There is a lot of literature to read about the subject of Meditation, its spiritual and practical aspects or the different ways it is practiced throughout different traditions and for different ends. There are tonnes of information and I feel that I would be adding little value if I add more of what is already available and write articles about the subject per se.
I think it is more suitable in this context for me to write about Meditation through my own experiences and point of view on the subject. After all, there are no strict objective rules and know how on the matter. It is much more like a personal journey that one enters or walks along in his own particular path.
Of course there are general guidelines and valuable clues one has to pick up and learn. For example, one introductory book which I’d always suggest is ‘Meditation for Dummies’ – which I think the title betrays the fact that it is a very comprehensive and well written guide which has lots of valuable information for both beginners and even seasoned Meditators. Those of you who have read some of the ‘For Dummies’ series know that most of them have very good editorial quality.
There are also genuine and highly experienced teachers and Masters and it is always highly recommended to be guided by them. I am not a student of any Meditation teacher. I have chosen to go out for the path on my own. It’s not that I disagree or dislike the idea, it’s just the way I set it out to be. This is my account of it.
The Journey Begins
I started practising Mindfulness Meditation quite recently, about a few months ago. Actually I had started doing some Meditation sessions sparingly and irregularly since a few years back. It was a different type of Meditation I used to do then. It was what I later learned to be called, receptive or insight Meditation.
The thing about this type of Meditation is that it is not based on focusing the Mind or anchoring the awareness but on setting the mind free and accept whatever feeling, intuitions or images come up. Often, after some time, the mind would spontaneously break free from its more rational and conditional patterns of thought and immerse into a more metaphorical, intuitive, and insightful stream of consciousness. I think this has to do with a shift to right-brain dominance, the part of the brain which is responsible for metaphor, creativity, intuition and holistic understanding of ourselves and our surroundings.
Recently, I got back to a more committed and resolute approach to Meditation. Having been deeply touched by the concept of Mindfulness, I started exploring one of its paths through the practice of Mindfulness Meditation.
Mind over Chatter
Mindfulness Meditation is a type of Meditation that is straightforward in essence but because of years of conditioning, the mind finds it quite difficult and unnatural to grasp at first. It’s like when as newborns we feel quite at ease in water but after some years that natural affinity is deprogrammed and the next first encounter with swimming in water feels rather unnatural at first. It’s the same thing with Mindfulness.
The key to Mindfulness Meditation is being in touch with your present moment. It’s about having your awareness in the present and not having your mind drifting on a never-ending train of thoughts. Of course, this is the tricky part and those of you who Meditate know very well what I am talking about.
We have what some Buddhists call a Monkey Mind constantly jumping around from one branch of thought to another. For those of you who have never tried meditation, I suggest doing a little thought experiment and try to keep your awareness focused on an object, a picture or your breath for just five minutes. Can you keep your mind free from chatter for five minutes? Probably not because naturally a thousand thoughts will come rushing up and all we need is just hop onto one of them and in no time we’re drifting away thinking about how long I haven’t phoned my friends or what to cook for dinner or fantasizing about some holiday somewhere and so on. That’s OK. We are all naturally subject to that but the good news is that we can practice to leap over this hurdle.
It takes patience and commitment. I am still learning my way through it little by little. However I can say with solid confidence that it is worth every single minute of it. The results are immeasurably too beneficial to undervalue.
Beware of the unchained Awareness!
Generally in Mindful Meditation practice, you turn your awareness away from floating in a haze or in thoughts and towards something like your breath, your bodily sensations or fixed on some mental image.
I like to start by keeping my awareness on my breath first, just observing the inhaling and exhaling and how it feels in my nostrils, lungs and belly, then widen my awareness to also include bodily sensations such as the way my fingers feels touching each other or the way my hands feels on my lap or the way I perceive the position of my body in space. The key is to stay in your present.
If my mind starts drifting off, I redirect my awareness back to my breath again without judgment as if nothing happened.
There can be two main distractions. One comes from outside in the form of noise, hence quietness is a prerequisite, and the other comes from your monkey mind which protests like a bored little child and tries to sabotage you by talking you out of your meditation session (literally though discursive thought and vocalization).
Of bubbles and Anchors
Another thing which can be of an obstacle is expectation. When I first started mindfulness meditation, I had a certain expectation of what it is about. For instance, I thought that the goal is to reach a state of thoughtlessness and a total dissolution of mind (Wow!). Expectation can barricade your inroads into your meditation by letting your mind expect an outcome rather than letting it arise on its own. When my first real success in mindful meditation happened (it was Christmas day) , I was surprised to find out that it was quite different than I expected.
It happened something like this: As I was expanding my awareness from my breath to parts of my body there was a point in time where my awareness ‘locked’. The analogy is to an auto-focus lens that very quickly goes in and out of focus until it locks on to its subject. That is exactly the way it felt. Thereafter it was an incredible confident feeling of rock solid focus and calmness. The strange thing was that thoughts were still arising, although much less in number, however they were completely not affecting me. Like soap bubbles they were quickly bursting out of existence.
The analogy this time is that of an anchored boat. The awareness feels like an anchor and the monkey mind is the boat floating above. It sways a little but cannot drift off because now it is chained to your awareness.
Upgrade your mind with Meditation
Mindfulness Meditation has been a life-changing practice for me and hence can potentially be so for anyone. It’s hard to describe all of the benefits I gained from it in a limited space but I will try to bring out some of the main ones in brief points below:
- More focus and moments of Mindfulness in the everyday things I do
- Less fragmentation of thought and more wholeness of being
- More calmness and much less stress and anxiety
- Improved analytical skills & memory
- Enhanced creativity & problem-solving skills
- More Happiness and appreciation of life
- Insight into the fact that my being is different than my thinking and doing
- Greater inspiration
- More motivation
- Brief moments of bliss hours or even days after a good meditation session
The list goes on and I must reiterate that I am still in the beginning of the journey. The prospects look good and I would recommend Mindfulness Meditation to anyone more than anything else.
I think of Meditation as being a natural programming language that we can use to hack our minds but very few people do so because we are not born with an operating manual for it. Learning Meditation is, in a few simple words, accessing that manual and using it.