Ask Parvati 5: How To Begin Meditating

BY Parvati


How To Begin Meditating
March 27, 2011
Thank you for this weeks questions. This week, we take a look at the power of meditation.
As part of the blog this week, I include a guided visualization for Japan. When I launched my new online store at http://www.PositivePossibilities.com/ last weekend, I led a meditation for Japan, which I recorded. Please join us in sending the people of Japan and our planet much-needed healing. The meditation is posted here. Please forward the link to whomever you think may be interested.
To get your question in for next week’s blog, please send it to ask@parvatidevi.com by Thursday, March 31.
Sending prayers for deep peace,
Parvati
The power of meditation
Dear Parvati,
I have been considering starting a meditation practice, but I’m not sure where or how to begin. Can you please share how you began meditating, and how I might go about getting started?
Thank you for your question. The topic of meditation is very dear to me. It is something that fuels my life. I would even say it is the foundation to all that I do. It is a deepening, ongoing process that continues to teach me the true value of learning to fully live and love.
I first saw the effects of meditation when my grandmother walked out of her room after her quiet time. She seemed bigger, taller, more luminous than ever. The light that emanated from her seemed to make her ageless. I was only six at the time, so through my childs eyes, I saw a truth that has stayed with me ever since.
When I was ten, I saw a friends mother come out of her yoga room after her practice with that same glow. There was a magic surrounding her, a peacefulness and a vitality, something that just said yes to my heart and soul. I wanted THAT.
My grandmother was not a religious person, nor one who had an easy life. In fact, through the war, she was struck with a mysterious illness diagnosed as terminal, with a husband off at war and three children under the age of ten to feed. Somehow she just knew, faced with all of that stress and uncertainty, that all she could do was lay herself down, go to bed and give her whole life over to God.
She was in bed for a year, during which her life completely changed. As she made that choice to let go, a woman she had never met before came knocking at the door of her tiny wartime house asking if she could have room and board in exchange for housekeeping. This woman’s need was an answer to my grandmother’s prayer. As my grandmother said yes to her health and vitality, a surrogate mother appeared to care for her children while she healed.
It was during that year that my grandmother started to, as she would say, listen to her Maker. Every morning once she rose, she spent an hour, sitting upright, eyes closed, going within, quietly listening. She did that every day, without fail. It was her way of connecting, tapping into the power of life and finding unspoken direction for her day.
All religions that I have been exposed to speak of the need to connect within to touch the true potency of life. Each practice is slightly different, but all seem to point to unifying truths: We are connected to a force beyond our ego. We are interconnected through that force to all things. We realize our connection to that force through a surrendered process that is beyond what we can intellectually comprehend or control.
Just as there are many religions, there are many meditation practices. A meditation practice, in that way, is personally rooted in order to touch the transpersonal. One must find their own way in, a way that suits their personality and temperament. I have most knowledge of Buddhist, Hindu and Christian meditation practices, so my practice stems from my relationship with sacred sound and stillness. As I mention in the bio on the sidebar of this blog, I have always felt that my way in is through the symphonic quiet of Nature and the stillness in all that is.


I have found that for me, the IAM technique (Integrated Amrita Meditation) offered by my guru Mata Amritanandamayi Devi of South India, also known as Amma or the Hugging Saint, is the most potent and comprehensive meditation technique that I have tried. As such, it forms the foundation of my personal practice, in which I also include daily an extensive beingness meditation practice that focuses on mantra (sacred syllables given by a realized master) and mindfulness breathing.
I feel that meditation is my medication. It’s my way of tapping into what is real, important and eternal. And as such, it treats and heals a misperception that we have as humans: that we are in some way separate from all that is. So the practice of meditation is like developing a new consciousness muscle in which our awareness is focused on the vastness of possibility, rather than the seduction of the temporal.
For a yogi, concentration is the first step to a meditation practice. I often hear people say that meditation is the stilling of the mind. I also hear people say that they cannot get their mind to stop, so they cant meditate. Yet it is the nature of the mind to be busy. Through the practice of meditation, eventually one transcends that busy mind and touches and exists within the quiet, open, vast universal mind, the all-seeing mind, a vast field of pure potentiality. Meditation is the state of absorption upon which one concentrates. In a deeply meditative state, there is no me or other, but a oneness flow that returns the perception of individuality to the pure state of undivided consciousness.
There are two primary forms of meditation practice: those that are convergent, that help the mind focus, and those that are divergent, those that help the mind open and expand. The end result is the same, the transcendence of the mind, but the means are different. A convergent practice would be the Zen practice of focusing on a phrase, such as the sound of one hand clapping. The focus on something that transcends reason eventually exhausts the minds desire to divide and control and breaks the habitual field of awareness into new states of consciousness. A common divergent practice is a Buddhist vipassana practice that focuses on the breath. The breath is vast and expansive in nature, so by focusing on it, the practitioner can touch realms that exist beyond the limits of sense perception and physical attachment.
Some meditators are more visual and rely more on using the minds ability to create and invoke divine states or scenes. Others are more sensate and prefer to stay with feelings and physical sensations. There is no right or wrong way. You must do that which works for you. To find out what suits your temperament, try different techniques for a short while and eventually choose one. Choosing one practice is very important. As I said earlier, it is the nature of the mind to be busy, and a meditation practice is to develop the skill to move beyond the mind, so we don’t want our busy mind to be restlessly seeking out a perfect” practice that will bring instant bliss. There is no such thing. Meditation practice is exactly that, a practice. You get out of it what you put in. So sticking with one is really key to the success of your practice. And again, remember, it is the nature of the mind to be distracted, so there will be a curious hunger within that will come and try to distract you once the going gets a bit rough. Stick with it. Having many meditation practices is like digging many shallow holes in the ground, whereas sticking with one practice is like digging one deep well that will eventually strike water.
 
