Meditation is not what you think!
It is not trying to stop or empty the mind, but learning to dis-identify from thoughts and emotions and loosening the hold they have on us. These constantly arise, change and disappear – like the weather, but are not what we are. As we learn how to give less attention to the content of the thinking /feeling mind, we learn to take it less seriously. We can thus gain access to the wisdom and insight of the intuitive, 'higher' mind and become more aware of the state of being beyond mind.
(Scroll to the bottom for a free pdf to download.)
Through meditation we can learn to be the master of the mind, rather than a victim of the incessant push and pull of craving and aversion, desire and fear!
There are many techniques to help us attain the state of meditation, most of which fall into 2 basic categories: Focused Attention and Open Awareness.
Focused attention gives the mind something to do to keep it present and occupied. It can be helpful to imagine the mind as being like a small child, which gets up to mischief when bored and unoccupied. Just as trying to force a small child clamouring for attention, to be quiet, trying to force the mind to be quiet will make the clamouring worse. It is more effective to give it something to occupy itself. The mind needs to be trained with regular practice, patience, kindness and compassion.
Initially the mind will constantly wander off, but with compassionate acceptance and patient, regular practice it begins to stay still and focused for longer, to quieten and remain in the state of stillness and absorption that is meditation.
Focused attention is often easier for beginners. Techniques include:
• Mantra repetition as in Transcendental Meditation (TM)
• Mindfulness – of breathing (Anapanna) / walking / eating / .....
• Vipassana witnessing the constantly changing flow of body sensations
• Chakra focus (usually the navel, heart or brow)
• Tratak – gazing steadily at a fixed point e.g. a candle flame
• a combination of several of the above
Open awareness is passively observing all that is happening in our awareness, acknowledging and accepting EVERYTHING, just as it is – without engaging, analysing, judging, resisting or getting sucked into a story and allowing thoughts to come and go, without following them. If judgment, resistance and being sucked into a story etc. do arise, to acknowledge and accept those too, as part of what is happening. In this way we become familiar with the unchanging Witnessing Consciousness.
It can be helpful to imagine the mind is like a TV set on in the room, which you are aware of, but choosing to not pay attention to. From time to time it may distract you for a while, and the practice is to also acknowledge and accept 'distraction arising'. Eventually this happens less and less as the mind becomes still.
This process does not have to be restricted to silent sitting meditation. You can turn normal daily activities into meditation, e.g. eating or walking to work while being completely present with the sensations, rather than lost in thoughts.
Yoga nidra is a guided relaxation, which takes you to the awareness state that is meditation. It is a more accessible form of meditation for many people and a helpful preparation for more formal sitting meditation.
Guided visualisation is often referred to as meditation, although it is more a form of hypnosis, used to develop a quality, such as loving kindness, or for healing, to gain insight into a particular issue, to deal with difficult emotions or as preparation leading into meditation.
You can download a free pdf of a short preparatory yoga sequence, with instructions for a visualisation to clear the heart of negative emotions, leading into meditation.