Meditation: What is it?
-And for those who try it, why does it seem so difficult?
These days it could be said that there are many mental excersises that go by the
name of meditation. There is health meditation, wealth meditation, psychic meditation,
healing meditation - and so on. There are also various devout forms of meditation that
could be called religious meditations that are more in keeping with spirituality. When
perfected, this form of meditation is called Savichara 'reflective' by Patanjali in his Yoga
aphorisms. Abstract meditations without a particular image, when perfected, he calls
Nirvichara 'super reflective', which ultimatly 'wipes out all other impressions'. The mind is
then perfectly still and open to intuitions of divine truth. This simple act of quieting the
chattering mind and letting it dwell in bare attention in order to transcend all mental
imaging could be thought of as true 'spiritual' meditation. So coming to grips with an
understanding of what spiritual meditation is, means considering what it isn’t.
If spiritual meditation is suspending the usual mental imaging and letting the
mind settle into bare attention, then meditation is not any of the following:
imagination, contemplation, cogitation, dreaming, revery, planning, and certainly not
affirming. Curiously, all these activities pass for meditation these days. When
meditation is defined as spiritual it naturally suggests that there are other meditations
that are not. The great Australian poet, C.J. Dennis, creator of the Sentimental Bloke
and Ginger Mick advises that type of meditation when he asks his readers in the
satire, The Glugs of Gosh, to:
Meditate deeply on softgoods or sex,
On Carraway seeds or the causes of bills,
Biology, art, or mysterious wrecks,
Or the tattered white fleeces of clouds on blue hills;
Muse upon ologies, freckles or fog,
Why hermits live lonely and grapes in a bunch,
On the ways of a child or the mind of a dog,
Or the oyster you bolted last Friday at lunch.
In keeping with our definition, contemplate or cogitate would have been better
words for the poet to use than meditate. The root of the word contemplate is to see
and cogitate is to think. Cogitate is an interesting one; it is a derivative of the word
agitate. Enough said.
Thinking is so much a habit and so important to us, that it is normal to think
that thinking is all and that a state of no thought is bordering on imbecility. If we
consider that we are a personality whose life depends upon thinking, a thought-less
state can seem like a death. The reason a true state of meditation is difficult to achieve
is because thinking is the most ingrained habit of all, though a little refection reveals
that what we are proud to call thinking is a rather superficial, repetitive and
mechanical function most of the time, and we are no worse off without it. That this is
a startling idea proves the point. If you are quietly aware, you will discover to your
surprise that you are often without discursive thought, and what’s more, it feels good.
Ordinary thinking is clouded with unknown conditionings, cultural overlays, blind
alleys or loops, second-hand or un-investigated opinions and notions, false or
conflicting desires and values, lurking fears, unseen errors of all kinds and is always
heavily weighted with egocentricity. It is humbling to realize that even at its best,
ordinary thinking is on the lowest level of human consciousness.
When all this grinding, friction-fraught, mostly pointless and repetitive
activity gets to be a burden, meditation is the instant antidote, which is reason enough
to try it even without a spiritual motive. The best motive for practicing meditation is a
simple one – for its own sake. It is beautiful, peaceful, serine, integrates the psyche
and feeds the soul. Marvellous things, unmotivated, unexpected and spontaneous
occur to a meditator, but never to a consciousness lost in mental dreaming. It is what
happens naturally when distraction is no more and one becomes concentrated. No
matter what the circumstances of their life, people who have found it are blessed. This
is not a mystical state or a fabulous goal requiring special powers, Spartan disciplines
or strange rites. It is like finding a priceless heirloom you put away for safe keeping
but forgot where.
The simple fact is that real beauty, joy, love and wealth lie beyond the mind
and this world, and meditation can reveal them. Most true poets find their inspiration
there. Here is how Emily Bronte describes her experience:
… But first, a hush of peace – a soundless calm descends;
The struggle of distress, and fierce impatience ends;
Mute music sooths my breast – unuttered harmony,
That I could never dream, till earth was lost to me.
Then dawns the Invisible; the Unseen its truth reveals;
My outward sense is gone, my inward essence feels;
Its wings are almost free – its home, its harbour found,
Measuring the gulf, it stoops and dares the final bound.
Oh! Dreadful is the check – intense the agony
When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;
When the pulse begins to throb, and the brain to think again;
The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain.
In all accounts of the non-verbal experience beyond thought, the state is one of
heightened awareness and sense of reality compared to which ordinary experience is
Alfred Lord Tennyson found his way to the beyond (which is right here) by
the simple expedient of repeating his own name to himself. One of his descriptions of
his experience reads:’Out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality the
individuality itself seemed to resolve and fade away into boundless being, and this not
a confused state, but the clearest of the clearest, the surest of the surest, utterly beyond
words, where death was an almost laughable impossibility, the loss of personality (if
so it were) seeming no extinction, but the only true life.’
