The word “meditation” often brings to mind weird ‘woo woo’ stuff, but since ancient times, meditation has been an essential part of seeking to be the best one can be, and of course, enlightenment. A quiet mind brings the inner being into quiet, as well as the body, and can be extremely beneficial to body, mind and spirit.
There are many and various meditative practices developed by all sorts of people in all faiths and walks of life. Although I’m certainly not an expert on meditation, I share my thoughts here as a good place to start. I’ve limited this article to only those types of meditation with which I am familiar and which have had a significant impact on my life.
Of course, many methods overlap, and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to meditate. Experiment and do what works for you. You might also explore other methods of meditation, such as tai chi, qi gong, vipassana, zazen, walking meditation, or others.
Some words on guidance and practice
The serious pursuit of meditation as a spiritual discipline can be difficult as there are many distractions all around us, and even more within our minds. Simply developing the habit of meditation can be a significant challenge, but one that is well worth pursuing.
Meditation is always about being present, and we all have lots ways to avoid being present. Television, radio, movies, various activities, or even a good book can actually be replacements for, or an avoidance technique to keep from being alone with our own thoughts. As soon as you begin trying to quiet your mind, you will find yourself thinking about what you need to do next, a problem at work, a conversation you had yesterday, or any number of things which take you away from being present in the ‘now’ to the past or the future.
Remember, the past and the future are only in your imagination. They do not actually exist in the moment. But don’t berate yourself for a wandering mind, simply use that same imagination to come back to the present. Let the distraction go, and without chastising yourself, simply return to the present moment.
You may have to do this many, many times, even in a single sitting, but don’t worry, it gets easier with practice. And you’l find the habit you develop of not beating yourself up will carry over into the rest of your life through how you relate to yourself, as well as to other people. You will also find you’ve developed a greater capacity to focus and be present in general.
Even though some of your times of meditation will leave you feeling like you’ve been floating on air and enjoying the abundance of the Universe, other times will leave you feeling flat. Please don’t label your times of meditation as successes or failures. They are all beneficial in your personal learning and growing, even if you cannot see how at the time. Just showing up and doing the work builds positively toward your desired outcome.
Relaxation is an important part of meditation, therefore, regardless of which type of meditation you choose, I personally recommend that you find a comfortable place and position. I am aware that many meditation practices require sitting upright with an erect spine and some require crossing the legs and/or holding the hands in a certain posture. I am not rejecting these techniques, but they simply don’t work as well for me as being comfortable. If you are able to mentally leave your body out of the equation, go for it! Otherwise, if your body is a distraction, I suggest comfort. Also, choose a quiet place without distraction or interruption. Turn off the phone and let your family know that you are not to be disturbed. Take your personal alone time seriously and others will, too.
Mindfulness – a well-kept secret – Mindfulness is getting more attention lately and being more widely practiced than ever in modern history. It was even the subject of a recent Time special edition (2017) with this quote: “Scientists are proving what Tibetan monks knew all along: there are real benefits to the pursuit of mindfulness. TIME’s special edition offers: Mindfulness tips for everyone, from the novice to the lifetime meditator, the latest research on mindfulness, heart health and sleep, how to bring mindfulness into your day without having to sit still on a cushion.”
Nearly unknown to most of the population, the well-kept secret is to participate in, and partake, of the life-force that creates worlds. Call it ‘god’ or the Universe, your higher self, or the Spirit of Life…no matter. To be mindful and aware that you are part of, and connected to, the same force that creates life…the force that causes a seed to germinate and grow into a plant. This powerful awareness can literally transform your life, the way you see yourself and the way you view the world.
Mindfulness is moving meditation to the next level, taking the awareness beyond the time of meditation and into your whole life. The goal of mindfulness is to live life deliberately in the present and not ‘sleepwalk’ through your day. Mindfulness requires awareness, living in the present moment, being aware of who you are at your core, and paying attention to who others truly are, not just seeing the mask they wear.
