What Is Meditation and What Is Not Meditation
Meditation is a means of achieving a deeply refreshing rest in a short amount of time. Meditation is resting with awareness as differentiated from sleep which is an unconscious rest.
Meditation is accomplished by focusing the mind into the present moment. There are various methods to do this. Observing the breath, observing the body, and repeating a mantra are some basic techniques. The most refreshing meditations will be effortless in the sense that no concentration or strain or forcing is required.
The effort to meditate is in the preparation; turning off devices, sitting down and keeping the eyes closed. Once you have settled comfortably, you start the process and let go.
It is important to understand the correct meaning of the word meditation. You may have heard people say things such as, “running is my meditation.” or “surfing is my meditation.” or “I get into a meditation when I work on my car.”
Getting focused, being totally in your zone in an activity, feels good, of course, but is not truly meditation. Such experiences of centeredness and flow often can be the result of meditation and will happen more easily after meditation.
When a person exercises, the body releases endorphins. Endorphins have actions similar to opiates, they reduce pain. Endorphins are manufactured naturally within the body and they make us feel good. This gives rise to what is known as “runner’s high.” When I say meditation I am talking about a state of mind in which we go beyond the normal activity of the mind. So an endorphin high is not a sure sign of meditation.
Tension in people will tend to correlate with constricted blood vessels. Drugs, alcohol, marijuana and some other intoxicants produce a brief state of apparent relaxation. This is because blood vessels will relax from the stimulus of the intoxicant. But after the intoxication wears off, the blood vessels again become constricted. The blood vessels will often be more constricted than they were before the intoxication, so people often end up feeling worse, in the long run.
Meditation produces relaxation of blood vessels that can last for hours. So the elevation and relaxation that people feel from meditation becomes cumulative and progressive when meditation is done on a regular daily basis.
Drugs generally provide both an initial, stimulating/rajasic and subsequent dulling/tamasic effect that leaves a person in a tamasic state of increased dullness and reduced functionality.
Meditation and yogic breathing practices soothe and reduce rajas and tamas and elevate the mind to a state of greater sattva. According to Ayurveda, while smoking, alcohol, pot and drugs reduce the person’s ability to digest emotions, meditation and yogic breathing practices directly enhance emotional processing and increase emotional centeredness.
Some people may think that their work is their meditation. You can be happy, focused, calm, steady, undistracted in your activity, but that is not meditation. These will be the results of successful meditation.
You may be having some periods of samadhi in your activity. Yet, activity is not meditation. Meditation is eyes closed, sitting down, relaxing into being.
Many studies have shown that based on oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide exhalation, meditation can give us a rest that is literally twice as deep as the deepest sleep. (see Keith Wallace, and others.) This is why deep impressions and stresses, that don’t get cleansed through sleep, can be released by meditation.
Dhyana is the dispassionate, transcending type of meditation. This is sometimes different than the mantra repetition known as japa. The modern, common understanding of japa for many people implies repeating a mantra very rapidly, for example the mantra Ram. However, from long ago, the word japa has been used to mean any repetition of mantra, whether totally internal and silent, manasa, or whispered, upaanshu, or out loud, vaikhari. Another approach to japa is to repeat a mantra a set number of times, such as 108 repetitions. Different levels of effort may be used in japa, from a very tiny effort when it is spoken, to an effortless effort when it is internal. Japa can bring waves of ecstasy. Japa can help clear negativity and is sometimes used to remove obstacles seen in an astrological chart. Japa is a valuable technique.
To dive to the deepest, quietest levels of consciousness it is important to relax and allow the process to unfold. The repetition of a mantra in meditation is very effortless. No need to count the repetitions of the mantra. The pace is natural and effortless. When we notice thoughts we don’t get upset, just easily return to the mantra.
Some people will say they meditate on peace or love. They keep the mind focused on peace or love. This is actually a type of concentration and is not meditation. It keeps the mind in surface layers of thought and activity. In meditation we relax and experience whatever naturally happens as we relax into our true nature. After a relaxed, deep meditation it is easier to focus and concentrate.
To dive to the deepest, quietest levels of consciousness it is important to relax and allow the process to unfold. The experience of thousands of meditators was scientifically validated by Travis & Shear (2010), showing that silent repetition of mantra is the most efficient vehicle for an individual to gain the deepest meditations on a regular basis. Using a mantra silently, in an effortless way, can provide what is known as an automatic self-transcending technique. We are not counting the repetitions of the mantra. The pace is relaxed and easy. When we notice thoughts we stay relaxed, and just easily return to the mantra.
It often happens that people will go deep in meditation and not feel deep because they have some alertness. Habituation to lack of awareness in sleep makes it hard to get past this type of doubt. Studies have shown that meditators can have significant reductions in metabolism while feeling very alert.
It is imperative to come out of meditation slowly no matter how shallow or deep you think you went. In fact, for some, the single most important point for getting benefits from meditation is to come out of meditation slowly. Sometimes, even when they are not feeling any resistance to change, people are in a rush, so they get up quickly from meditation. This can cause impatience, headaches or irritability.
Gurudev Sri Sri clarifies, “Dispassion has to arise in your mind whenever you want to do meditation - a deep meditation. Without dispassion, your meditation is no good. It is of no use. It cannot provide you the rest that you are longing for.”
Gurudev Sri Sri says, to have a good meditation, drop wanting, needing and doing as you close your eyes. The key is effortlessness, not imagination. Imagination requires effort. To meditate, we must let go and allow the process to happen. Meditation is much easier when we have an attitude of acceptance.
When you let go and relax, with acceptance and dispassion, meditation will take us to a distinctly different state of being. This is a measurably different state of consciousness called turiya, or transcendental awareness. This is a fourth state of consciousness, different than our usual waking, dreaming and sleep states of being.
The ultimate goal of meditation is to be in samadhi, a state of stillness, peacefulness and serenity. Patanjali, author of the authoritative Yoga Sutras, says that many years of practice are necessary to train the mind to be able to exist in a non-stop, continuous, permanent state of blissful awareness. This could be said to be one of the ultimate goals of Yoga.
Disclaimer: Statements on this site are intended to be informational only and are based on years of accumulated experiences within the realm of Ayurveda. Before embarking on undertaking to improve one’s health it is wise first to consult with professionals. These statements have not been investigated, evaluated, or approved by the FDA. Nothing said here is intended to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure disease. If you have a medical problem please see your doctor.
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