Demystifying Meditation

Meditation does not have to be so confusing!

Consider that meditCandle gazeation has accompanied humanity since the sun set on the first prehistoric cooking fire. Picture our ancient ancestors gazing into the glowing coals; a warm, comforting and ineffable pleasure after a stressful day of running from tyrannosaurus rex while hunting and gathering nuts and berries. In the fire’s ever shifting coals, our forbearers imagine animal shapes, faces, or familiar scenes among the fire play of glowing wood.

This ancient fire-gazing object meditation requires no instructions, comes to us as naturally as looking, and all of us can still enjoy and wonder at it to this day.

Sadly, students of meditation can encounter, as I did, conflicts, dichotomies, rigid or contrary instructions, to cause discouragement. The deeper the neophyte looks, the more complex it seems, when really we are self-complicating a simple process.

My view on the subject has become this: developing an inquiring and all-accepting attitude before, during and after meditation is essential. I refer to the first two steps in the “How to Meditate” article by Tara Brach posted on my “Practice Meditation” page.

Here is a simple candle meditation you can try that could de-mystify the process. I like to set a silent running timer that chimes gently (I find the clicking mechanical ones too distracting) for about 10 minutes to start, expanding in 5 minute increments every-other day. The objective is simply to look at the flame while clearing the mind.

Sitting in Candlelight

As you sit comfortably, with an erect spine and eyes focused on the flame, settle your body and take several slow, deep breaths. Notice the flow of air through your nostrils and aim to smooth the process.

Take note of spots where there is tension in your body, then smooth and calm those muscles in your imagination until they become peaceful.

Follow your breath and try to be conscious of the act of breathing as you gaze into the candle flame. During meditation your business is simple awareness, nothing else. No two experiences will be the same. Distracting thoughts will arise but simply bring your attention back to the flame while following your breath.

A tip form my yoga instructor Jenni Burke, who also teaches meditation, “If you want to add a ‘kriya’ to the meditation (detoxification exercise) gaze first with eyes open as long as possible without blinking. This will cause the eyes to water, which is part of a detoxification process. Then return to a gentle Buddha-gaze for the meditation practice.”

When your meditation comes to an end, rest before rising.  This transition time is important to reform the mind, so do not return to daily activity suddenly, after meditating.

I wish peace and abundance for all.

Why meditate?

The question is, why would we seek to meditate?

It is probably safe to say that we are feeling uncomfortable, agitated or suffering, and perhaps we are thinking that meditation might be a tool to alleviate this. But how will it work?

To begin answering that question, let us examine what leads to these feelings in the first place, for it is only by discovering the roots of suffering that we will be able to use meditation to help with it.

Llet’s consider that actions lead to suffering.

Physical actions – deeds – wrongfulness in deeds can bring suffering.

Vocal actions – words – wrongfulness in what we say to others can direct our own inner suffering outward to others, who can mirror it back to us, and share with others.

Mental actions – thoughts and ideas- wrongfulness in thoughts and ideas, how we talk inward to ourselves, are the seeds of vocal and physical actions.

It is important to make a distinction that mental actions precede vocal and physical actions.

Understanding this, then if we expect meditation to ease our suffering isn’t it natural to see that instead of simply making us feel relaxed or feeling good,  meditation would somehow  influence our actions ?

Would it also follow, if the above is true , that meditation could influence our reactions as well ?

If this makes sense to you, watch your three modes of actions for a time, watch the actions of others around us and most especially watch our reactions. 

Previously I mentioned that an agitated person affects everyone around them.   Now we can see how our levels of action can cause suffering to ourselves and how “contagious” it is to others.

If mental actions are the seeds of all our other actions, and actions are the root of suffering, then gaining some control over the mind might be the first step in gaining some mastery over the art of living.

This is an important step on the path to peace and enlightenment

What Meditation is Not

It is helpful for the beginner to understand what meditation is- as a first step to understanding the truth. A condensation of this post is included on the “Quick Study” page.

The meaning and practice of meditation has been twisted by promoters in modern culture who erroneously include a host of “feeling good” self visualizing, self relaxing, self exploring and self-examination techniques and practices. These may or may not yield results in their own domain, at times limited to narrow personal objectives – sometimes our personal goals try to defy the laws of nature! But this is not true meditation. Allow me to get “personal” for a moment.

I studied and practiced progressive relaxation in the late 20’th century under the late Dr. George Blake and therapist Eli Bay because I felt anxious most of the time and drugs were not helping me.  Progressive relaxation helped me feel better temporarily – relieving the symptom – but did nothing to the deep seated unrest within. This was not meditation.

For a time I entered psychotherapy, not because I thought I was ill, but seeking to discover my true self… the roots of my unease. Drug therapy brought more unease. I was given lessons in visualizing the good and positive. This was not meditation.

Under the tutelage of Bob Monroe from the Monroe Institute I practiced and completed the Gateway Experience manual and series, developing a sense of resisting distraction and discovery of self but found the practice appealed more to my entertainment of ego. This was not meditation.

It was not until 2008 meditation classes from Jenni Burke, a Yogini from Port Hope, Ontario, that I began to understand the true nature of meditation.

More specifically, I discovered what meditation is not;

  • not mental relaxation
  • not positive thinking
  • not visualizing what we want
  • not trying to repel discomfort
  • not free association
  • not seeking specific “feelings” (good, euphoric, positive)
  • not seeking out of body “astral travelling” or hallucinatory events

In future posts we will examine how although some of the above may come to occur through meditation, they are not the global goal.

Peace and abundance to all!