What is meditation?
Meditation is quite simply choosing to focus our mind on something – an object, or an idea, and keeping our concentration fixed there with alertness, concentration, focused attention and mindfulness. Although it is part of most religions, meditation is not mystical, otherworldly or inaccessible if you are not religious. It is not reserved for those who are religious or spiritual. It is very down-to-earth and practical, and available to everyone regardless of who we are. Although many of the meditations we shall practise in class have been inspired by ancient and modern spiritual traditions, none of them require any faith or belief. You don’t have to believe in a divine or higher power in order to meditate and get the benefit from them. You may choose to learn to meditate to simply create a happier life for yourselves. When we are happier, everyone around us benefits too.
Although it is quite possible to meditate alone at home, it can be of help to have some direction and guidance. It’s lovely too, to meditate with others, and it can be a much more powerful experience. The benefits of coming to a class can mean making new friends, getting to know others who are like-minded. Just knowing that others also experience frustrations, irritations, anger and unhappiness is helpful in itself. Often we believe that we are the only ones going through difficulties and worries. Knowing that we are not alone can be healing, and be the beginning of more understanding of what it means to be human, and how we can help ourselves to be happier.
A common misconception of meditation is that you have to ‘empty your mind’, and many people say that they can’t do that so therefore cannot meditate. It is impossible to empty your mind, so don’t try! The mind is the basis of all your awareness, and it likes to think, so we let it. What we do though, is give it something to focus on to help calm the mind down. The object might be something external like a candle, or a flower, or it may be something internal like the breath or a heartbeat.
The root of many of our human problems is that the mind is disturbed, and distracted, and we are constantly bombarded by negative thinking which not only can cause us to become blue, but is exhausting.
As one of my teachers said: ‘If we had someone talking to us in the way our mind talks to us – on and on, over and over, the same old negative, critical and bullying words – we’d call the police!’ We can’t call the police on ourselves of course, but we can tell it to be quiet. We just need to know how – it’s not obvious until you learn. That’s where our meditation and mindfulness practice comes in.
We quell the disturbance, we console the ‘monkey mind’, giving it something useful to do rather than allowing it to swing wildly and mindlessly from one subject to another over and over again. Focusing on an object helps to calm and quiet the mind, the antidote to constant negative thinking. This way we begin to harness our own inner peace. It is almost impossible to stop thinking completely, but by becoming aware of what we are thinking and how our mind works we can learn more about ourselves. We begin to observe patterns, in our thinking and in our ‘feeling tones’, or emotions. Getting to know our mind in this way is empowering and helps to raise our self-esteem and self-confidence, and the changes we have been longing to make suddenly seem within our grasp after all.
We begin to train our mind, which is just about the most useful thing you can learn to do in life. The mind is the most powerful thing about us, it is your mind which helps to create your life, although most of us believe that our external reality is out of our control, and many of us feel frustrated and even victimised by this. We can change our world by changing our mind about it. We can get to the point where no matter what happens, we remain in a state of equanimity and calm. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have problems, that things don’t happen to us, because they do. But we can remain calm, so that our mind does not become disturbed or unbalanced by things that impact us. We tilt less towards things that appear ‘pleasant’ and we step back less from what appears to be ‘unpleasant’ and we deal peacefully with whatever comes our way: good, bad or neutral. Life does not stand still and wait for us to deal with it, so there is not time to lose in learning these techniques.
The only real power we have in life is through controlling our own mind, and when we do that it affects all our relationships positively, leading to a more peaceful, fulfilling life for us and everyone else with which whom we come into contact. Having a regular meditation practice, means meditating every day come what may, and the fruits of this discipline are that whatever comes along we learn to deal with it, from a position of balance and equanimity – and what could be more powerful than that?
- Attain better health – both physical and mental
- To increase your self-confidence
- To become more loving and helpful in the world
- To sharpen your mind
- To relax fully
- To become more aware of your body and mind
- To balance your emotions
- To heal psychological problems
- To contemplate the mysteries of life
Just some of the reasons – I’m sure you will discover more.