What is Meditation?
Meditation is an ancient path of meeting oneself in stillness. It is the practice of being intimately aware of and connected to one's experience in the present moment. Meditation is neither about attaining some trance state where there are no thoughts. Nor is it a tool for getting rid of selfishness, anger, sadness or insecurity. What matters is not what we experience but how we meet whatever arises in us, with resistance, fear and aggression, or with openness and acceptance.
Meditation is about ourselves as we are right in this moment, where nothing needs to be improved, added or taken away. It is an invitation to let go of the perfected or enlightened 'me' that exists only in our imagination, and instead be who we truly are.
Meditation can be seen as a form of prayer, where God is speaking to us through silence and we simply listen. Receiving a moment wholeheartedly is an act of love, devotion and surrender. As we open ourselves in this way we become intimate with the presence of God in ourselves.
The Practice of Meditation
We bring a gentle and warm attention to our experience: the breath, bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings. In order to not get lost in the flood of impressions there are a number of tools that are like signposts in the landscape of our internal world. Observing the breath for instance helps to 'anchor' awareness in the present moment. This anchoring allows for inner stillness and clarity to unfold.
We notice that all our feelings, sensations and thoughts are constantly changing, like a river of experience: the memory of an argument is followed by a moment of grief and anger, restlessness turns to stillness and presence. The key is genuine acceptance of what is. The meditator remains a neutral observer of all these internal movements. This however does not mean that we remain aloof and disconnected from our experience. Quite the contrary, we fully feel whatever passes through our consciousness but without being identified and lost in it.
Daily life practice
Meditation is not only a spiritual practice on the way to enlightenment, it also offers very useful support for dealing with the challenges in all areas of life, i.e. relationships, career, health etcetera. We will learn to look at ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, our body, our strengths and weaknesses, with clarity and kindness. Meditation helps us to accept ourselves as we are. Our tendency to judge ourselves and others diminishes and we may feel a deeper connection to what is truly important in our life.
Through regular practice of meditation we ground ourselves in silence and peace rather than being pushed around by restlessness, irritation and worry. It is as if there is more space in us to allow any emotion to arise without becoming reactive. This spaciousness is particularly useful in our relationships where reactivity is one of the biggest sources of conflict.
As our heart relaxes and opens we become more aware of the beauty in this world, in ourselves, in the people around us, in nature. It opens us to the wonders of life.
Regularity of practice
For the effects of meditation to really take root some regularity of practice is essential. You may start with 10 – 15 minutes several times per week. If your body has adjusted to the sitting quietly without moving, you can gradually extend the periods by 5 minutes so that eventually your meditation may last 30 – 40 minutes. It is more effective to sit 10 minutes per day than once a week for an hour.
Remember that meditation is not a competition so don't put yourself under pressure. It is a time to be with yourself in silence, without being driven by perfectionism or fear of failure.
There are many ways to meditate. It is best you try out an approach that you feel drawn to and practise it for a month or two. Then see if it is helping you to be more present and kind to yourself and others. Having said that, don't expect any miracles. If you wish to go deeper into this powerful practice I recommend that you find an experienced teacher.
The Gift of Meditation
The Buddha taught meditation as a path where the heart expands so wide that all human experiences have their place in it, including the painful ones like anger, sorrow, despair and fear. In that sense meditation is more than simply concentration practice. Its essence lies in the complete allowing of one’s experience without the need to change, hold on or avoid. When for instance we fight with feeling restless we give it fuel and it tends to increase. On the other hand, an attitude of allowing and openness leads us into stillness and peace. There can be immeasurable joy and aliveness in meeting our humanity in this way.
Being with difficult feelings
It is very common in meditation for memories, images or painful emotions like sadness or fear to arise. These experiences want to be liberated from the unconscious and released from our system and they will keep arising as long as we are denying them. In meditation we learn to stay with our experience as it is without moving away from it. Instead we let it pass through us by observing and feeling but without analysing or judging. We recognise our moment to moment experiences as a dynamic process that we are a vessel for without being defined by them. In order to not get lost in the flood of our experiences we bring our attention to something that grounds us and keeps us present and clear, like the breath or the ground we are sitting on. As our practice deepens we connect with the larger space of awareness that holds all our experiences.
Who are you?
With some experience in meditation we come to realise that all that we thought we knew about ourselves or about life are simply memories, beliefs and opinions, perceived through the selective and distorted filters of our conditioned minds. We actually don't know anything. And that is a good thing. As we begin to trust in not knowing we become empty and the truth can enter us and show us the way. As long as we hold onto our treasured familiar views we remain caught in our own limited minds.
At some point on our spiritual journey we ask ourselves: Who am I? What is this 'me' that is seeking happiness and freedom? This is not a question we can answer with our conceptual mind. Meditation takes us deeper and deeper into the inquiry of our true nature without ever denying our humanity. It invites us to let go of the one asking the question and simply rest in being presence itself. It is the immediacy of every single moment that is a doorway into this pure open presence.