According to Wikipedia, Meditation can be defined as “a state of concentrated attention on some object of thought or awareness. It usually involves turning the attention inward to a single point of reference.”
For me, meditation involves reaching a state known as ‘mind awake, body asleep.’ Several techniques may then be used to actually meditate including constant thought and attention on an object, symbol or a statement or, my favored approach, emptying of the mind to simply let images arise that are noted and then dismissed. I will discuss these two approaches in more detail in a later continuation of this dissertation.
To meditate properly, that is, to reach the correct state of ‘body asleep, mind awake’ is in fact quite difficult and some students have immense problems getting there at all. The key however to reaching such a state is relaxation.
Trying to truly relax in today’s hectic life can be very difficult but we all do manage it every night as we fall asleep. Unless one can enter a truly relaxed state is it difficult and arguably impossible to meditate and for that reason a lot of writers on the subject have spent a great deal of time talking about relaxation.
To properly relax and prepare for a state of meditation one must obviously remove oneself from all detractions. What is needed is a quite location where one will be undisturbed. Some people set aside a room or a space exactly for this purpose away from TV’s, other people and telephones. Some might seek an outdoor location that has a beautiful and peaceful view. Whatever your approach, it is key to find a location that to you is serene, peaceful and where you are unlikely to be disturbed.
Two approaches to relaxation work effectively for me and will be discussed here. Both involve adopting a sitting position with a straight backbone although the head can be dropped forward resting the chin on the top of the breast. The best and most effective position is one in which you sit in a comfortable chair with both feet placed on the floor, your back straight and your hands placed one on each leg. Initially, this might feel uncomfortable but it is the best position for a number of reasons.
The first approach uses a stepwise and progressive conscious method to relaxation. First, adopting the meditation position described above, take several slow and deep breaths. Initially, one can count mentally as follows; breath in slowly and deeply (one-two-three), breath out slowly and deeply (one-two-three). You can vary the count according to what feels comfortable. However, maintain this breathing for up to a minute until it becomes rhythmic and almost second nature.
Next, starting with the toes of each foot in turn, imagine that they are becoming totally relaxed. All tension in those toes is slowly disappearing and they are beginning to simply ‘float’. When you feel that this is achieved, concentrate similarly on your feet, next your legs up to the kneecap and so on all the way up your body until you finally reach your neck and head which will naturally flop onto your breast as described above.
Now check that all parts of your body are totally relaxed. You might feel now as if you are floating as opposed to sitting and if so, that’s good. Your body should be completely relaxed. Now, you must keep it that way and that means quite often that you must quite your mind. Try to stop all thinking and just be. If a thought pops into your head – suppress it immediately and empty your mind again. It’s good enough to simply practice this over a period of a few weeks until it becomes second nature before even starting to try to meditate. If you are successful, not only will it feel as if you are floating but you will also lose all impression of your body and become ‘mind awake, body asleep.’
The Liquid Method
A second approach is to adopt the same position but this time imagine that there is a way to pour liquid into your body at the top of your head and another valve at the base of your feet that can be used to empty the liquid out again. Now, imagine that a tank of green liquid is being poured into your body until this green liquid fills every part of your entire body. For a while, sit there knowing that your body is filled with green liquid – that liquid is clear and beautiful and it attracts stress. You will now begin to imagine and feel all the stress in your body start to come out of your body as the green liquid does its work. See the green liquid turn slowly cloudy and reddish-brown as the stress enters it from you body and feel how relaxed you are becoming in the process. When the liquid seems very reddish-brown and very cloudy, unlock the valve at your feet and let it pour away. Feel your body relaxing throughout this process and repeat it several times.
While these are my two preferred methods it should be noted that there are many other methods that can be used and you need to find the one that works for you. Once relaxed the next issue is staying relaxed. In my book I say more about this topic. The key is to make sure that you won’t be disturbed and to stay sort of empty headed as long as possible. However, if you start to tense up or lose the state of relaxation – don’t worry too much, just focus again on relaxing and remember, this takes practice and patience.
Stay posted for Part Two of The Art of Meditation coming soon.