What Is Meditation?
To meditate is to exercise one’s mind in order to integrate or “join together” all aspects of one’s being into a state of unity and wholeness. There are countless methods and forms of meditation, going back thousands of years. Yet, all of them have one central theme–which is to achieve a state of inner well-being that overflows into one’s outward life. Some traditions called this state “silence” or “inner peace,” while others refer to it as “enlightenment.”
What Are the Benefits of Meditation?
The regular practice of meditation allows one to move through each day with a greater internal peace and concentration. Instead of ones faculties being dissipated-which can lead to feeling “spread too thin”–one is able to maintain an inner focus and balance. Tasks and difficulties encountered in the normal course of a day can be met with calm resolve and quiet strength. Adverse circumstances can be dealt with appropriately, without lingering turmoil in one’s life.
Meditation is quite beneficial to artists, musicians and anyone seeking to be inspired in the creative process. When the mind is free from negative thought-patterns and unsettling emotions, one finds that wonderful new ideas flow to them clearly and with conviction.
On a very practical level, meditation frees one’s mind from superfluous clutter and confusion. Instead of the mind being barraged by countless thoughts clamoring for attention-one experiences an inner fortitude and sense of purpose that shows in their words and demeanor. In this unperturbed state, one finds that they are able to meet their daily schedule with undiluted effectiveness.
For those who have never practiced meditation, it is vital to understand that meditation does not initially have a goal other than improving one’s state of being. The reason I bring this up is that our western culture is goal and performance-oriented. We place much emphasis on our physical bodies, our careers, material possessions and other tangible aspects of our lives. As one tries to form a habit of meditating, one may feel that they are not “accomplishing anything” or “getting anywhere.” One may encounter frustration or resistance, because they are not “doing” anything. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that our self-worth is inextricably linked to our ability to produce. This mindset must be relaxed and let go, for meditation is about being, not doing. One should not expect to have some earth-shattering emotional experience or spiritual epiphany as confirmation that they are making progress. Meditation is about simply being, which then overflows into our outward lives, allowing us to be more successful in our jobs, relationships and everyday activities.
Phases of Meditation
No matter what method is practiced, one passes through phases of meditation. One begins by focusing on an external object and on the rhythms of their breathing. This object is usually a word or phrase, relaxing music, a peaceful scene or image, a candle or a set of prayer beads. The object acts as a “bridge” to inner stillness and moves one deeper into the next phase of meditation. In this first phase, one is quite aware of thoughts going through their head and of the sights and sounds around them.
One finds themselves becoming increasingly relaxed and still as one moves into the next phase of meditation. As distracting thoughts or emotions arise within, one does not attempt to engage or entertain them. One also does not attempt to fight them off or banish them. One simply allows them to come and go uneventfully as they return their focus back to the object of their meditation. A subtle transition is taking place. One hardly notices as thoughts begin to slow, surroundings and external stimuli fade. One becomes less and less aware of time, space and other such constraints.
As one slips into the next phase of meditation, one may realize they are no longer concentrating on the object of their meditation. The object served only as a catalyst to move one deep into a meditative state. As one moves into this state, the object becomes less and less, and finally is not needed anymore. Stillness and wholeness pervade ones being. One gains a sense of clarity heretofore unknown. One often finds in this phase that they have no need-they are supremely content to simply be. In my own personal experience, I was exuberantly surprised to discover that I truly could exist without needing. I had been so “tied” to many things in my life that I felt I needed to be happy. I needed love, approval, acceptance. I needed to belong. I needed relationships. I needed sex. I needed television shows and achievements and material possessions to gratify me. It absolutely floored me when I found, for the first time, that I did not actually need any of those things. In that quiet place of meditation, I had no needs.
Meditation and Music
Music can be a tremendous aid to meditating, especially if one is naturally fond of music or is musically inclined. The music one chooses to play while meditating does not have to be particularly spiritual-sounding or ethereal. What is important is that one is keenly aware of how different styles of music affect them. Obviously, one would not want to blare an acid rock album while seeking a state of meditation. One should also not choose music, with or without lyrics, that carries emotionally-laden meaning or connotation. One should choose musical works that are relaxing and unobtrusive. If one chooses music that brings on highly-charged thoughts or memories, then one is defeating the purpose of their meditation.
