There are a lot of reasons to meditate. When I first started, I was the mother of two young boys, the wife of a demanding man, and a full-time researcher in a university setting. I needed to have a tiny bit of space that I could call my own, and I was desperate to have some relief from my anxiety. I read an article about transcendental meditation and made up my own mantra. I proceeded to meditate by mentally repeating my mantra for 15 minutes each morning and evening, for almost ten years. It helped me to relax and provided me with some time out, and I was grateful for the practice.
Finally, when I grew tired of this approach, I saw a notice posted in a shop window in my neighborhood, “Meditation class forming.” I went, and it turned out that the class was given by two students of Sri Chinmoy, the author of The Jewels of Happiness, as well as Meditation ((Sri Chinmoy, Meditation, New York: Agni Press, 1989. You can purchase this book at Amazon. Or, if you go to the Sri Chinmoy Library online, you will be able to read another of Sri Chinmoy’s books on meditation, Meditation: Humanity’s Race and Divinity’s Grace free of charge.)) and a number of his other books. The class teachers invited us to attend a meditation session with their teacher, and said, “It will change your life.” I remember thinking, “Hm, I doubt it will change my life, but I’m curious, so I think I’ll go.” It did change my life! Meditating using Sri Chinmoy’s approach has revealed to me a large number of reasons to want to meditate: to see myself and others more clearly; to have some detachment from the daily drama of my life; to open new doors to creativity within myself; and to experience moments of happiness and peace unrelated to personal or political current events.
How to meditate
Silencing the mind is the gateway to all meditation practices. It is easier said than done! A very noisy mind, comparable to New Year’s Eve on Times Square, is the typical human condition. Different meditation traditions recommend different approaches to quieting the mind. One effective method is to focus on the breath. Pay attention to the air as it comes into your nostrils and then fills up your belly, and then notice as your belly flattens and the air goes out through the nostrils again. You can repeat this process for five or ten minutes, or use it for only a few minutes to strengthen your concentration before you go on to meditate in some other way.
Another good approach to quieting the mind is to focus on a quality that you would like to have more of, such as happiness. As you breathe in, imagine that you are breathing in happiness, and as you breathe out, imagine that you are breathing out misery. You can continue with happiness for a few minutes, and then repeat the same process with a second good quality, and then a third. Yet another way to quiet the mind is to imagine that you are meditating inside a room. You are standing at the door to the room, and every time a thought tries to enter, you tell it to go away.
Most of us in the West admire the mind and what it can do quite a lot. We give great credit to smart people, and in our own lives we stay in the mind most of the time. While the mind is very useful to us in some parts of our lives, this habit of putting the mind on a pedestal is a bad thing, because it makes us neglect the heart. The mind usually delights in being critical of others, while the heart is the home of oneness. The path of meditation on the heart is the sunlit path, the fastest and safest way to establish a good meditation practice.
The spiritual heart, located in the center of the chest, is the home of our feelings of unconditional love, gratitude, appreciation of self and others, and forgiveness. By focusing on our heart, we can bring the light of the heart into the mind, and silence the mind’s chatter. This practice is well worth the effort that it takes. To help you to meditate on the heart, I recommend the following exercise:
“Kindly imagine a flower inside your heart. Suppose you prefer a rose. Imagine that the rose is not fully blossomed, it is still a bud. After you have meditated for two or three minutes, please try to imagine that petal by petal the flower is blossoming. See and feel the flower blossoming petal by petal inside your heart. Then, after five minutes, try to feel that there is no heart at all, there is only a flower inside you called ‘heart’. You do not have a heart, but only a flower. The flower has become your heart or your heart has become a flower.
“After seven or eight minutes, please feel that this flower-heart has covered your whole body. Your body is no longer here; from your head to your feet you can feel the fragrance of the rose…”
– Sri Chinmoy ((From the book The Meditation-World, made available to share under a Creative Commons license))
Something to watch out for:
Everyone who has meditated has found that the mind tends to natter on. No matter what technique we are using, we find, over and over again, that the mind intrudes. There are worries that can’t be forgotten; there are angry ideas that have the same staying power as the unwanted pop-ups on our infected computer. When this happens, you can return your mind to calmness by imagining that the thoughts are like birds flying across a vast sky, or like fish that ruffle only a tiny part of the ocean; or you can try to imagine that you are strangling each and every one of those thoughts; or you can remember the reasons why you want to meditate and why these unwanted thoughts are getting in the way.
It is important that you do not blame yourself when these thoughts intrude, or decide that you are hopeless and not cut out for meditation. It happens to everyone – if you were trying to run a five-minute mile, you probably would not consider yourself a failure every time you ran less quickly. ((To find additional suggestions that will help with establishing your meditation practice, please see Getting Started with Meditation, by Nirbhasa Magee.)) Like learning any skill, the more you practice the better you become. After some time you will find that when you sit down at your meditation place, you breathe a sigh of satisfaction, because you know that the irritations of life will soon diminish or stop.
The results of meditation
Different people have different experiences of meditation: the results depend on where we are starting from and what our goals are. Over a period of time, meditation has helped me to put some distance between myself and the immediate problems of my life. By becoming somewhat detached from my “issues,” I have often found that I am newly able to see solutions that I had not imagined before. Sometimes I have realized that my own behavior is the cause of problems that before seemed to be someone else’s fault. When I come to that understanding on my own, it is always more powerful and more lasting (as well as more pleasant!) than when someone else points the same thing out to me.
Feeling grateful for what others do for me, and for the good qualities and good fortune that I enjoy, is something that has not come “naturally” to me. It is easier for me to see what is missing and what is wrong than to be grateful for what is right. But at least I have come to know which side of the picture is more satisfying for me to look at, and early in each meditation session I bring my attention to several things that I am grateful for. After I do that, I always feel better than I did before, and I now sometimes look at what I am happy about even as I go about my daily activities.
Beyond the different techniques that help us to concentrate and focus, there is a place where there is only silence, light and peace. In that place, although it may be only for a few moments at a time, thought stops, and there are moments of genuine tranquility. For me, that state usually shows up as visible light, with an accompanying feeling of happiness, sometimes even bliss; although I think the experience is different for each individual. When I see this light, I feel that the effort of getting to this place was more than worth the trouble. The more years that I meditate, and the more often I meditate in any particular period of time, the more likely I am to have moments of deep peace during my meditations. Indeed, I am grateful for all that has brought me to this experience!