CONCENTRATION EXERCISE
Here is an example of a concentration exercise you could do. It is a classical practice from hatha yoga, called Trataka, which means to look or to gaze.
1. Find a quiet and relaxed environment, one that is away from the busyness of your life. It could be a separate room, or it could be a quiet corner of a room. Choose a spot where you feel safe and relaxed, that is not your bed.
2. Sit upright, either on the floor or on a chair. It is best to sit free from any back rest such as the wall or the back of a chair. You can sit on a cushion and/or prop your legs with cushions as needed so that your hips and spine feel as relaxed and as supported as possible.
3. Light a tall candle or raise a shorter candle (not a tea light) so that the golden flame is about at the level of your eyes.
4. Gaze at the flame with relaxed, focused eyes, without blinking. Keep your eyes open, even if they begin to tear.
5. When you feel the need to close your eyes, do so and keep them closed. While your eyes are closed, you will still see the image of the flame. Focus now on this for as long as you can, until it is no longer visible. While you are focusing on that gold flame, feel that you are the gold flame, that you are internalizing the gold light.
6. Open your eyes again, and return your gaze to the flame as in Step 4. Repeat steps 4 through 6 for about ten minutes.
7. After ten minutes, conclude the practice by keeping your eyes closed, taking three long breaths, feeling the energy of that gold light in your spine and your whole being, and give thanks inwardly for this practice.
 
MEDITATION PRACTICE
Here is a basic breathing practice you can do.
1. Find a quiet and relaxed environment, one that is away from the busyness of your life. It could be a separate room, or it could be a quiet corner of a room. Choose a spot where you feel safe and relaxed, that is not your bed.
2. Sit upright, either on the floor or on a chair. It is best to sit free from any back rest such as the wall or the back of a chair. You can sit on a cushion and/or prop your legs with cushions as needed so that your hips and spine feel as relaxed and as supported as possible.
3. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to the crown of your head, and slowly scan through your whole body. Over the course of about one minute, begin at the crown, move through the face to the top of the spine at the base of the skull, through the neck, shoulders, arms, ribs, lungs, belly, pelvis, sitting bones, legs and feet. Allow yourself to feel rooted. Then return your awareness to the crown of your head while maintaining a rooted feeling through the sitting bones, so that you feel through your spine the rootedness in the pelvis that connects you to the ground, and the lightness through the crown that connects you to the sky.
4. Bring your full attention to your breath. Begin to notice the details of the mechanics of breathing, such as your lungs expanding when you inhale, and contracting when you exhale. Notice the muscles involved. Notice any tension that’s there. Notice any expansive feelings.
5. Begin to become aware of the sensation of breathing, the feeling of the air moving through the lungs, allowing yourself to relax with this process, keeping your mind both relaxed and focused on the breath.
6. When you notice your mind wandering onto random thoughts, gently allow your awareness to return to your breath.
Repeat this process for two to five minutes, for a beginner.
It is best to choose a length of time during which you can maintain your focus, rather than choosing a time that is too long, where you become overly distracted and lose the practice. It is much better to do two minutes of meditation with focus than to do thirty minutes without focus.
TIPS
– Meditation is a discipline and is best seen as such. Regularity and consistency yield maximum results.
– It is ideal to choose the same place and time of day to do your practice. However, that is not an excuse not to do your practice. Any time is the right time to practice.
– Set a timer so that you dont feel tempted to watch the clock.
– Avoid the immediate urge to talk or get busy right after the practice. Allow there to be a transition for a few minutes.
– It is best not to meditate on a full stomach. The ideal is to meditate after bathing and before breakfast.
– It is of tremendous benefit to meditate under the guidance of a true master. I list a few in the references section.
– No two sits will be the same. That in itself is part of the practice, for you to let go of expectation and keep doing the practice. A meditation practice is not goal-oriented, but an organic, surrendered unfolding that slowly reveals ones true nature.
– It is very important to stay connected and present in your body, and not space out. Meditation is not leaving your body, but developing tremendous relaxed presence in the face of whatever may arise.
– Meditation is not a happiness pill. During a meditation practice, one will become aware of uncomfortable, even painful aspects of oneself. This is natural and healthy and not to be feared. By giving ourselves the space to witness them, and by being present with them as they arise, we are giving ourselves the gift of true freedom and the opportunity to permanently cease suffering.
– During any meditation, you may experience periods of elation or periods of distress. It is very important not to become attached or identified with, nor resistant to, any experience, and to just continue doing the practice.
 
