02 May Simple Meditation
By Michael Ryan
Meditation comes in myriad shapes and forms from every Spiritual and Religious tradition on Earth. It can be an effective tool to induce relaxation or improve concentration, to help the body heal itself and to reduce the effects of stress. Ultimately the purpose of meditation is to harmonise the connection between Mind, Body, Soul and Spirit – to break down the barriers that exist between the different aspects of our being and help us awaken to our true potential. However, we must walk before we can run (crawl before we walk and run before we fly). If one has never experienced meditation then being introduced to an intricate sequence designed to awaken our spiritual faculties is likely to confuse and bore someone. So it’s best to start with the simplest form of meditation.
There are a lot of misconceptions around meditation, what it is and how to meditate. People often think that in order to meditate you have to sit in full lotus position without a thought in your head experiencing the expansiveness of the Universe within your mind’s eye. That does sound lovely but don’t be put off if you don’t experience that the first time you sit down to meditate or ever for that matter.
The truth is your mind is not going to stop and take a back seat while you meditate. It’s there constantly – it’s you and your internal dialogue with yourself. Commenting, postulating, analysing and reporting back to you everything that you experience as you experience it, in case you didn’t already know! In fact, it’s our need to analyse and quantify our experiences that prevent us from truly experiencing them, like we’re witnessing our life as a third party, making notes for the folks back home.
So the first thing I engage when teaching meditation is focusing the mind. The key word is AWARENESS. This is the essence of meditation. Being aware of ourselves and our surroundings. Being aware of our thoughts, being aware of that internal dialogue that is so deeply ingrained in who we are that we don’t even realise we’re constantly talking to ourselves.
Focusing the mind and awareness
Start simple. What’s going on around you right now? I’ve had people tell me that they can’t meditate at home because it’s too loud where they live. So let the noise become the focus of your meditation rather than a distraction from it. One of the misconceptions is that you need silence in order to meditate. Where are you going to get absolute silence? Realistically speaking you’re not so don’t fight it. Sound will likely be a constant when you are meditating so embrace it.
- Sit in a comfortable position. Ideally upright, we want to meditate not fall asleep.
- Listen to the sounds that enter your consciousness e.g. a clock ticking, the hum of an electric light, the sound of traffic on the street outside, the voices in the next room.
- Surrender to the sound and feel it. Bring your awareness to your ears. (Sound is a physical vibration. We have tiny bones in our ears that are hyper sensitive to the vibration caused by sound waves. These sound waves reverberate within our ears and our brains interpret these vibrations and translate them into something we can understand. It happens in a nanosecond so that we don’t even realise what’s happening)
- Listening becomes a kinaesthetic process as we feel the sound. Focus on that sensation. Listen to the quality of each distinct sound as it comes into your awareness. See if you can focus on one sound at a time.
We can’t shut our brains off but what we can do is give it a very simple task to focus on. In this case, listening. We listen intently to what is going on around us. Our mind becomes occupied by this simple task and if we’re lucky we’ll forget the million and one things that have been rolling around our heads. Don’t worry if you get distracted and start “Thinking” again, as soon as you become aware of it bring your awareness back to listening.
This principle goes for all forms of meditation. When you become aware of your mind drifting, bring your awareness back to the focus of your meditation, be it breathing, listening, feeling, visualisation etc. We have a picture in our head of how it should be and that picture often gets in the way of our experiencing “How It Is”. We then give ourselves a hard time for not doing it the way we think we should. We then give ourselves a hard time for giving ourselves a hard time.
- Relax, take a nice deep breath and bring your awareness back to listening.
Once you become aware of the sound and are no longer distracted by it, it will bring your awareness to your breath. This is another constant that is always present when meditating unless you have mastered yogic breathing and can go minutes between breaths! Which we assume you haven’t.
- Breathe in through your nose. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your two front teeth. This is an energy point, it helps to harmonise and connect the flow of Qi (Energy/life force) between the Du Mai and Ren Mai (Acupuncture meridians in which Qi flows in vertical orbit around the body).
- Sink your breath deep into your abdomen. Visualise a point 2 inches below and 2 inches behind your navel. This point is called the Dan Tien, the physical energy centre of the body (the centre of gravity). By sinking our breath to this point we start to fully engage the diaphragm in breathing. The Diaphragm is designed for this purpose but if we only breathe into our chest we never fully engage it and our breathing is shallow. Over time, through this breathing technique, you can actually start to expand the capacity of your lungs.
- Have the intention to breathe in a deep sense of Peace, stillness and harmony with each inward breath. Use your intention to help you to relax more and more with each breath. In Chinese medicine and energy work “Energy Follows Intent”. By intending to relax your body this follows your mind’s cue and begins to relax
- Have the intention to breathe out stress, anxiety and tension. When we breathe out our body naturally relaxes.
Try it, you’ll notice you tense with your inward breath and relax with your outward breath. This is why we use the inward breath to have the intention to breathe in Relaxation and the outward breath to release tension and stress. Rather than feel like we’re tensing with our inward breath we now feel like we’re nourishing our body through our breath. Of course, this is the most fundamental nutrition necessary for survival and functioning. You can go weeks without food, days without water but you will only survive minutes without oxygen. In Chinese Medicine air is one of the most fundamental forms of Qi, in fact, one of the main symbols for Qi translates as Air.
These are two very simple techniques but together they can be a pleasant and powerful introduction to meditation. Simply
Sit, Listen and breathe.
5 minutes is a good starting point, we don’t have to meditate for very long to start to feel the benefit and we can do it anywhere, at home, on a park bench, on a bus or train. We don’t even have to close our eyes, we just want to be aware of ourselves and our surroundings.
Mindfulness has become a buzzword in meditation. All meditation should, at the very least, be mindful. But not all mindfulness is meditation. You can be Mindful while crossing the road or mindful while making a cup of tea, mindful of what you are eating. Breaking the word down gives us a clear insight into what it really means to be Mind-Full. Our mind is full. Full of the task at hand e.g. breathing or listening. By bringing the full awareness of our mind to the task we are engaging, we are being mindful. Of course, ultimately we want to empty our mind but in order to empty it, we must first become aware that it is full. Mindfulness in turn leads to Heartfulness and a deeper purpose in meditation.
My teacher, Gary Collins, was lucky enough to have been instructed in Tai Chi by Yang Zhen Ji, the oldest living member of the Yang family. He experienced a profound shift in his consciousness when He asked Yang Zhen Ji “What can bring you to the deepest level in Tai Chi?” he was told “An Empty Heart”. They say the longest journey you will ever take is from your head to your heart. The longest journey begins with a single step.