“Without meditation, where is peace?
Without peace, where is happiness?”
Bhagavad Geeta Chapter II
Meditation is focusing the mind on some object. It involves looking inwards and focusing on the inner self. It quietens the busy mind. During meditation, the mind is calm and focused on the present – not on the past or the future. Meditation leads to relaxation – both physical and mental, even better than sleep does and this improves health and can alleviate various types of disease. It has been proven to reduce high blood pressure and other stress related symptoms. For maximum beneficial effects, meditation should be practiced in a regular way over a long period of time.
There are many methods of meditation practiced around the world. Most of the methods originating in Asia were derived from the Yogic methods of India. Meditation in India is called Dhyana. These meditation practices were taken to China by traveling monks and the word Dhyana became Chan in China and then Zen in Japan. There is a lot of similarity in all these methods of meditation, so the method outlined below will also aid with other methods of meditation.
A simple method of meditation for beginners is outlined here. This is based on the Yogic meditation methods taught by the Indian sage Patanjali, who compiled the Yoga Sutras (the authoritative text on Yoga) around two thousand years ago.
The first step in meditation is to calm the mind. Sit in a comfortable posture with your spine straight and upright. Lying down is not recommended. Close your eyes and think of some beautiful scenery. Then do some deep breathing – breathe in and out deeply in a slow and relaxed manner. Do not hold the breath either in or out and do not strain. Do this ten to fifteen times. (There are more advanced breathing techniques to aid meditation, but these should not be attempted without the guidance of a teacher).
After this breathing exercise, just sit quietly with your eyes closed and try to observe your thoughts. Your thoughts will be wandering, jumping from one train of thought to another. This is quite normal so do not get discouraged. Often you will get immersed in your thoughts and lose awareness of observing these thoughts. As soon as you realize this, start observing them again. Try to observe your thoughts as a detached observer without passing any judgment. Once you are able to do this, ask your self as to who is doing the thinking and who is doing the observing. Think about it for some time and you will realize that your real self is the observer and is distinct from your mind which is the observed object. Realizing that your real self is neither your mind nor your body, is a major step in your spiritual journey. This realization enables you to take a detached view of your thoughts and makes it easier to bring them under control. Until you know what your mind is doing, you cannot control it. For a few weeks of meditation practice try to observe your thoughts until you can observe them for a few minutes without getting immersed in them.
The next step is to meditate on an object. It could be a candle flame, flower, dot, religious icon, or the tip of your nose etc. Focus on the object for a few minutes and then close your eyes and try to visualize the object in your mind. As the object fades in your mind, open your eyes again and focus on the object for a short while before closing your eyes and visualizing it mentally. Over a period of time, you will find that you are being able to meditate on the object for longer and longer. Stray thoughts will often intrude upon your meditation. As you become aware of the stray thoughts, gently direct your mind back to the object of meditation. Each meditation session should typically last from fifteen to thirty minutes. The longer you can meditate on one object, the more focused your mind will become.
Once you are able to focus on the object of your meditation, to the exclusion of all other thoughts, for a significant amount of time (over five minutes of uninterrupted concentration), you are ready to advance to the next stage of meditation. This is best learned directly from a teacher.
The period just after the conclusion of your meditation practice is an excellent time to plan your day and to ponder over the problems or situations you are facing in your life. Often good solutions will come intuitively to you when you are in this state of mind.
For most people leading busy lives, the basic stage of meditation described above is sufficient to bring significant benefits in terms of health and well being and to induce a feeling of happiness. In the early stages of practice, the feeling of happiness wears off soon after the meditation session ends, but over course of time the effects are more prolonged. If time permits, practice meditation again in the evening or night. This second daily session will reinforce the beneficial effects of meditation. After a few months of this practice, you will find significant changes happening in life. Your approach to situations will be more tolerant, your relationships and health will improve and you will experience a sustained feeling of happiness.