From the time I was a young boy, probably from about the age of 5, I was exposed to meditation through my grandfather mainly. I remember being really young, waking up before dawn to the sounds of “Ohms”, other chants and Hindu prayers. I remember waking up, walking half asleep towards where the sounds were coming from, and sitting behind him, watching him as he went through his normal morning ritual. At that age I could only wonder what the purpose of all that was.
As I grew up, I began to occasionally follow along with my grandfather’s morning meditation and I mean really occasionally. Waking up at 4:30am was NOT something I was willing to do for some seemingly irrelevant ritual in my life. I was also exposed to seeing my Uncle, who used to visit occasionally, doing his yoga practice in our home. All this of course, began to raise the curiosity in me about why these to important people in my life would spend up to an hour or two every day with these ancient and time tested practices.
Doubtless, as a result of those very early exposures and conditioning to yoga and meditation I now find myself very involved in it myself. It’s interesting how such seemingly insignificant experiences in our life, even the ones that we almost don’t remember anymore or even don’t remember can have such a huge impact in our lives in every way. Those seeds planted way back then have resulted in me taking steps towards not only making yoga and meditation a huge part of my life, but also to share and teach others more about it.
Naturally, you will find, as this article progresses, that my intent is not to frame what meditation is or is not? You will find that whilst I offer descriptions on how meditation is done in various traditions and methodologies, I offer no fixed way to do it. My intent is to share my journey through meditation, more specifically, the journey of my thought process through meditation, through a life of meditation. The outcome, as it meant to be, is up to you…. Enjoy!
What is meditation?
Since for this article I’ll be talking mainly about meditation, let me begin first of all by giving you what you will find on Wikipedia:
"Meditation is a mental discipline by which one attempts to get beyond the reflexive, "thinking" mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness. Meditation often involves turning attention to a single point of reference. It is a component of many religions, and has been practiced since antiquity. It is also practiced outside religious traditions. Different meditative disciplines encompass a wide range of spiritual or psychophysical practices that may emphasize different goals—from achievement of a higher state of consciousness, to greater focus, creativity or self-awareness, or simply a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind. The word meditation comes from the Indo-European root med-, meaning "to measure”. From the root med- are also derived the English words mete, medicine, modest, and moderate. It entered English as meditation through the Latin "meditatio", which originally indicated any type of physical or intellectual exercise, then later evolved into the more specific meaning "contemplation”. Eastern meditation techniques have been adapted and increasingly practiced in Western culture. It can often be associated with other practices such as yoga or pilates, which relax both the mind and body."
Meditation has long been associated to a way to achieve enlightenment, nirvana, or that special place of serenity that so many of us search for in our lives. Millions of people all around the World search for that ultimate end state of enlightenment, serenity or nirvana and they do it through a variety of ways. For some that way is prayer, for some it is through rituals, for some it is meditative practices.
Meditation has been defined as: "self regulation of attention, in the service of self-inquiry, in the here and now”. The various techniques of meditation can be classified according to their focus. Some focus on the field or background perception and experience, often referred to as "mindfulness"; others focus on a preselected specific object, and are called "concentrative" meditation. There are also techniques that shift between the field and the object.
In mindfulness meditation, you would sit comfortably and silently, centering your attention on where you are, not specifically focusing on anything in particular but noticing what arises – just noticing. You would simply sit or lie down or stand and notice what comes up without having any particular attachment to anything that arises in your mind or outside of yourself, in your environment. One could call it “an open unattached awareness of everything”. You would be encouraged to maintain an open focus, like so:
“... shifting freely from one perception to the next clear your mind of all that bothers you no thoughts that can distract you from reality or your personal being... No thought, image or sensation is considered an intrusion”.
You, with a 'no effort' attitude, would be asked to remain in the here and now. Using the focus as an attention 'anchor'... brings you constantly back to the present, avoiding cognitive analysis or fantasy regarding the contents of awareness, and increasing tolerance and relaxation of secondary thought processes.
Concentration meditation on the other hand is used in many religions and spiritual practices. Whereas in mindfulness meditation there is an open focus, in concentration meditation, you would hold attention on a particular object (e.g., a repetitive prayer) while minimizing distractions; bringing your mind back to concentrate on the chosen object.
Meditation can be practiced while walking (walking meditation) or doing simple repetitive tasks as done in the Zen tradition. Walking meditation helps break down habitual automatic mental categories, “thus regaining the primary nature of perceptions and events, focusing attention on the process while disregarding its purpose or final outcome”.
