MINI TOUR OF WHAT MEDITATION IS
By Sue Elliot and Chris Faugere
What is meditation?
- Several traditions: Root in Shamanism. Indian Yoga, Buddhism (derived from Yoga), and Christian Mysticism.
- Common ground: the search for communion with God begins within oneself.
- Meditation is to turn your awareness within. Standing in the eye of the storm.
- Why do people come to meditate? Often as a result of a sense of not being fulfilled, the source of which has not been located using other means.
- Many meditation techniques:
a) Concentration meditation: on the breath, on sound of waterfall, on a sound, music or phrase (a mantra) or on passing thoughts. Eastern traditions (Yoga, Zen Buddhism). The goal is to arrive to a state of no-thought and peace. No-thought is seen as the gap that allows creation.
b) Visualization meditation: more like Christian contemplation: Visualize Jesus, Buddha(s), a Guru or a Saint. The goal is to absorb likeness and qualities of divine beings. (Tibetan Buddhist, Trantric meditation, Christian meditation). Other visualizations are possible: white light, blue pearl (Bindu), violet flame, each of these is a symbol of healing energies (New age healing meditation).
c) Positive thinking meditation: Meditate on attributes that you’d like to attract. Similar to prayer and intercession. (Western modern psychology affirmations and sincere prayer practice).
d) Action meditation: Similar to concentration meditation. For example: walking meditation: where each step is taken with full consciousness walking a labyrinth, Hatha Yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi. Martial arts (Aikido, Ju-jitsu, Karate, Kendo, Kung fu, etc…) practiced at high level all have this component.
e) Indian/Buddhist meditation has been investigated over the past 2500 years based on scientific method. That is, using controlled experiments with reproducible results and accepting/rejecting experiment based on direct personal experience. Important: personal safety is a chief concern in meditation teachings.
Conditions that help meditation:
a) Good location: find a room or place that is quiet or has natural sounds and is soothing to the senses and the mind. Holy places and places of worship are prime candidates: ashrams, churches, temples, meditation caves etc…
b) Best times to meditate: sunrise (around 4:00-5:00 am), or right before going to bed.
c) Best position: sitting on firm chair, back straight, both feet flat on floor, hands placed on thighs, palms turned upward, thumb connected with middle finger, (Yogic tradition); hands softly resting one in the other, in your lap, palms up, with thumbs softly touching (Zen tradition). Relaxed shoulders, arms and jaws, eyes closed, or half-closed. The traditional eastern position is the lotus (hard for westerners).
d) Positions to avoid: lying down on comfortable bed. Slouching.
e) Find a teacher and guide you click with and whom you can trust.
f) Listen to guided meditation tapes. (See Online and Bibliography).
g) Actually taking the time to do it (!) Whether you follow the rules above or not. Like any other life experience, the more you meditate, the more you will learn and develop the capacity to benefit from the practice.
The benefits of meditation:
- You become calmer and more peaceful. You are able to handle stressful situations much better. Interpersonal tensions do not trigger you as much. Anger, frustration are quickly detected and do not fester.
- Acceptance of yourself and others. Your view of the world changes from a competitive cutthroat, survival of the fittest world, to a world where divine action is pervasive and where evil can be fought and is ever defeated by love.
- You accept what you cannot change, and change what you cannot accept.
- Materialism does not control your behavior, but you understand the practicality of life.
The common obstacles to practicing meditation (why meditation is not easy at first):
- Meditation is essentially inaction. It is hard for westerners to sit still.
- I am not an introspective person, and even though I suffer, I don’t really care to find out why, I tried everything, nothing works and I’ll just have to live with it.
a) People who meditate are out of touch with reality.
b) People who meditate are weak-minded and cult followers.
c) This is good for other cultures and religions, not for me.
The main hindrance is that we are trained to listen to our thoughts as the TRUTH.
a) Thoughts may come up that defeat our meditation experience: “Why am I sitting here?” “This is useless,” “Nothing is happening,” and we listen to them as the truth.
b) Thoughts may come up that invalidate us. “ I should not have done this”, “I’m really stupid to have done this or that,” “I’m a bad person,” “I can’t seem to make my life work;” and we listen to them as the truth.
c) Thoughts may come-up that invalidate others. “My boss is stupid,” “Nobody understands me,” “My husband does not pay attention to me,” “These people are evil,” “My neighbor is a jerk,” “The world is unfair;” and we listen to them as the truth.
What is a “good” meditation:
- Meditate without setting expectations about results. There is nothing to achieve or become. Take everything that happens as a gift.
