1No one has ever plumbed the depths of either the conscious or the subjective life. In both directions we reach out to Infinity.
Ernest HolmesIf you are reading this first chapter of this book, you have probably already asked the question, Why meditate? You might also have some ideas about why you want to explore meditation further. Maybe your friends have tried it and youve seen some beneficial changes in them. Perhaps your doctor has suggested that you find ways to relieve stress. You may have heard something about it in a class or workshop and decided to get more information. This chapter lists different reasons why people begin meditating, as well as the short- and long-term results you can expect from it.
The Science of Mind
The most basic result of meditation is an altered state of consciousness. Actually, this result is not difficult to achieve, as your state of mind changes from moment to moment anyway. With meditation, however, there is a certain direction that the alteration is expected to take: muscles relax, emotional states become more calm, the mind rests, blood pressure decreases, pulse rate declines, the eyes focus in a different way, breathing slows, and an awareness of sounds in the immediate environment may increase.
If you meditate for an extended period of time, you may become aware of the shifting angle of the sun coming in a window. Your awareness may extend to other people in the room, or to sounds outside the building. Some people have said they can tune in to the movement of the planet itself by lying still on the ground and looking up at the night sky.
If your only meditation goal is relaxation, you will meet a challenge. Yes, your muscles relax, your emotions become quiet, and your heart rate slows. You can achieve measurable stress reduction in this way. On the other hand, the chatter in your mind becomes more and more apparent as you become quiet. Also, after an extended period of sitting in a meditative posture, your muscles begin to rebel. You develop twitches, muscles begin to cramp if the posture is unusual, and you fidget. What is meant to be relaxing becomes uncomfortablesometimes quite uncomfortable.
During extended meditation it is helpful to vary your technique. A period of sitting can be followed by a few minutes of walking to loosen up your muscles. You may think that ten minutes is a long time to sit still, and one minute of walking around is enough to flex and stretch. Often, people sit for forty-five to fifty minutes and walk for ten.
Meditation is not about how much time you put into it. Unless you live in a monastery or ashram, you probably dont have many hours each day to devote to meditation. However, you do have shorter periods of time available. The following are some examples:
After you come home from school or work and have prepared supper, use the fifteen to twenty minutes while your food is baking in the oven.
When you are on a plane or train or bus.
When you are getting a haircut.
When you are waiting for an appointment.
When you are in the dentists chair and waiting for the shot to take effect. (I know, this one will be a challenge for almost everybody!)
When you are walking, running, or jogging.
When you are painting, raking leaves, or doing other repetitive work.
By the same token, there are other times when your conscious attention needs to be given to what you are doing, and safety is an issue. Examples include:
Driving a car
Boiling or frying food
Using any sharp implements
Caring for children
Crossing streets or roads
Handling breakable objects
Attending a lecture or performance
Walking up or down stairs
These lists are not exhaustive, but they show that you can find meditative moments in your daily life. You dont have to set aside hours of time. If you can, that may be helpful. If not, find short bits of time and make use of them each day. Meditation will help you become more clear and focused when you are engaged in those other activities that demand your conscious attention.
Meditation GoalsIf your meditation goals go beyond relaxation, then you will want to experiment a bit to find methods that help you to achieve those goals. Dont get me wrong, relaxation is an admirable goal in our stressful modern lives. In fact, it is essential to physical and emotional health. Still, you may have other goals for your meditation.
Insight is a time-honored goal of meditation. Eastern adepts and Western monks and nuns have spent years in meditation or retreat in order to discover their connection to the universal plan. Your personal goals are just as important
I will relate a story told to me by an elderly Episcopal priest. He had been a priest all his adult life. During the Lenten season he had undertaken a forty-day retreat, something most of us will never do. He had devoted his life to understanding the nature of God and to helping others. In a conversation with me concerning how we demonstrate our love of God and what we feel we owe God, he said, You know, Stephanie, I have been a priest for over sixty-five years, and in these past weeks on retreat I have only now learned something about Him. God does not put us on Earth just so that we can love Him. He puts us here so that He can love us. This simple statement changed my life. Since that conversation I have often remembered this, and I have occasionally shared it with people who seemed to need reassurance that we each are part of a larger spiritual plan.
Now, we are not all priests or monks and we cannot all go on extended meditation retreats. What we can do is take the moments we have to calm our minds. Then we can perceive our place in the universal plan more clearly. You may connect through the Goddess, through multiple gods, through vibrational methods, through scientific investigation, or whatever means suits you. You can devote as much time as you wish to your meditation goals. Personally, I have found that more is not necessarily better, but some is necessary. The pace of my life could easily prevent me from having the time to write, for example. I can always find something else to do. Brief moments of quiet allow me to formulate and reorganize my thoughts. Then I can sit down and put the words together.
When you have a complex problem in the work environment, you need to get away from it to get a different perspective and to let the details sort themselves out in a way that points to a solution. Meditation provides one means of this. Sometimes a walk around the block is enough to accomplish this task.
Regarding the practice of meditation, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche has written:
Many people expect the result of meditation to come in a short space of time, overnight, so to speak, but this is not possible. It is a process of development wherein consistency is the key. If we practice every day, regularly, even for a short period of time, that will add to our development.1
Whatever your meditation goals, you can begin with just the simple act of sitting down and trying it. You dont need any fancy equipment or clothing and you need not revolutionize your daily schedule. Eventually you may want to find a teacher or attend workshops, but for now all you have to do is begin.
exercisebeginning to meditate
Read through the exercise, then close the book.
1. Sitting comfortably with your hands in your lap, or standing in a quiet spot, look at the cover of this book.
2. Relax your eyes and simply look.
3. Allow your attention to examine the details of the books cover.
4. Continue doing this until you see something that catches your attention.
5. Then focus on why it caught your attention. Was it the color, the shape, the texture?
6. Refocus on the books cover, and continue for a few moments.
7. Does something else arise to take your attention?
8. Notice any connections you make between the books cover and your personal experience as you do this exercise.
Whatever arises for you is a bit of insight. It may not be the most profound insight you will ever experience, but it is insight. In the moments when we are not totally focused on the outer environment, or when we have a gap in our thought process, we allow insight to pop into our minds. You dont need a huge gap, just a relaxed state and attention to the meditation process.
summaryThe simple act of altering your focus can place you in a slightly altered state of mind. In fact, we alter our states of mind every moment of our waking (and sleeping) life. We are constantly processing information, relating it to what we already know, and storing it for future use. Usually we are not conscious of the process, but we enter an altered state from moment to moment to moment.
The next chapter introduces a few meditation postures and other meditation tips.