When using repetitive tasks as an act of meditation there is a distinction to be made however. If you look around you, not at yourself but at other people you know around you, you will notice many people just aimlessly going through the repetitive tasks of their everyday life. They act mostly without thought, almost like in a “trance”, in automation. This is NOT a form of meditation. It is a form of “trance”, yes, but not what is known to be as meditation. In the Zen tradition, the use of repetitive daily tasks as a form of meditation works in that the practitioner puts every ounce of their attention, every cell of their body into the act they are performing. This develops the muscles and strength “to be”, completely in that process, that act. There is no wandering of the mind.
In a form of meditation using visualization, such as Chinese Qi Gong, the practitioner concentrates on flows of energy (Qi) in the body, starting in the abdomen and then circulating through the body, until dispersed.
Some meditative traditions, such as yoga or tantra, are common to several religions.
But really how valid is all this? How valid is all this now, in this day and age? And how valid is this in your life? Does enlightenment or that place of nirvana really exist? If it does, how do I get there? How do we all get there and by when can we get there?
My take on it
Whilst I am in agreement with the general consensus and what has been passed down from generation to generation from the ancients, I would add or elaborate on a couple of things.
You can meditate on anything. You can use any method you want to meditate. You can use any act that you so naturally do and make it a meditation for you. Every moment of your life is meant to be in meditation – meditating on every single moment of your life. You “be” fully in every single moment and at the same time that moment may involve a thought about the future. And if that moment involves a thought about the future, then “be” in that thought fully. Isn’t that absolutely concentration and at the same time open awareness? If
I’m hallucinating right you just answered “Yes”.
But wait! There’s more! Does “being” in whatever thought that arises mean I stay in those thoughts and accompanying emotions? No, because that would inevitably involve attachment to something, someone, some experience, or whatever else that has arisen inside or outside of you. If you ask me, I would say, yes, it is tricky. It is kind of like a slippery eel most of the time. As you sit and meditate and just as you begin to go into
that state of “just being” in the moment of non-attachment, as soon as it occurs to you what is happening and that you’re in that state, you come out of that state. It seems like the non-attachment works both ways – you can’t be attached to any thoughts and at the same time you can’t be attached to the “no thoughts” space you enter.
So maybe it isn’t about thoughts or no thoughts then. Maybe it isn’t about being attached or non-attached. Maybe it is about sitting for 15 minutes or a half hour a day or not. Maybe it isn’t about anything that all these ancient texts and generations have passed down throughout the eons. Could it be that what meditation is about, is just really to live?? Could it be that whatever “live” means to you or to me, is just perfect and right for this moment now, for this experience now and for this life now? Could it mean that if, you can now, float up nice and high, nice and high out above your body and look down at the bigger picture of life and everything that there is, the whole sequence of events and understand it all in one instance – you will see that there is nothing right now that is imperfect, that everything is just right where it needs to be and how it needs to be at the moment and that you just need to embrace if fully, wholeheartedly?? Could this be true meditation? Could this be the ultimate meditation? Could this be the ultimate path to Serenity, Enlightenment or Nirvana?
My hallucination to that answer is “YES”. Of course I will never know the real truth of it but if I were to just “Stop Now and Look at my Life”, I would see and realize that all the non-enlightenment, non-peace, non-serene experiences and moments of my life have arisen from only one thing – non-acceptance of what is, the present moment, the present circumstances, the present experience.
So how do you get to that place of Enlightenment or Serenity Now? Just live! Just embrace whatever comes. I enter here a quote from J. Krishnamurti:
"My mind wanders. Why? I want to think about a picture, a phrase, an idea, an image, and in thinking about it I see that my mind has gone off to the railway or to something that happened yesterday. The first thought has gone, and another has taken its place. Therefore I examine every thought that arises. That is intelligent, isn't it? But you make an effort to fix your thought on something. Why should you fix it? If you are interested in the thought that comes, then it gives you its significance. The wandering is not distraction - do not give it a name. Follow the wandering, the distraction, find out why the mind has wandered; pursue it, go into it fully. When the distraction is completely understood, then that particular distraction is gone. When another comes, pursue it also. When the mind follows and understands every thought there is no distraction, and then it is quiet. Only in freedom can the mind be silent. When the mind is silent, not only the upper part, but fully; when it is free from all values, from the pursuit of its own projections, then there is no distraction; and only then reality comes into being."
Reading the above quote it is easy to imagine pursuing and following the wandering mind when it takes us to pleasant places. But what happens when the mind takes us to what we don’t want to see, hear, feel or remember? It is then that the tendency is to try to distract ourselves. It is then that we need most to accept, embrace and live fully whatever it is that comes. This is certainly a muscle that needs to be strengthened for most of us – for some people just a little, for some a whole lot more.
Thank you… Peace...
Mahindra Raj is a former commercial pilot who has found his greatest fulfillment in helping others transform and to realize their highest and truest selves. He now lives in Mexico City, coaching people, teaching yoga and meditation, and teaching what he has learnt.