To practice mindfulness is to be aware during the day, as much as possible, even while doing the most mundane tasks. Wash dishes, or the car, with appreciation for your ability to do the task, for your body which moves when you will it, for the material wealth of dishes or a car, etc. Cultivate appreciation for everything around you and every little thing you do.
The enemy of mindfulness is drama and distraction. We cannot be present and aware if we are constantly distracted and involved with outer things, people and situations. Mindfulness may require removing some or all of the media from your life, but it definitely requires time in meditation.
Centering is another important part of meditation. The idea of centering is to be fully present with your authentic self. Centering can be meditative in itself, or it can prepare you for more in-depth meditation. You will find ways to center yourself built into most types of meditation.
Types of Meditation:
Here is a brief overview of some types of meditation techniques. More detail on some of them follows.
Meditating with Music can involve chanting, or simply listening and allowing the music to be a focal point. You should choose something mellow and without vocals, such as The Waltz of Whispers, by Michael Hoppé and Tim Wheater, or recordings on the Native American flute by R. Carlos Nakai.
Meditating with imagination usually involves visualization, a guided meditation (where someone outside yourself uses a narrative to guide you along), or using words to speak aloud as a tool for manifesting your desired outcome.
More traditional forms of meditation may involve repetition of a mantra, contemplation (of an object, word or phrase), or a ritual that involves body posture, breathing, etc.
Regardless of the type of meditation you choose, it should produce relaxation and a centering that allows you to feel grounded and more aware.
Progressive relaxation: This exercise is best practiced lying on your back in a comfortable place, hands to you sides, not touching any other part of your body.
Beginning at your toes, deliberately tense up every muscle you can in your toes and feet. Think about the involuntary muscles beneath the surface and focus on tensing them, too. Then, just as deliberately, relax all of those same muscles.
Move up to your calves and do the same, then your thighs. Progress through every area of your body, ending with your face and neck. This is the most difficult part for most people to relax. When you have gone through this process from toe to head, just lay there and concentrate on relaxing. Even without meditation, this is a very healthful exercise.
Meditating with Music – Music can be a helpful way to control your focus, as long as it is not distracting you. The goal here is to relax, forget about work, let go of all worry and tension and simply ‘be there’ with yourself and the music. This can be meditative in itself, or prepare you for a deeper meditative experience.
Meditating with a Body Scan – You may want to try this after the Progressive Relaxation described above. Move throughout your body, simply noting your physical sensations with “I feel…. my head feels…my chest feels…”, etc.
If you find a particular part of your body is tense, or in pain, focus on it. Ask it, “If you could talk, what would you say to me?” Sometimes you can get some very deep insights from allowing your body to speak to you. It is quite insightful and never lies.
Meditating with the breath – Let your breath be natural, do not try to control it. Allow it to speed up or slow down, as it will. Feel the breath going in and coming out of out the nostrils, or on the rise and fall of your body as you breath. (If it’s extremely quiet, you may be able to focus on your pulse.)
When the breath comes in, there is a space, and when the breath goes out and there is a space, as well. Be aware of the space between the breaths. Rest in that space between the breaths and ask, “What will my next thought be?” You will find the place of ‘no thought’ in that place, however briefly.
The place where no thought exists is the perfect stillness in which to meditate and realize the beauty and depth of your essence. Linger there as long as you are able and visit it again and again. It becomes easier with practice and it is in that quiet stillness that profound ideas and inspiration can come to you. It is as if you are opening a channel through which your higher self, the Universe, or God can pour all the wisdom you are able to contain. Enjoy it!
Meditating with Imagination – Your imagination can be a portal into the non-visible world and a powerful tool for expanding your awareness and gaining insights otherwise hidden to the human mind.
Choose a place that you love. It doesn’t matter whether it’s by a lake, at the beach, enjoying a sunset, near a stream in the forest or any other natural setting. Or it could be in your favorite easy chair. Any kind of tranquil environment that calls to you will do nicely. Savor the setting. Take time to feel it. Is it warm? Are there any sounds, possibly birds or water? Can you smell anything, such as the woods or salt air? Use your imagination and immerse yourself completely in it.
