Mindfulness has become a hype in the last few years. Even corporations have cottoned on to the benefits and encourage their employees, at long full day seminars to participate in restful practice for half an hour after lunch, in specially arranged rooms. The aim is to slow down and re-charge batteries, all in the name of a good work life balance.
Many associate mindfulness with meditation, which it is, and meditation is often thought of as religious pass-times for Hindus or Buddhists. Westerners though, have for many decades been interested in these Eastern practices, without the religious dogmas, seeing it as beneficial to mental and emotional health thus overall spiritual well-being. Unlike Islamic or Christian prayer, in mediation there is no-one to speak to. One doesn’t request blessings or enquire about any guidance.
For those unaffiliated with meditation, the idea might sound new age and spooky but I see meditation as a human aspiration which is growing and will one day be taught in all schools and practised at home in families as part of daily life. Why? Firstly, it’s the best antidote to techno-stress and modern life and secondly, the time set aside to meditate is like massaging your brain from the inside out. It is a healthy practice and could reduce light ailments for those who are unable to shake off negative emotions, fears and unhealthy psychological flaws.
In 1986, already interested in eastern religions because of its philosophies, I undertook a Transcendental Meditation course. (TM) It was a mini-retreat, held at a simple location, with simple wooden chairs for theory lectures and empty rooms with a floor mat for the meditations. Instructors, candles and incense were also part of the introduction but none of all previously mentioned facilities are necessary to start meditating.
“But why meditate? ” Or “I don’t have the time,” is the common answer from people new to the idea.
More so that ever, we live in a world, overrun with 24 hour news, social media that captures our attention, full working lives for both men and women, and in addition we have access to any entertainment at the touch of a button. It all keeps us busy. Busy, busy busy. Yes life is about action, creativity and doing but it is also about just being and that is where meditation comes in. It takes one out of the continuously reactive state to the world, and puts you in a place away from the busyness. Of course, our jobs, children families etc. demand attention and help us grow, but one cannot be in perpetual busying constantly without losing some charge of our internal battery. It’s easy to become lost in our stresses, driven by self-induced pressure or pleasure seeking, thinking “I need to do this, I want to do that, I must not forget…” Everything material that we do, collect or participate in will one day cease to exist, and in between all that clutter and sometimes self-created chaos, we deserve to find some moments of bliss and peace. That is what meditation delivers.
The aim of meditation is to rest your mind to give your intentions clarity. It is only to be yourself, feel yourself, hear yourself, by attuning yourself to your breathing state of existence. It may seem difficult at first because it is so simple. “Doing nothing’ while we close our eyes to only focus on breath, is quite unnatural for most. Perhaps reading a few books beforehand about meditation purpose is helpful. I can recommend is “The Science of Being and Art of Living.” by the author and founder of Transcendental Meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, although TM is but one of many methods. Mahesh Yogi was an Indian guru who spent the latter years of his life, from 1992 onwards in the Hague, the Netherlands. He taught the Beatles and as TM became extremely popular, in later years, it brought out scandals of mis-used funds, over pricing and fake levitation. As a leader of a Natural Law Party that was non-religious, Mahesh was bound to create some enemies along the way. All that though should not detract from the original essence of the movement of which the philosophy is fairly simple. There are many universities around the world offering different kinds of courses.
In TM, creative intelligence, or consciousness is described as several states of being. The first three of our known and experienced consciousness states are the waking, sleeping and dreaming state. TM methodology introduced the 4th as the Transcendental state. Although after the first three states, it is not necessarily ‘higher’ just a more natural and peaceful state of being that transcends the busy pre-occupied mind that is never satisfied. TM describes the waking state, where most of our known experiences are lived every moment, as a place that can be as bumpy and active as a windswept sea, with choppy waves breaking on the surface constantly. The waves are your thoughts, as you rush through your busy day and life, keen to succeed, achieve, enjoy or just live. TM aims to calm the surface by moving to the depths of the water underneath.
The methodology encourages meditating for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening, but times should be arranged to what is suitable for you. By concentrating on your breathing and following each breath through, a busy mind moves to emptiness and a liberation where it ceases to think. Naturally, the first meditations and 10 minutes of each meditation can be difficult as our mind insists on thinking. But with practice and patience, eventually, we transcend these busy thoughts and in the last 5 minutes of a meditation, you experience an openness of mind, that is rested, at peace and transcendent to life’s distractions, stresses and busyness. A place where there is only quiet and being.
If you have ever deep-dived, you will know the experience of sitting on the ocean floor at 40 m deep, where there is only the sound of your breathing through a regulator, no talking and a quietness of nature not experienced above water. In meditation, with practice you will reach a similar place. There will be no thoughts and if there are, they dissipate quickly once you observe them as they arise, from behind closed eyes. Breathing slows down, you are attentive only to the present moment and through your extremely relaxed state, you might suddenly take a deep inhalation because even your breathing is at rest. This physical rest calms your mental and emotional state.
If twenty minutes is difficult, start with ten minutes. Meditation is a habit and it needs discipline and time to step away from everything around you to just focus on being. Not being somebody for somebody, everyone or even just yourself, but simply being. Being at one with who you are, where you are, in any environment. Transcending our ordinary waking state feels like obtaining a cleaner consciousness. As Mahesh Yogi described it, a place of creative intelligence. One that is more focussed on what is essential, not the clutter of life, but life itself. It is a heavenly escape to quiet in a busy world and as you commence your daily routine you will feel calmer. Things won’t worry you as much and that will strengthen any mood towards a more positive outlook.
In the beginning, set a timer after you’ve found a quiet spot, and asked anyone around, not to disturb you for a while. I guarantee that if you try it for thirty days , even if only once a day, you will begin to experience life more fully. That is because meditation takes you to the truth of your own essence and leaves behind the “this, that and what have you” of our busy world. What you thought was important, might not be so anymore and what you never thought about, might become more part of your conscious day to day living. Meditation is like watering the roots of your mind and this is not to say that one doesn’t do this now in various ways you find rest, it’s only that meditation will take it a step further.
Once you are an experienced meditator, you will be able to meditate anywhere. In a crowded bus or metro, and in a busy room of talkative people. All it takes is a few seconds of concentrating on your breath, raising awareness of it which liberates you temporarily from your thoughts. The quiet moments will leave you feeling more internally energised and this can only be beneficial.
One can also start meditating with the assistance of an App. I tried and tested, the Calm app, (free) which sends reminders, and has music to help. Another is the Waking Up Course, by Sam Harris just released in the I-Tunes store. It’s good for beginners, (has over 2000 reviews already) and provides a beginner’s commentary and thirty day programme with some extra podcast lessons on subjects such as Free Will. Free will you might wonder? Well, how much free will do we have over our thoughts? Can you stop a thought before you think it?
We could all do with being calmer and more positive. Continued meditation practice delivers. You don’t have to become a vegetarian, change your diet, be religious, put on candles, incense, or music. All it is about is you and your breathing. Take time out to rejuvenate your sparkle and rest your mind. The clarity and lightness you will feel takes time to develop but it will be worth it. As this recent scientific publication states, Mindfulness meditation centrally involves awareness of intentions and is associated with improved metacognitive access to intentions.
If you’d like to begin meditating, congratulations on your fresh approach to living.
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