Because people have many different temperaments, many different meditative techniques have been developed. If you have never meditated, you might wish to try several of the following techniques to discover which one is the best for you. If you respond to music, you can try an instrumental meditation tape. If you are a visual learner, you might start with Tratak. In any case, get into the habit of meditating by setting aside quiet time each day.
Meditation is a time to let go of your daily tensions and anxieties, a time to let your mind and body relax and just be. It is also a time to gain insights into your inner resources.
Witnessing is the purest form of meditation. It is simply sitting in meditation and watching the thoughts that come and go without judging or commenting. It is interesting to see what our moment-to-moment thoughts consist of from a completely neutral position.
Vipassana is a Buddhist meditation that focuses on the rise and fall of the breath. Vipassana means “breath.” While the mind is engaged in focusing on your breathing it cannot focus on its usual distractions. In this meditation, your breathing should be gentle and regular. Just allow it to be the place where your mind is focused and enjoy the feeling of witnessing breathing rather than concentrating on it.
Zazen means “just sitting.” It is the basic meditation of Zen Buddhists, for whom the path of enlightenment is everyday life, lived with awareness and totality. Like all meditations, Zazen is a tool to help us rediscover the immediacy and freshness of ordinary life, as we did as children. In Zazen, you just sit and allow whatever happens to happen. Your mind will try to distract you with past and present concerns to take you away from fully experiencing the moment Zen Buddhists believe these transient throughts are “paper tigers” and that paying attention to them only gives them more energy. In Zazen, you gain a feeling of sitting and experiencing the fact that you are not the mind and can ignore its chatter at will. If your mind is particularly rebellions, you can give it a distraction to play with, such as concentrating on the breath.
Another device to still the mind so that you can experience directly is Tratak, or “gazing.” The object that you look at is not really important. Traditional objects include a lighted candle, a flower, a religious image, or a picture of a guru. The main point of the exercise is to keep your eyes on a central spot because not moving the eyes restricts the input of information for your brain to process. The idea is to keep your mind quiet by keeping your thoughts simple. When you start to think about something else, keep bringing your attention back to the object of your comtemplation. The goal of your meditation is to feel the quality of the object, to relax, and to enjoy what you are seeing.
Meditation is centered in the idea of relaxing and nondoing. When you are thinking, you may hear but you cannot truly listen. As you center your awareness in music, chanting, or natural sounds, you experience the essence of the sound, giving yourself the experience of emptiness, clarity, and receptivity.
In mantra meditation, you produce the sounds out loud or to yourself; either way, the sounds will produce an internal effect. In the Sanskrit language, man is translated as “mind” and tra means “protection.” The repetition of the mantra or sound evokes a deep and peaceful reaction throughout your body.
Mantras are energies that are thought to have always existed in the universe. They pass in succession from teacher to disciple in an unbroken chain. The mantra leads the way to meditation and to a state of nonduality. Two typical Eastern mantras are “Om” (I am) and “So-Ham” (I am That).
A mantra can be anything that you enjoy repeating. The words “flower” or “one” are often used, as are names of saints or great teachers. For example, “Om Namah Shivaya” means “the God within.” It should be repeated slowly, sounding each syllable: Om/Na/Mah/Shi/Va/Ya. Another, and perhaps the most widely used mantra in the world today, is “Om Mani Padme Hum.” In Sanskrit Om represents the universal energy or life-force, Mani means “jewel” or “crystal.” Padme means “lotus,” and Hum means “heart.”
Ram Dass, in The Only Dance There Is, explains this mantra as meaning: “The entire universe is like a pure jewel or crystal within the heat of the lotus flower, which represents myself, and it is manifest in my own heart.”
Choose a mantra that feels right to you. You can chant it out loud or repeat it subvocally. Mantras are often used in conjunction with the Vipassana to bring about a deeper meditation.
Meditation in Action
Everything can become a meditation, including the most ordinary everyday chores. What transforms daily activities into meditation action is awareness and wholeheartedness. The application of the Zen exhortation to give undivided attention to and really feel the quality of each of your actions is exemplified in the Japanese tea ceremony and the art of flower arranging. Being present in the moment imparts an unmistakable peace, effortlessness, and enjoyment to the “little things” that make up the greater whole of life.
Lisa Marie Coffey (Lissa Coffey) is a Certified Primordial Sound Meditation Instructor with the Chopra Center for Well Being.
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