out.
Meditation in Summary: Expect nothing in particular to happen just be interested in seeing whatever arises within consciousness, within the field of your awareness. Never compare your ‘insperience’ with anyone else and share only with another who is genuinely interested. Remember meditation is not an achievement. There is no arrival. No two meditation ‘insperiences’ can ever be the same, so never try to repeat them.
Meditation in Practice: Sit somewhere quiet. Relax. Concentrate attention. Watch what arises in consciousness. Do not hook onto anything that arises. Keep observing. Invoke your true nature which is peaceful, loving and content. Don’t attempt to hold on to it. Keep watching what arises. Notice when you are distracted, come back, and start again.
Meditation in Action: Meditation is the art of doing nothing and yet paradoxically you are doing the most profound act which is to restore your true state of being. Contemplate exactly what this means. Feed your contemplations with the experiences and wisdom of others as well as your own. But don’t attempt to imitate or even revere others reflections/experiences. They too were once a novice. Carve your own path.