Meditation Music1 is an internet site that features free, streaming meditation music as well as compact discs of music for sale. Bliss Music2 is another internet site that sells quality meditation music on compact disc as well as provides many free, full-length samples of meditation music; and the Meditation CD Room3 of the Worldwide Online Meditation Center4 offers an eclectic array of meditation music resources ranging from atmospheric music to guided relaxation CD’s to audio instruction courses on meditation.
5 Methods Of Still Meditation:
First, let me establish that there are two broad categories of meditation: moving mediation and still meditation. Moving meditation takes such forms as Tai Chi, Yoga and meditative dance. In this article, I am dealing primarily with still meditation.
With still meditation, ones body does not move; and eventually, one’s mind does not move either-it is still. One sits, stands or reclines in a comfortable position and takes deep, rhythmic but unforced breathes in and out through the nose.
The Sitting or Zazen Meditation Method
To practice the Sitting Meditation method, sit comfortably on a chair/couch with your feet flat on the ground or sit on the floor with your legs crossed. Rest both of your hands (one on top of the other) palms down on your diaphragm.
Decide on an object for your meditation. You may choose to concentrate on the music playing (if you are using music), or the flame of a lit candle in front of you. You may also choose to concentrate on a beautiful picture or some other small object in front of you of aesthetic value. Now breathe slowly and evenly in and out through the nose. In addition to focusing on your meditation object, also focus on your breathing and on your diaphragm rising and falling under the palms of your hands. As thoughts arise in your mind or extraneous noises arise from your surroundings, simply dismiss them and return your focus to the object of your meditation.
Meditation Using Prayer Beads, Malas or Rosaries
Prayer beads, which are also called malas or rosaries in different traditions, have been used for many centuries as an aid to meditation. Prayer beads are believed to have originated in the Hindu tradition, but have since been used by many others throughout the world.
Malas are prayer beads often used in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions. The word “mala,” is Sanskrit for “garland” or “garland of roses.” It is widely believed that the English word, “rosary,” is derived from either this Sanskrit term or from the Latin word rosarium, which also means “garland of roses.” In Russia, prayer beads or prayer ropes are known as “chotke.” In Greece, prayer beads or prayer ropes are known as “kombvoskeene.” In the Mohammedan tradition, prayer beads are called “tasbih.” Catholics and Anglicans/Episcopalians refer to prayer beads as “rosaries.”
Prayer beads are useful because they serve as a tactile meditation object and also because they aid the user in saying a prescribed number or routine of set prayers/mantras.
Malas consist of one hundred and eight beads. Malas have one bead, which is larger than the others. It is called a meru. Malas are usually used to chant a Sanskrit mantra, which is repeated each time that a bead in the mala is touched. The chanter holds the first bead in the mala between their thumb and middle finger and utters their chosen mantra, then moves their fingers to the next bead, repeating the mantra. When the chanter has gone all the way around the mala, they have uttered the mantra one hundred and eight times. At that point, some chanters then reverse directions and proceed back around the mala, chanting their mantra another one hundred and eight times. To add variety, many chanters will alternate the volume of their voice, chanting their mantra first loud, then soft-and even inaudibly. Two of the most common universal peace chants practiced with a mala are the Sanskrit mantras “Hari Om” and “Om Shanti.”
Catholic rosaries are divided into sets of ten beads called “Decades.” Anglican rosaries are divided into sets of seven beads called “Weeks.” Both types of rosaries begin with a cross followed by one or more “invitatory” beads before the actual circle of rosary beads begins. The Decades of the Catholic rosary and the Weeks of the Anglican rosary are separated by beads called “cruciforms.” The Catholic rosary consists of fifty-nine beads, whereas the Anglican rosary consists of only thirty-three beads. Catholics use their rosaries to recite a specific liturgy, an example of which can be seen here.5 Anglicans also recite predefined liturgies but are more flexible, allowing the reciter to customize their prayers to fit various needs and circumstances. An example of several Anglican rosary prayers can be seen here.6
It is important to keep in mind that the purpose of all prayer beads-no matter what the tradition-is to help one reach a state of quiet contemplation. Some people also use prayer beads to make petitions to a god, saint or deity.
