These days we can mention meditation in conversation among our friends and even in the work place without everyone subtly moving away from you and checking their wallets or purses, raising their eyebrows, smelling you to see if you have been smoking something, and wondering if you about to get your head shaved and wear robes. We have all heard of it, and maybe know that over the last while (four decades) there has been a lot, a real lot, of research papers written praising the benefits of it in assisting people with the ever increasing demands of modern living. A common reaction to its mention is, ‘ah I should do that’. Or ‘great idea, but where is the time for it’.
But what is meditation actually? Like many ‘new’ words that come into common use, its true meaning is lost in translation, and geographical re-positioning. Well, let me tell you this. ‘Meditation: it is not what you think’. Most likely it is not what you think it is, or what you have done already and has been called meditation. It is not thinking about something. It is not about trying to ‘do’ anything or achieve anything.
It is about creating the conditions for the mind to spontaneously quieten down. Anything when allowed, not pushed or pull into action, will quieten down naturally.
To understand what Meditation is, perhaps it is worthwhile to inquire into what it is not (although it may have been called meditation).
For some, controlling the mind, training the mind to be still, by continually forcing the mind towards something or some thought. Perhaps it is staring at a candle flame, or endevouring to keep a particular thought repeating in the mind. This is concentration, and a very valuable mental skill to have and perhaps develop. We need to concentrate to drive that car, read a book, or focus our work. But we can see it is a very active activity or skill. Meditation is a natural state, as natural as sleep (but different), where its activity slows down of its accord, its own nature.
For some, it is using the mind to think about something that is not actually happening where we are. This may be closing the eyes and thinking about laying beside a quiet stream in nature, and feeling (imagining) the warm sun on our face, and hearing the birds sing while seeing the yellow flowers wavering in the sweet smelling gentle breeze. This is creative imagination, and it is also I believe a very good mental skill to have. Our ability to imagine is directly related to our ability to solve problems, to come up with new solutions. But although certainly more passive, and less concrete use of thinking than concentration, it is still keeping the mind thinking.
For some, to spend some time regularly thinking about our relationship to things around us, to something bigger than ourselves, perhaps to Nature or to God, or thinking about that part of ourselves that does not seem to change is worthwhile activity. And I personally do think so too. But again, contemplation is encouraging the mind to be active, even if more subtly.
All of these are active, and worthwhile, activities of the mind - concentration, imagination and contemplation. And activities, or ways of functioning, that the mind spontaneously exhibits in response to demands. And like all skills, it does it better the more we do them. But Meditation is none of these, although all of these skills improve by the practice of Meditation.
Meditation is creating an environment, in the mind, that allows the mind to experience its source. And what is that? It is Consciousness itself. In the ancient language of India, from which meditation springs, the word for it is ’dhyana’. It means absorption. Meditation should be like salt dissolving in water, easy and natural. It is natural for salt to dissolve and the nature of water to absorb. We have all spontaneously experienced times of the meditative state, when the mind quietens and stops thinking about something and simply enjoys it, such as watching a sunset, or even in the intense activity of a sport.
A meditative practice or technique that is effective uses the nature of the mind to move towards that which is charming, if it conceives that it can, such as if our favourite song plays on a passing car stereo, or our lovers voice in a room with others talking too. And also, quieter ways of thinking, less concrete modes of thinking, are more charming, such as daydreaming looking out the window. When disturbed from it, we are momentarily annoyed (because we were enjoying ourselves), and often can not remember or articulate what is was we were thinking. This shows it was not the content of the thought that was charming but the way of thinking.
Meditation uses this natural tendency of the mind to follow charm, and to follow it towards its source, which will be ‘super’ charming. In Vedic Meditation we use a special and meaningless sound, a mantra, that is tailored or matched to needs of the student, that the individual’s mind finds naturally attractive. And now this is the most important and unique aspect of this technique, that natural quality of that sound is that it self refines, it gets quieter, more subtle, in the mind of the thinker (student) when thought or experienced in the particular way that it is instructed. And the experience is, while sitting comfortably with eyes closed, a quiet enjoyable passing of time, with the mind coming again into the field of thinking and gently quieting down again, the content of the thinking not captivating the mind (it is not what you think) but the process itself. Meditation is not skill, it is an easily learned process that allows the mind to experience quieter layer of thinking and the source of all thinking, Consciousness itself.
The Vedic Meditation technique requires no belief system for its efficiency, and so does not conflict with any existing beliefs, be they religious or secular. It is practical and scientific, meaning it is predictably repeatable. It is not a breathing exercise, and requires not special postures or body position except that to sit safely with closed eyes.
But ‘so what’! What is the use of this, even if it does sound pleasant enough? This a good question. Simple stated, when the mind quietens down so too does the metabolism of the body slow down. Mind and body are intimately connected. We all know this. The Vedic Meditation technique gives reliable access to a profound state of rest, often having been found to be at least two times deeper than our deepest night sleep. Remember that rare night, these days, when we did get a good long nights sleep. How different our day was following it even though the demands and challenges were the same as the day before. Meditation gives us reliable access to that state of rest, anywhere, and at any time, no matter how we are feeling before hand. Can you imagine (a good use of that mental skill) in what areas of your life the benefits of meditation, reliable access to profound rest, would manifest?
Come to an Intro talk and hear more about it.
Tim Mitchell - Teacher of Vedic Meditation, Yoga and Ayurveda
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