From this place of peace and happiness, you can use your imagination to go into a visualization of a desired result. Or you may want to go into contemplation of some thought or idea that arises.
Visualization – The possibilities in visualization are limitless and can be used for various reasons. You might imagine yourself in a peaceful scene, as above, simply for refreshing the spirit and relaxing the mind. Or, you might want to imagine yourself as a pebble, dropping into a lake that represents peace, tranquility, the Universe, wisdom, or whatever you desire.
Visualization can also be a powerful tool to manifest a desired result, or goal, in any area of your life. However, beware of striving. Remember to relax and allow the thing(s) you want to come to you.
Guided Meditation – In this technique, another person guides you, either in person or through a recording. Their narrative helps you to visualize and offers some options that you may not be able to do as easily on your own. For example, the guide might lead you to a particular place, or on a journey. They might ask a question and have you listen for the answer from within yourself. They might introduce you to a part of yourself to face something that needs your attention. You may meet another person who is there to show you something you need to know. Guided meditations can be a powerful tool in inner healing, physical healing, and/or getting clear on a subject. [This is a link to a short guided meditation.]
Meditation through Contemplation – I have personally found this technique to be quite powerful in allowing insights to dawn on my consciousness. Contemplation simply means looking thoughtfully at something for a long time, or deep reflective thought. You could even call it mulling things over. After all, the word ‘meditation’ comes from a root word that refers to a cow chewing its cud – over and over, getting all the goodies out of it. The subject of contemplation could be anything that appeals or speaks to you, such as a deep truth from quantum physics, or ancient wisdom writings, particularly meaningful quotes, etc.
Read the item you wish to contemplate. Read it again, slowly. Read it again, even slower, looking at each word, thinking about the meaning of each word. You may even want to keep a dictionary nearby to augment the meaning of what you are contemplation.
I suggest you also keep a notebook nearby because you will undoubtedly receive insights that are worth recording.
Meditation through Awareness – This is one of my favorite techniques because it has the potential to create such a sense of being grounded and connection with the Universe. Begin by deliberately being more aware of your person and that you are. Think about the fact that you can observe yourself and ask, “Who is it that is observing?” Open your eyes and think about who it is that is looking out from the inside. Think about the fact that you exist, here and now, and that you have awareness.
Meditation with Self-Inquiry – Self-Inquiry, as I mean it, is not the same as the ancient practice by that name. I have meditated with self-inquiry with amazing results with the following method.
You can begin with an area of your life that is troubling you, or not. The idea is to be open to an answer or an insight, to allow a light to be shed on something about yourself that you need to know.
If you are beginning with a problem, such as a difficult relationship or a bad habit, look at the problem with as much objectivity as you can muster. If there are strong emotions attached to it, it is important to let them go. It has helped me to write about the problem before I do self-inquiry in order to vent emotions and to get clear on what I think the problem really is.
When you are settled in, simply ask, “What do I need to know about this?” or “What am I not seeing about this?” Relax, focus on your breath or non-thought and allow the answer to come. For me, it often comes in the form of a picture in my mind, but with the picture usually comes the interpretation.
If you are starting on self-inquiry without a specific problem in mind, simply relax and get centered through your breath or non-thought. Ask your inner self, “What do I need to know?” or “What do I need to see?”
Don’t ‘look’ for anything, just relax and allow something to be shown to you. It may be in picture form or in a word or phrase. It is amazing how when we allow it, wisdom can come to us from ‘nowhere’.
Socrates believed we have the answers within us; we simply need to ask the right questions. And I would add, we need to be willing to take the time to relax and allow the answer to come.
If you have read to this point, I trust you will try some of these techniques in your personal meditation times. I hope you find them as useful and beneficial as I have. Thanks for joining me.
May you live the life you’ve always wanted.