The Sound or Mantra Meditation Method
Sound or Mantra Meditation uses the sound of your voice as the object of your meditation. Choose a word, a phrase or even a single syllable that is easy to pronounce and that carries a positive connotation for you. Some commonly-used phrases in English would be: “I am (as you inhale)…at Peace (as you exhale),” “Love,” “Peace to All,” “Simply (as you inhale)…Be (as you exhale),” “All is well (as you inhale)…and All Shall Be Well (as you exhale).”
Sit comfortably, as outlined in the Sitting method previously discussed, or recline with your head and shoulders slightly elevated. Breathe slowly and evenly in and out through the nose and whisper your word or phrase in a barely audible voice. You will know that you have spoken your object long enough when you can stop speaking it with your mouth but continue speaking it on the inside (in your mind). Eventually, you will become still and relaxed and you will not need to speak it at all. With enough practice, your sound object becomes deeply ingrained within you, and you will be able to “recall it” at any time that you want to still your thoughts or relax.
The Alternate-Nostril Breathing Method
The Alternate-Nostril Breathing method stimulates the right and left hemispheres of the brain, alternately. Breathing through the right-nostril stimulates energy and creativity; while breathing through the left nostril calms and relaxes you. This method is quite easy to practice and can be a great way to wind down at the end of a busy day.
Sit or recline comfortably and block your right nostril with your knuckle. Take four deep, slow, even breathes in and out through your left nostril; then remove your knuckle from your right nostril and block your left nostril. Again, take four deep, slow, even breathes in and out-but this time through your right nostril. Continue to alternate from nostril to nostril, placing your focus upon the methodical rhythm of your breathing. I have heard some practitioners claim that specific fingers of the right hand need to be used to block the nostrils; but I have found this method to be effective no matter which finger I use. After all, if you are busying yourself with whether or not you are using the correct finger and whether you are doing everything just right, you are distracted and your focus is not where it should be.
The Shabad Kriya Method
The Shabad Kriya Method uses a combination of sound, breathing and a focal point at the tip of the nose to achieve a meditative state.
To practice the Shabad Kriya method, sit comfortably in a cross-legged position or with your feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes and touch the tip of your nose with your finger. Now mentally focus on the spot where you are touching your nose, then remove your finger. Try to keep your mental focus on that spot. Whenever you lose the focus, gently touch the tip of your nose with your finger. Your sense of touch will aid you in mentally focusing on that spot until you are able to keep your focus there. Lay your hands in your lap, one on top of the other-either palms up or palms down.
Keeping your mental focus at the tip of your nose, slowly inhale through your nose in four even parts. As you inhale in four parts, audibly utter the phrase, “Sa-Ta-Na-Ma.” “Sa Ta Na Ma” is a Sanskrit phrase meaning “Truth.” After inhaling, hold your breathe and utter “Sa Ta Na Ma” four more times, for a total of sixteen syllables. Breathe out through your nose, this time exhaling in two even parts. As you exhale, utter the phrase “Wa-He Gu-Ru.” “Wa He Gu Ru” is a Sanskrit phrase meaning “Ecstasy.” Repeat this exercise until it becomes effortless and you are able to utter the phrases in your mind only (inaudibly). Continue the exercise until you reach a state of silence and relaxation and the phrase is no longer needed. Sit and rest in the silence for at least several minutes.
For those who are interested, additional resources on meditation can be found in the Meditation Bookstore7 and in the Meditation Gift Shop8 of the Meditation Spot9 web site.
1. Meditation Music, http://www.meditationmusic.co.uk, Meditation Music.co.uk. Internet radio providing music for meditation
2. Bliss Music, http://www.bliss-music.com, Meditation Music | Free Meditation MP3 Downloads
3. Worldwide Online Meditation Center, http://meditationcenter.com/tapes/index.html, Meditation CD and Tape Room
4. The World Wide Online Meditation Center, Worldwide Online Meditation Center, Meditation Center
5. Eternal World Television Network, http://www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/prayers/rosary/how_to.htm, EWTN- The Holy Rosary
6. King of Peace Episcopal Church, http://www.kingofpeace.org/prayerbeads.htm, King of Peace – Anglican Prayer Beads
7. The Meditation Spot, http://www.meditationspot.com/bookstore.html, Meditation Bookstore
8. The Meditation Spot, http://www.meditationspot.com/giftshop.html, Meditation Giftshop
9. The Meditation Spot, http://www.meditationspot.com/, Meditation Spot