Meditation is rightly considered an excellent practice for spiritual and personal growth. It is easy to begin, and yet there is endless scope for the accomplished practitioner to go ever deeper. Hence, a meditation practice suited to your personal needs is highly recommended.
There is a vast scope within the world of meditation. At one end of the range is the simple focusing of attention upon the flow of
the breath. At the other end are the highly complex visualizations of entire mandalas complete with highly ornate Buddhas and guardian beings, performed by advanced Tibetan Buddhist adepts.
Between these boundaries, we have a rich range of practices suitable for all, at every stage of the path. Whether it be a visualized path-working derived from myth or dream, or a shamanistic inner quest under the guidance of your totem animal, or simply following the rise and fall of your own thoughts, there is a practice just right for you right now.
On a purely physical level, meditation is tremendously beneficial. Studies indicate that long-term meditators can slow down, and even reverse, some of the traditional biological markers of aging. The physical age of some meditators can be as much as 10-20 years behind their chronological age.
Regular meditators also experience a sense of enhanced peace and tranquility in life. They enjoy an increased ability to cope with external pressures. A brief meditation period before the day begins is an excellent way to prepare for everything that lies ahead. By doing so, you set the tone, and create the inner atmosphere, that you take with you throughout the day.
However, the physical planes in which we habitually live are only the grossest levels of existence. There is a vast continuum of consciousness, and other levels to the universe, of which we remain largely unaware in the course of our daily lives. The only way to become aware of these other levels of reality is to turn inwards. This is what the shamans around the world have been doing for countless millennia. Hence, meditation may be described as a doorway that leads past the illusion of material reality to the truth of all existence.
Meditation also helps to unlock your inner genius. We all have buried within us abilities and wisdom that we never use. It is
only through a process of relaxing and going within that we can start to contact these vast inner resources. This is one of the key secrets of every great achiever in every field of life.
If you have never meditated before, and are unsure where to begin, here are a few simple pointers. You are recommended to consult more detailed books, or a live meditation teacher, as soon as you are able.
To start with, you should establish a definite place and time. Developing a regular time is important. You want to build this practice into a regular habit, and not leave it as a once in a while diversion, when you have “nothing better to do”. Make an appointment with yourself to do this EVERY day, at least once a day. It does not have to be very long: even fifteen minutes is quite adequate when you are getting started.
As regards place, it is good if you can reserve a space in your home for this work. A separate room would be perfect. However, if you cannot do this, then at least try to reserve an small area of one room for this purpose. You could even go outside if necessary. Wherever possible, try to select a place where you are unlikely to be disturbed, and which is quiet. Highly experienced meditators can practice in the middle of a busy street. However, when you are starting out, some peace and quiet is essential.
When you seat yourself, try to make comfort balanced with alertness the priority. You want to find a position you can remain in for some time without excessive fidgeting. It doesn’t have to be a lotus posture, unless this work for you. Simply sitting on the floor cross-legged, or even sitting upright in a chair, works fine. Avoid lying on your back, as you are likely to drift off to sleep. Your eyes should either be closed, or else only slightly open, with heavy eyelids.
Here are two simple processes that you can commence with, but which can stay with you for the rest of your life. Do not be deceived by their apparent simplicity. They are deep, powerful and highly purifying to the mind.
The first is to simply follow your breathing. This is a technique recommended by the Buddha himself, and by countless teachers after him. With eyes closed, you focus your attention ever more carefully on the rising and falling of your breath. Throughout this process, you should be breathing from your abdomen, which rises and falls with every inhalation and exhalation. One variation is to follow the breath in through your nostrils, then down into your lungs, being aware of them filling up, and then out through your mouth as your lungs deflate. Hence, you follow the path of your breath through your body. Another variation is to focus solely on your nose, and actually feel the passage of your breath through it alone. If you do, you will feel your nostrils cool slightly as you inhale, and warm slightly as you exhale.
The other process you can work with is to just be aware of the passage of your thoughts. You will find that thoughts will intrude anyway during your meditation periods. So why not make some positive use of them? In this practice, the purity of your consciousness is like the clear blue sky across which your thoughts, like clouds, arise and disappear. As you work with this process, you will come to realize that it is not really YOU who is thinking. Rather, thoughts seem to arise by themselves within the mind, from a wholly different source.
In this latter practice, it is important to not get caught up with the train of thought and get carried away. Rather, you are playing the part of the detached observer, watching your thoughts, rather as you might watch the motion of waves upon the ocean.
What happens if, during either the breathing meditation, or the observation of your thoughts, you happen to get carried away with daydreaming? That is fine. As soon as you become aware of it, simply return to the meditation.
As you continue, you will find your practice improving. You will be able to meditate for longer. Your mind will become more focused, and ever less distracted and carried away with thinking. You will find yourself more tranquil and calm in your sessions, and throughout the day.
By engaging in either, or both, of these meditation exercises regularly, you will experience tremendous mental, physical, and spiritual benefits. Indeed, you will carry this happy mental state out of the formal session and into your life. Meditation is the foundation upon which you can build a happy and spiritually enriched existence. Try it for yourself and see.
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