“He conquers who conquers himself.” – Roman Proverb
An ignorant assumption some people make is that the simple act of meditating must be somehow mystical or oriental in order to be effective.
Although the resources and rituals most familiar to us are of Eastern (and to a lesser extent, Jewish) origin; we need not assume that there is anything religious – and thereby mysterious – about the practice itself.
Meditation can be mystical, transcendental, enlightening, spiritual and transforming.
But that is not a useful mind-set to start with if you want to make measurable progress in a daily practice. Spiritual development requires a solid foundation, so you’ll do better learning to crawl on practical grounds before you fly away in abstract skies.
All of the tinsel-talk surrounding sutras, chakras, Kundalini and other obscure Sanskrit terms have complicated and glamorized otherwise simple and sober ideas.
We live in modern times and have a Western heritage, after all, and so we can hardly actualize these ancient Eastern concepts without making some practical adjustments to suit modern life.
The beginner will do well not to exaggerate his expectations; and better if he had no expectations at all.
There is no reason to make phantoms from the memories of dead gods and forgotten saints. He need not imagine an enlightenment that isn’t there. He should curb any feverish urge he has to be ‘spiritualized’.
Why make a ritual of meditation?
After all, we live in an age of action. The air is electric with inspirations of new experience and boundless opportunity. There aren’t nearly enough hours in the day to get it all in… yet no one wants to miss out.
If the goal of life (grossly stated) is happiness and satisfaction, what advantage is there in taking an hour out of each day for silence, stillness and reflection? Is that time not better spent being productive, creative, enjoying pleasure and making new experience?
The answer to this paradox is a simple one that is pregnant in the question: Exactly because life is short and we cannot experience everything, meditation acts as a priming of ourselves to sharpen our intuitive powers, so that we are naturally able to relate and expand the meaning of a single experience to give us a universal meaning for all experience.
Mindfulness also allows us to have tight control over the development of our experience… along with our emotions.
Naked, still and silent in a blank setting you become aware of your physical organism in its natural state.
Feel the heat leaving the surface of your skin.
Feel the pulse of your heart vibrate through every cell in your body.
Feel the inner-walls of your veins flexing with ebb and flow of your blood.
Feel the sludge of your last meal slide through your intestines.
Feel the rise and fall of your chest as your lungs consume the air.
Observe the damage you’ve done to yourself through mindless physical strain and excess consumption.
Concentration on the body and its parts makes for a strong bond between flesh and mind.
You become acutely aware of any disturbance to your system. And thus lose taste for compulsive addictions that hurt you. Increased sensitivity makes bad food, bad noise and bad company all but unbearable. The plainest things become loud and bright. Anything that excites or adds negative stress to your system is made instantly obvious and can be surgically removed with ruthless discretion.
Your body language becomes tight and congruent. Your reflexes are sharpened. You no longer waste words or twitch about nervously. All those conflicts between mind and body have been resolved. Every movement is calculated and precise. Your eyes remain steady and solid. External distractions do not rumble you; you are not physically shaken by anyone or anything. A bomb goes off and you don’t even flinch. You are in total control of your physical sphere and the impressions that you choose to receive.
Your efforts become more energy efficient. Awareness of the body will teach you to do everything as effortlessly as possible. That is – using the least amount of energy, and causing the lowest amount of physical strain when accomplishing physical tasks… and mental tasks as well. Every movement of the body or mind is smooth and no tension is wasted.
This is what is collectively referred to as being graceful.
It is simply doing everything in the easiest way possible, effortlessly, without a slip or a strain. And though it occurs naturally with regular meditation, it can be enhanced by making a fun little game out of practicing everything… or making everything into a meditation that fully consumes your concentration.
Whether putting away the dishes or walking down the street, mundane tasks become an exercise of determined precision. Each movement – from the trunk of the torso to the tips of the fingers – is made easy as possible; placing dishes on the shelf with the same touch and mindfulness as one plays the piano.
Present moment awareness
If the idea of ZEN means anything, it is that one experiences life in the NOW.
The present moment is a focal point from which all time exists. It defines and creates our experience as we make peace with the past and settle our dreams for the future.
Meditation conditions our awareness to be natural in this present state. While the norm is rather living through a ‘trance-state’ in which we compulsively project ourselves into the past or the future.
By giving ourselves a sanctioned period of time to work out our reflections on the past, and our dreams of future, we are primed for real-time consciousness and total immersion in the present moment.
Forced confrontation with inner conflict
All the troubles of life swarm together and accumulate to form big, bad mountains of crushing stress in our minds. We tend to magnify small troubles in our business and relationships by ignoring the context of the bigger picture… simply because we do not give ourselves time and space to consider it.
Ritual meditation gives us a daily opportunity to deconstruct the perceived complexity of our lives. We no longer view our ‘issues’ as one giant force, but as small pieces to be worked out individually. This leads us to simple answers for complex problems.
Objectivity only exists in a vacuum. For our thinking to be as objective as possible, we need a silent space for undisturbed reflection.
There is no stress relief like meditation. There is no cure for the blues like meditation. There is no better way to work out difficult problems than meditation. There is nothing in the world that will give you a greater perspective on the potential of your own soul than meditation.
A useful mindset to begin…
“At the beginning of each day, I’ll take 20 minutes of uninterrupted contemplation to visualize the day that is about to develop before me.
“Again at the end of each day, I’ll take 20 minutes to contemplate the events of the day that has just passed.
“These periods will be like two opposite banks of a raging river; outposts from which I will control the directional flow of my time and energy through the day.”
- Identify a sacred space with no distractions, no electronics, no chance of being disturbed by others.
- Choose a time of day for meditation and stick to it. A consistent schedule – or a sacred time – is the most important thing for assured success… next to having a sacred space. The advantage of a sacred time will become obvious with regular practice. Use a timer for the same period every day.
- Find a comfortable position for your body that fills two quota: a.) you remain upright and b.) your spinal column is aligned in a straight line with the back of your head. This is important because it will keep you alert and your breathing won’t be restricted.
- Focus on controlling your breath in rhythmic cycles: longer on the inhale; shorter on the exhale. Slow and steady. Easy and calm. The ‘control’ you have over your breath should never feel rigid or forced. Rhythmic breathing naturally brings peace to mind and body.
- Allow the mind to move freely and jump around between thoughts. Let it calm itself naturally by ‘wearing itself out’ with racing thoughts. Don’t try and force it in any one direction – it will fight you and become more excited.
When you can sit still for many minutes without fidgeting, and when you can go the whole period without losing conscious focus on your breath cycles (i.e. you start breathing automatically, as you normally do), then you are ready to work on making the mind still and training it to be natural in ‘present moment’ state awareness.
For some, like me, the spade work of simply sitting still and breathing easy takes a lot of practice to be consistent. But, in my experience, it is useless to try and push your consciousness higher without mastering the physical plane.
The rest is up to you…