Meditation does work. Millions of learned and loving people have practiced it throughout the ages, because it clears the mind and opens the heart. Highly educated priests and sages spent their lives pursuing and teaching the way to enlightenment. The techniques have been incorporated into the world's great philosophies and religions, and have been used by millions of people through the ages.
The current interest in meditation has inspired many modern teachers to simplify the ancient techniques, and to strip them of the cultural accretions of centuries. In this way, meditation has become accessible to people who may not wish to get involved in a religious tradition, but who do wish to change themselves and to improve the quality of their lives and relationships.
THE RIGHT CONDITIONS
The state of meditation can sometimes occur spontaneously, when all the conditions are just right. However, most of us need to work quite hard at our meditation techniques in order to get into the right frame of mind.
There are five basic requirements:
- the body must be comfortable and still
- the internal energies need to be in balance
- the mind must remain focused and not be allowed to wander
- the heart must be at peace
- you must wait patiently, without expectations
You first need to learn how to sit comfortably in a suitable position, and to practice this position until you can remain in it, relaxed yet alert, for half an hour or more.
You may need to practice breathing exercises to bring the internal energies into a state of harmony. Otherwise you will be hampered in your practice by restlessness of one sort or another — traditionally known as distractions.
You should focus your mind on one thing only, which can be an external or internal object. You should become aware of when your mind wanders — as it will — and gently bring it back into focus.
Your heart should become naturally peaceful and serene as a result of attending to your body, breathing, and mind. If it remains disturbed or unhappy, there are many techniques to help you to gain inner tranquility when negative emotions beset you.
Having got yourself ready for the state of meditation to arise in you, do nothing. Maintain your stillness and wait tranquilly — simply grateful for the opportunity to receive. You are like a radio receiver tuned in to catch whatever may come to you from beyond.
WHERE, WHEN AND HOW OFTEN
SHOULD YOU MEDITATE?
The first consideration is where to practice. Clearly you need somewhere quiet, where you can be sure you will not be interrupted — especially by the telephone. A special room would be ideal, with a notice on the door saying "Do not disturb". In some families, however, such a notice would be an invitation to teasing and constant interruption. Whatever place you designate, it should be comfortably warm, ventilated, and free from drafts.
Meditation practice involves sitting still, which causes the body temperature to drop, so you will need a light shawl or blanket to keep you warm. You will also need firm cushions to sit on, or a suitable stool or chair. Some people like to use flowers or incense, and perhaps music. You may want to keep special pictures or objects in your meditation space.
If you have to recreate this space from day to day, or to set it up wherever happens to be most convenient, then it is helpful to keep a special rug to delineate your meditation space. As you unroll it and set up your cushions, the atmosphere quickly changes — almost as though the heightened vibrations were preserved in the rug itself and unfolded into the air as you spread it out on the floor.
WHEN TO PRACTICE
The second consideration is time. When, in a normal day, can you expect to have half an hour or so to yourself? The meditation methods you choose will be influenced by how many people make demands upon your time, and by how long you can be alone during each day. Of course it is possible and valuable to meditate in a group — but this is usually in addition to private practice, and not as a substitute for it.
The traditional times for meditation are dawn and dusk. Some deeper reasons for this are explained in my book (see below), but there are also very practical reasons. In countries closer to the Equator, the seasons are not as variable as they are further north or south, so the rhythms of light and darkness provide a good framework for daily life. In rural communities, life is also lived by the passage of the sun and, in the days before electric light, it made sense for everyone to rise at dawn and to settle down for the night soon after dusk.
Despite time-changes and artificial daylight, it is still a good idea to practice meditation before you start your day and before you finish it. Can you meditate in bed? Some would say that they can not. But if you sleep alone, where else is as warm, private, and filled with your personal vibrations as your own bed? There is one important proviso, however: to meditate you must be both relaxed and wide awake.
In the morning you will probably need to set your alarm, allowing yourself time to wake up properly, wash, make ahot drink, sit bolt upright in bed with a shawl around you, and prepare your mind for meditation. Otherwise you will simply daydream — relaxed but not alert — and the precious time will be wasted.
The same considerations apply to meditation in bed before going to sleep. You can sit up and review the day in your mind, accepting all that has occurred to you, and all that you have said or done. Then let it all go, and do your meditation practice. Or you can read a few lines of an inspirational text, and let the meaning sink in without trying to "get your mind around it". Then do your meditation practice.
Most times of the day are suitable for meditation practice, as long as you can be in a relaxed but alert state. This is difficult after meals, though, or when you are upset or rushed.
HOW OFTEN TO MEDITATE
The third consideration — which may affect both place and time — is regularity, the building up of a firm habit. Once established, the habit of meditation becomes an important part of your life. So choose a place and time that you can stick to and practice in every day — unless something really exceptional prevents you.
There will inevitably be times when you have to miss a session, but carry on (especially at the beginning) working to establish regularity. It is worth the effort to overcome the strong habit of not practicing meditation. Most of us are quite happy to experiment with something new, and to do it when we feel like it. We are, however, usually resistant to changing our life-long habits, and so you will need determination to overcome this natural resistance.
Published by Ulysses Press, P.O. Box 3440, Berkeley, CA 94703-3440. Copyright ©1997 Doriel Hall.
About the Author
Doriel Hall has taught and practiced yoga and meditation from various traditions for many years, running a residential retreat center for this purpose. She is also the author of " Starting Yoga".