Upon first glance you may be thinking that this is a step by step guide on how to meditate. This is not at all a treatise about a singular approach. My sense is that there is no such thing as the way to do anything, not the least of which is this ancient practice we call meditation. And frankly, that’s great news! Rather, what we will be exploring here is the myriad ways meditation can be practiced AND be equally effective for your own personal journey. Since I began meditating, well over thirty years ago when my parents “dragged” me to a Transcendental Meditation (TM) class along with them, (and I’m thanking them to this day) I’ve come to the conclusion that there are probably as many approaches to meditation as there are people partaking in its practice.
What is Meditation?
To meditate: is defined as: 1. To engage in contemplation or reflection; 2. To engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.(Merriam-Webster, 2011)
At its most basic level and now widely accepted understanding, meditation is simply stilling the mind and settling into the ever present “now.” When we also take into consideration that past and future are simply linear constructs and the present is all that exists (and persists), the process for focusing on the now can become a lot easier to experience and the practice of meditation far more effective. Perhaps it would be helpful to meditate on that concept, in and of itself.
In Echkart Tolle’s bestseller, The Power of Now, he explains, “Just become intensely conscious of the present moment. This is a deeply satisfying thing to do. In this way, you draw consciousness away from mind activity and create a gap of no-mind in which you are highly alert and aware but not thinking. This is the essence of meditation.”
Lynne McTaggart, author of The Intention Experiment gives a curiously similar summation as it pertains to the satisfaction of fully experiencing the ever present “now” which in the book she terms mindfulness. “More than just concentration, mindfulness requires that you police the focus of your concentration and maintain that concentration in the present. With practice, you will be able to silence the constant inner chatter of your mind and concentrate on your sensory experience, no matter how mundane – whether it is eating a meal, hugging your child, noticing some pain you are experiencing, or just picking some lint off your sweater.” She goes on, “In time, mindfulness meditation will also heighten your visual perceptions and prevent you from becoming numb to your everyday experience.”
Forms of Effective Meditation
Keep in mind that the practice of meditation aims at accomplishing a deeply contemplative or reflective state, peak awareness or mindfulness, for the purpose of developing a heightened spiritual attentiveness.
Being in Nature
Activities like a walk in nature, listening to birds sing, a jog amid a bright orange sunrise/sunset backdrop or listening to some deeply satisfying music can be incredibly effective in achieving a meditative state. I recall having a discussion with a business colleague about meditation as a form of personal development and empowerment. He quickly commented that his form of meditation involved taking a mid-dawn jog where he could “contemplate and prepare for the day.” Certainly, based on the definition highlighted above, this would constitute a meditative state.
There are a number of stimuli that can trigger an alteration of consciousness to induce a meditative state. Sound vibration is one that has become well known to modern practitioners in the west, although much of this approach is rooted in eastern traditional and indigenous cultures. A repetitive sound or tone, such as rhythmic drumming or a single note played repeatedly will enter the nervous system and then be translated by the brain altering its pattern, typically into an alpha brain state; the frequency that is typically associated with meditation. You can use instruments such as Tibetan singing bowls, tincha bells, or even your own voice (i.e. chanting) to achieve this state. I find it interesting that when I use tincha bells, they produce a very high, crisp pitch that I can actually feel reverberating throughout my body (being picked up by my nervous system). If struck repeatedly, this tone will begin to alter the brain pattern and can induce a meditative state.
Probably the first thing that comes to mind is yoga as a physical activity that incorporates mindfulness and focus with movement to achieve a peak state, but there are other examples of how physical movement can induce a meditative posture. I have seen individuals during ritualistic ceremonies do a variety of movements, such as rocking or swaying. If done repetitively and for prolonged periods, an alteration of consciousness can occur. There is something about repetition in each of these exercises, whether it’s reciting a mantra, chanting or physical movement, sustained for a period of time that again seems to act as a resonator with the brain – shifting it to another level of awareness.
Taking in an image and allowing one’s self to be fully engulfed or entranced by it is another effective way to enter the meditative state. Again, the goal is to pick a singular focus (that which we contemplate) at the exclusion of all possible mind intruders, to the point where that ever present now, and the object of focus within it, are all that exist.
I tried an interesting experiment some time ago where I took a photograph of a quartz crystal that I had. This crystal had many natural inclusions, rainbows and other appealing elements that I thought would be interesting to photograph. I was aware from my research that crystals carry a definitive set of frequencies that our own energetic system will vibrate with. Even when a crystal is photographed, its frequency is captured in the image and thus can have an effect on the observer. But here’s where it gets interesting. I then took the image of the crystal and put it into a kaleidoscope generator (an optical instrument that produces intricate shapes, patterns and colors), using non-other than a kaleidoscope application for my smart phone! The app generated this absolutely beautiful flowing mandala, which produced a constant motion and morphing of its design. I simply began focusing on the moving “mandala crystal,” allowing my entire being to be enveloped by its beauty and constant shifting patterns. The result was amazingly effective. I had achieved a meditative or even hypnotic state through gazing at this moving image!
There are indeed so many possibilities in the practice of meditation of which we can benefit.
In the next article, we’ll explore what we want out of our practice of meditation and how it can be beneficial to our overall well being.