- Observe your thoughts neutrally: avoid judgment and criticism. “Thought-observing,” means that you realize that thoughts are bits of information distinct from the TRUTH and from YOU. You are not your thoughts. The “real you” is the one that OBSERVES and exists independently of your thoughts.
- Meditation is self-inquiry: it exposes your pretenses, and allows you the opportunity to accept yourself for who you are. The results of meditation are insights about your higher self and your true nature. In simple words, meditation reconnects you with your source as a child of God.
- During unfocused activity, the mind processes many thoughts similar to a movie screen showing old reels and upcoming attractions. At the beginning, during the process of meditation, your mind will wander… a lot! However, remember! Bring yourself back to the primary goal of concentration or visualization you initially set.
Mystics and mystical experiences:
Mystical experiences are experiences of union with the divine. Yoga means “union”. In the Christian experience, mystics often have dramatic lives and seem to go through a mixture of extreme pain and suffering alternating with great bliss. They also are renunciants, and often choose to abandon our usual social norms. Obviously, by taking up meditation you do not have to become a mystic. Eastern saints appear to have a very different experience, mostly without the pain.
What is enlightenment?
- In history, attempts to describe enlightenment have only been made in poetic language (Sufis, Indian Saints), similarly to the experience of love. However, it is remarkable that at a very deep level we are all able to connect with the state of Christhood or Buddhahood. In the eastern traditions, the state of enlightenment (or self-realization) is described as Nirvana or Samadhi. It is a state of blissful union with the divine and the creation (or state of ultimate knowledge about the nature of reality in Buddhism). Eastern philosophies emphasize that this state is fully compatible with the mundane life of a householder, and that you do not have to be a mystic to achieve it. However, intense desire and discipline are necessary to advance on the path of enlightenment.
- Enlightenment may very well be a way of life that espouses but is not limited to: patience, compassion, service to others, strength, courage, integrity, straight-talk, subtlety, attunement to others, love, ruthless compassion, obedience to God or Buddha, understanding world affairs and a commitment to rising beyond envy, greed, anger and lust. As well as to have the understanding that we are all children of God (or that we have Buddha nature).
- In the Yogic and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the enlightened being may choose to remain on this earth (over eons of reincarnated lives) to help others and vows not to “move on” to higher planes of existence until all human beings are free of suffering and attain ultimate knowledge. Such an ideal is embodied in a human being called the Bodhisattva warrior.
Free Online Material
Online Extensive Articles:
Western Approaches Meditation/Relaxation:
- The Relaxation Response. Herbert Benson.
- Minding the Body, Mending the Mind. Joan Borysenko.
- Learn to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Self-Discovery and Fulfillment. David Fontana.
- The Meditator’s Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Eastern and Western Meditation Techniques. David Fontana.
- Intimacy With God. An Introduction to Centering Prayer. Thomas Keating.
- Open Mind. Open Heart. The Contemplative Dimension of The Gospel. Thomas Keating.
- Jesus, The Teacher Within. Laurence Freeman.
- The Selfless Self. Laurence Freeman.
- John Main: Essential Writings. Selected with an introduction by Laurence Freeman.
- Word into Silence. John Main OSB.
- Christian Mystics. Their Lives and Legacies Throughout the Ages. Ursula King.
Selections on Tape/CD:
- Relieve Stress by Meditation. Dr. James Fadiman Ph.D.
- (Vipassana) Meditation for Beginners. Jack Kornfield.
- (Siddha Yoga) Meditation. Gurumayi Chidvilasananda.
Mindfulness, Insight Meditation:
- Being Peace. Thich Nhat Hanh.
- The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual of Meditation. Thich Nhat Hanh
- Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. Jon Kabat-Zinn.
- Wherever You Go, There You Are. Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation. Joseph Goldstein, and Jack Kornfield.
- The Wonder of Presence, and the Way of Meditative Inquiry. Toni Packer.
- Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. Chogyam Trungpa
- Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Shunryu Suzuki.
Tibetan Buddhist Meditation:
- Transform your Life. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
- The Excellent Path to Enlightenment. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.
- The Healing Power of Mind. Simple Meditations Exercises for Health, Well-Being, and Enlightenment. Tulku Thondup (Rinpoche).
- Siddha Meditation: Swami Muktananda.
- The Perfect Relationship. The Guru and the Disciple. Swami Muktananda.
Yoga Sacred Texts on Meditation and Self-Realization:
- Aparokshanubhuti. Self-Realization of Sri Sankaracharya. Swami Vimuktananda.
- Janeswar’s Gita. Swami Kripananda.
 Advanced masters go one step further by viewing the creation as being non-dualistic (where the dualistic view is that there is good vs. evil or that separation is possible).