REFERENCES
For your reference, these are links to some books and spiritual centers and teachers that have touched me in some way:
Masters:
Insight Meditation Society: http://www.dharma.org
Shambhala Center: www.shambhala.org
Texts:
Buddhism:
Kornfield, Jack, A PATH WITH HEART – A GUIDE THROUGH THE PERILS AND PROMISES OF SPIRITUAL LIFE, (Bantam, 1993)
Chodron, Pema, START WHERE YOU ARE, (Shambhala)
Chodron, Pema, WHEN THINGS FALL APART: HEART ADVICE FOR DIFFICULT TIMES, (Shambhala 1997)
H. H. The Dalai Lama, THE ART OF HAPPINESS, (Riverhead, 1998)
H.H. The Dalai Lama, AN OPEN HEART: PRACTICING COMPASSION IN EVERYDAY LIFE, (Little, Brown, 2001)
Eppsteiner, Fred, editor, THE PATH OF COMPASSION: WRITINGS ON SOCIALLY ENGAGED BUDDHISM, (Parallax, 1988)
Goldstein, Joseph, INSIGHT MEDITATION, (Shambhala)
Hayward, Jeremy, SACRED WORLD, (Bantam, 1995)
Kabat-Zinn, Jon, FULL CATASTROPHE LIVING, (Delta, 1990)
Kabat-Zinn, Jon, WHEREVER YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE, (Hyperion, 1994)
Nhat-Hanh, Thich, THE MIRACLE OF MINDFULNESS, (Beacon, 1975)
Nhat-Hanh, Thich, TOUCHING PEACE, (Parallax, ’92)
Nhat-Hanh, Thich, PEACE IS EVERY STEP, (Bantam, 1991)
Salzberg, Sharon, LOVING KINDNESS, (Shambhala Press)
Trungpa, Chogyam, CUTTING THROUGH SPIRITUAL MATERIALISM, (Shambhala, 1973)
Christianity:
Fox, Matthew, A SPIRITUALITY NAMED COMPASSION, (Harper & Row, 1990)
OBrien, Justin, A MEETING OF MYSTIC PATHS, YOGA AND CHRISTIANITY (Yes International Publishers, 1996)
Hinduism:
Mata Amritanandamayi, CONVERSATIONS WITH MATA AMRITANANDAMAYI Volume 1-9, (M. A. Center, 1986)
Swami Amritaswarupananda, AMMACHI: A BIOGRAPHY
OF MATA AMRITANANDAMAYI, (M. A. Center, 1994)
Hixon, Lex, Great Swan: MEETINGS WITH RAMAKRISHNA,
(Larson Publications, 1997)
Swami Vivekananda, LIVING AT THE SOURCE, (Shambhala)
Satyananda Saraswati, MEDITATIONS FROM THE TANTRAS, (Bihar School of Yoga, Bhargava Bhushnan Press, 1983)
Paramahansa Yogananda, AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI,
(Self-Realization Fellowship, 2006)
Contemporary:
Ford, Debbie, THE DARK SIDE OF THE LIGHT CHASERS, (Riverhead Books, 1998)
Grof, Stanislav and Christina, THE STORMY SEARCH FOR SELF, (Harper Collins, 1991)
Muller, Wayne, LEGACY OF THE HEART: The Spiritual Advantage of a Painful Childhood (Fireside, 1993)