by Agastya Seward
The importance of meditation has been taught from time immemorial, and today, meditation is more relevant than ever. The West has had many great meditation teachers and currently the United States is experiencing renewed interest in meditation, as more people are closing their eyes and looking within for relief from pressures of everyday life.
Scientific research has demonstrated that meditation has significant psychological, physiological and sociological benefits, as well as reducing stress, increasing energy and improving mood and physical performance. Meditation is a technique that reduces mental activity, bringing quietness to the mind and deep rest to the body. The mind and body are connected; massage the body and the mind relaxes. When the body rests, it eliminates stress and fatigue, a phenomenon we experience nightly. Meditation does not replace sleep, but by deeply quieting the mind, it can produce a profound state of rest and rejuvenation.
All too often the mind is running uncontrollably, consuming energy and creating anxiety. With regular meditation practice, it is possible for the mind to be at peace when it is not being used.
Of the many types of meditation, one thing they all have in common is focusing of attention. Contemplation focuses on a specific subject in search of understanding. Mantra meditation involves one pointed attention on the oral or mental repetition of a sound. Dhyana, the Sanskrit word for meditation, refers to a specific kind of meditation which concentrates the mind by gently focusing the attention between the eyes.
Meditators may differ in their opinion as to which form of meditation is best. However, any type of mantra or focusing meditation performed correctly can produce excellent results by quieting the mind and energizing the body. The most beneficial meditation practice is the one that is done consistently. Anything that focuses the mind on one thing without analysis or judgment can be a preliminary form of meditation—music, dance, devotion and selfless service. When attention is focused and the mind is not required to do anything, the mind will become quiet.
In more advanced meditation, when thoughts, concepts, feelings and imaginations of the mind recede completely, we become the consciousness that perceives or witnesses the thoughts projected in the mind. That consciousness, by nature, is secure and supremely peaceful. The realization of consciousness as our real self is said to be the ultimate goal of meditation.
Four Important Meditation Steps
1) Make time for regular meditation practice. To get the sweetness, we must chew the fruit.
2) Don’t try too hard. We are accustomed to making effort when we want to accomplish something. Meditation works differently. Try less to accomplish more. A mind that has habitually been over-stimulated will take time to settle down. Dedication and patience wins.
3) Don’t engage thoughts, analyze or make judgments during meditation. Just watch or listen. The mind will drift off the mantra or area of focus, at which time the only thought one needs to entertain is the thought to effortlessly return to thinking the mantra or focusing the attention. Meditation is repeatedly doing this process.
4) Avoid habitual fatigue, stress and poor diet. These are the enemies of a healthy life and meditation. If we feel sleepy or tired after meditating, it could be because our body is getting needed rest, or it could be normalizing our nervous system. If it persists, it may be necessary to reevaluate life habits.
How to Develop a Regular Meditation Practice
Get proper instruction. Meditation is fundamentally a very simple process, but it’s important to have the confidence of knowing it’s being performed properly. Set a time, duration and place to meditate and be disciplined in the commitment to practice regularly, preferably daily. Within a few months, meditation can become as habitual as brushing teeth.
Try participating in a meditation intensive or retreat, which offers the opportunity to increase meditation time and to deepen personal experience. Once we experience the peace of heart and clarity of mind that is possible with meditation, we will not want to miss it. The benefits of meditation, regardless of our subjective experience in meditation, come spontaneously as a result of taking time to quiet the mind. Real happiness is an inside job.
Agastya Seward’s teacher, Shiva Rudra Balayogi, will be visiting Austin to teach meditation. For information, visit SRBY.org.