Nowadays, the word meditation covers a fairly wide spectrum of practices. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the main ones and their values in our lives.
Reflection or recapitulation is to refer back over past events and situations. This can be a useful technique to practice at the end of the day, to meditate on the events of the day. It should be done without evaluation or judgment but rather as a process of witnessing the main events of the day and our reactions to them.
As we practice this we will find ourselves saying things like, “I ate breakfast, I went to work, I met my friend, I felt happy”. We will see that the events came and went but the one constant was “I”. We begin to appreciate that who we really are is the witness in all experiences, the timeless Self in the midst of all time-bound events.
Contemplation is to think about something, to ponder on it and explore all its aspects. It can be a process of self-reflection, where we ask questions such as, “Who am I?” or “What do I want?” Contemplation is where we look to our inner world for answers, asking the questions and then listening for the answers and insights that rise from our deepest Being. Contemplation helps us lead a life directed by our inner wisdom.
Prayer. It has been said that prayer is when we talk to God and meditation is when we keep quiet so God can speak to us. Prayer itself can take many forms, from the “shopping list” of desires to prayers of praise and gratitude. Prayer can be a way of expressing our love and devotion for the Divine, both essential aspects of our spiritual journey. Prayer is often something we only turn to in times of need or great challenges. Fortunately, the Divine is very patient and accepts all comers. The ultimate prayer and expression of surrender is, of course, “Thy will be done”.
Eating. The air we breathe and the food we eat are what keeps us alive so eating is a sacred act and should be a meditative experience. Try to eat in a settled environment, not working, watching TV or checking your Facebook page. Always try to sit down to eat. Do not eat if you are upset.
The first part of your digestion takes place in the mouth so take a moment to appreciate the food in front of you, the color, the smell. Think of everything that went into bringing that food to you, the rain and sun that helped it grow, the farmer who tended the crop, the love and care that went into the preparation. Place the food in your mouth and enjoy the taste. Put the utensil down until you have fully chewed and swallowed each mouthful. Avoid cold liquids during the meal as these will extinguish your digestive fire. Be mindful of your appetite so you don’t over-eat. A good rule is to fill one third of your stomach with food, one third with liquid and leave the remaining third empty for digestion. Take a few minutes to remain seated and appreciate the meal after finishing it.
Walking. Many people enjoy making their activities a meditative experience. Whether walking, dancing, bicycling or any other activity, be fully aware of the activity. You could coordinate your movements with your breath or repeat a simple phrase such as, “I am walking, right leg up right leg down” or something more meaningful such as, “Peace and love”. Whenever you find yourself distracted by something in the environment, pause, enjoy that experience, and then return to the meditation. Next time you go for a walk, try being fully present to the walking, not thinking about what you have to do next.
Guided, where you are led through a series of experiences. Usually you will be instructed to see, to feel or be aware of different things. While this is easy for some people, it can be quite difficult and frustrating for others. If you fall into the second group, when asked to “See yourself walking in a beautiful meadow”, don’t worry if you can’t see a picture of the meadow in your mind. Just imagine what you would be feeling if you were in the meadow. Awareness and imagination are really the same thing.
Many people enjoy guided meditations because someone else directs and we just have to follow along. While guided meditations do keep the mind engaged in activity, they can be very useful in helping to relieve physical, mental and emotional challenges. The guided meditation section has many for you to try.
The meditations we have discussed up until now have all involved some degree of activity, mental, physical or both. While these can all have great values in helping to restore harmony and wholeness to our lives, it is important to take time each day to enter totally into the experience of inner silence. These final two types of meditation are specifically for this purpose.
Breath. The vast majority of our thoughts take is into the future or the past. Consequently, this is where we spend most of our lives and, in essence, miss the present moment entirely. Our breath can never be in the future or the past, it is always right here, in the now. By simply sitting quietly with eyes closed and effortlessly observing our breath, flowing in and flowing out, we are immediately brought into the present moment. This can have a profound effect on centering and
grounding us and, more importantly, allowing our thoughts to settle down to their deepest level, silence.
Mantra means vehicle or instrument of the mind and there are many different types of mantras, which can be used for a variety of purposes. We’ll discuss this further in a later article.
The mantras we are referring to here, are specific sounds or vibrations which have no particular meaning. Most thoughts have a sound and a meaning. It’s the meaning that keeps our awareness on the active thinking level. When we introduce this type of mantra, it acts like a thought with no meaning. With nothing to keep us at the active level of the mind, our awareness turns within until we reach a point where we transcend thought completely and slip into the silent field of infinite possibilities. These mantras are best learned from a qualified teacher such as those certified by the Chopra Center to teach Primordial Sound Meditation.
Making the journey regularly back and forth from activity to silence, gradually integrates these qualities into our lives bringing profound benefits in all areas.
If you have time, it’s fine to practice different types of meditation at different times of the day. Meditation essentially means to be aware, to have focus or direction. When we learn to live our life with awareness, to live consciously, making conscious choices, our whole life becomes a meditative experience.