Whether one reaches this state or not, an attempt at meditation is one of the
most relaxing things you can do, although to be true to it, it is not so much what you
do, but what you cease doing. That is what makes an attempt at true meditation so
hard for us. Used to a life of doing, where the ego is directing things all the time (or
thinks it is) with every action motivated by preference, desire and choice, we find it
hard, almost unthinkable; to let it all go and let be. To experience it is to know a
marvellous sense of freedom.
Everybody, everywhere, longs for this state, but it is always sought here, in
this world, where only its shadows exist. It is what we seek in pleasure, specially the
high-powered ones. Their constant failure to really satisfy our longing finally dawns
on us, and if our life is redeemable we seek a better way, by going direct. Though
doing something such as playing the violin or micro-surgery, requires great skill and
aptitude, everyone and anyone can do nothing …with a little practice.
Thousands, maybe millions of people have transformed their lives and
consciousness by practicing spiritual meditation. You can too.
Some preliminary doings are usually needed because few people could sink
into a state of dynamic attention simply by sinking into a state of dynamic attention.
We have to get used to the idea. Listening to beautiful, slow, serine music while
sitting comfortably in a pleasant place is a good start. Then pay a little attention to
relaxing the body and then watch the flow of breath for a while.
It is strange that one way to induce a meditative state is by the repetition of a
word or phrase and settling down to nothing else but the sound of it, while keeping all
thoughts in abeyance. Repetition is a way to sink slowly so we don’t become scared
of drowning in silence. A word can be used that has a special meaning for you, or a
word whose sound reminds you of good, quiet things, or one with a noble or spiritual
meaning. Words such as peace, love, joy.
In Yoga, there is a science of sound that has given rise to specific words
(mantras) used in meditation, but that is a complex subject. A few simple sounds are
all that is needed, such as the Sanskrit word for peace – Shanti. The syllables can be
accentuated, using ‘sharn’ on the in breath and ‘tee’ on the out breath.
Another excellent mantra is Hong Sau, said to be the vocal equivalent of the
inaudible vibration made by all humans as they breathe. Hong is the in breath and Sau
the out breath. This is simple, can be done anywhere and can accompany any
breathing rhythm. Hong Sau can be used to ground and centre you under stressful
conditions and it is well worth making it a habit.
The most powerful sound of all is the mystic syllable OM. It is the total of all
vocal sounds when separated into its three constituents of A, U, and M, because the
natural sound made with the throat relaxed and the mouth open is ARRR, with the
mouth half closed is AUUU and with the mouth closed is MMM. According to occult
anatomy, sound has a profound effect upon the centres of energy and consciousness in
the spine, with either harmful or beneficial effects. The AUM sound creates harmony
in the body-mind and relaxes the whole being. The chant is best sung aloud while
sitting up straight and relaxed. Take a breath and opening the mouth, let the air expel
smoothly while making the sound AR. As the mouth closes change to AUU and when
the lips come together make the MM sound. Let this sound fade away while putting
all your attention upon it and feeling it vibrate through your body. Focus on the
silence that follows until you must breathe again. Breathe in and repeat. Done this
way, it becomes a breathing exercise as well (pranayam).
When the repetition of OM becomes rhythmic and effortless and the breath
flows evenly and slowly, there will be a period of silence between each repetition. The
chant will then become softer and slower until it is almost inaudible and there is more
silence than sound. Finally it will fade out altogether, and only peace and silence will
If concentration is lost while using a mantra, not to worry, just bring the
attention back from its wanderings and focus on the sound again. When peace quietly
floods your being after breathing the word for a time and nothing else exists, then
meditation has begun. If you found that a bit difficult now comes the really hard part.
Stay with it. Don’t be tempted to manipulate it or wonder about it, because intentions
will separate you from it. Just appreciate it. The peace of meditation has its own
action, so let it be. It signals its own completion so when that happens, increase the
flow of breathing, open the eyes, have a good stretch and slowly become active again.
Hold the feeling of stillness as long as you can.
When you enter the field of action again, there will be a subtle change you
might not notice. Each time you meditate, going deeper, the more the benefits
accumulate, until one day it will become clear that you are not the same person that
you were when you started out to learn how to be still.
Meditation is potent prayer without images, formulas or supplications, for -
‘Be still and know that I am God.’(Ps.46:10). For some it is a relatively easy task to
meditate, for others it may take years, but even for those who find it easy it does not
mean the job is done. Meditation is a door to infinite potential and is best done
faithfully every day, throughout all the changes, challenges, joys, sorrows or
vicissitudes of life. No matter what comes, the faithful never lose heart.
It is possible that in this so-called 'materialistic' age there are more people than ever
before in the history of the world, devoutly spending time every day in meditation.
One way or another, it is the growth of Yoga throughout the world that is the cause. It
is a marvelous thought and bides well for the future no matter what the present
challenges are to life on the planet.