General Introduction to Practicing Meditation
by Charles MacInerney
Specific Instructions for Meditation
by Charles MacInerney
Everything you experience, see, hear, touch, smell, taste, think, anticipate, remember, every emotion you feel, everything you have or will ever experience, is experienced in your mind. Meditation is a discipline that teaches one how to control consciousness, rather than be controlled by it. Meditation teaches you how to control how you experience the world. There are numerous accounts of people in the worst of circumstances who are filled with awe and wonder and gratitude for the amazing gift of life. Conversely, one need not look far to find a millionaire who has mastered the physical universe, but is a slave to the whims of his or her own mind, and is miserable in the midst of external wealth.
If love, joy, happiness, bliss, anger, depression, hate and fear are all internal experiences of the mind, which does it make more sense to learn how to control, the external material world, or the internal world of your mind? Both are important, but if I had to choose, I would choose to be hungry and happy over being sated and miserable!
Some people object to the idea of controlling consciousness. These are usually people who have little control of their own mind, and are blinded by their own ignorance. Would you advocate that the owner of a computer should never attempt to learn how to control the software, that they should spend their lives pushing buttons at random and being amazed and surprised by what happens on the screen? Of course not. Would you advocate that the owner of a car should not learn the difference between the accelerator and the brake pedal, or that turning the steering wheel counterclockwise turns the car left? Who do you think enjoys playing the piano most, the person who knows how to play it well, or the person who bangs on the keys randomly making noise?
Such objections may arise from a belief that the more you know about something, the less there is to know, and the more boring and predictable your world becomes. The opposite is actually true. The more math you learn, the more you realize there is to know and the more magical and mystical the field appears to you. The more you know about music, the more you want to know.
Those who have begun to master their minds, are like a teenager who has learned to drive a car… the whole universe awaits their explorations.
Perhaps people’s adverse reaction to the idea of controlling consciousness arises from the word control itself. Control has negative connotations for some people. The pianist never truly ‘masters’ the piano. There is always room for improvement. In fact, the better you are at an activity, the more room for growth and improvement you find. As you get better, your relationship to the activity gets more complicated, more elaborate, more exciting, more dynamic, more intricate… you evolve towards perfection.
The same is true of meditation’s effect on the mind. The better you get, the more complex and mysterious your mind becomes, expanding gradually toward God or the universal consciousness, or oneness, or illumination, or infinite complexity, or whatever your belief system ascribes as the goal of your life.
There are many different forms and styles of meditation. In this book I will introduce you to a wide variety of styles, although by no means all of them. There are countless variations which I will not mention because I do not feel qualified to write about them. There are others that need supervision and should not be learned from a book. There are also other variations of meditation of which I am not even aware.
To better understand meditation, consider the following analogy. Imagine a light bulb shining on an object. Now imagine that you have placed a lens between the light bulb and the object which concentrates the light on the object. Different lenses would concentrate varying amounts of light on the object. Now imagine that you also place a colored filter between the lens and the object, which allows you to also control the color of the light as well as its intensity. This filter can be replaced with any other color. Now imagine that the light bulb, the concentrating lens, and the filter are mounted on a board so that you can choose where to point it, and so select different objects as the target for your colored light. Using this analogy, the light bulb is your awareness and the lens is your capacity to concentrate, and the filter is comprised of one or more of your 5 senses. The light bulb always remains the same, but the intensity of the focus, the color of the filter, and the choice of targets can vary. So it is with meditation.
Each of the following styles of meditation have something in common: they concentrate your awareness on a target.
This target can be external to the mind, in which case it is experienced through one or more of your senses (auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory or kinesthetic). Examples of good external targets include bodily functions such as breathing, walking, eating, and sex, which can all be experienced through one or more of the senses. Targets can be external to the body as well, like looking at a candle flame or a rose, or listening to a symphony.
The target can also be an internal experience of the mind. Any experience of the external world can also be re-experienced with the imaginary versions of any of the senses, for example visualizing the image of a rose with your eyes closed, rather than looking at a real rose, or hearing a sound in your mind rather than through your ears. Other internal experiences that lend themselves to being good targets of meditation include emotions, memories, concepts, silence, or even the flow of your own internal dialog.
Let us look at a specific example of a good target for meditation – Breathing. The breath can be experienced through the kinesthetic senses by feeling the rise and fall of the diaphragm and chest. The breath can also experienced through the filter of the auditory senses, by listening to the sound of your breathing. The breath can also be experienced through the tactile senses by feeling the flow of air through the nostrils. You can practice meditating on your breath through one, or any combination of these filters.
In an eating meditation you experience food first with your imagination. Then with your eyes. Then with your touch. Then by smelling, tasting, chewing, swallowing, and finally meditating on the memory of the experience.
It is not important for you to learn and master every technique described in a book, nor is it even desirable. Instead you should search through books sampling the different styles until you find one that works for you. It is far better to perfect one or two styles of meditation than to be proficient at many. If you find that a meditation style no longer meets your needs then return to a book for guidance and search for a different exercise that you can continue to grow into, perhaps even returning to one that you tried and abandoned previously.
It is also important not to hide behind the expertise of a book, but to feel confident to launch out on your own, varying, combining and even abandoning these techniques. I had one student who was embarrassed because she kept drifting away from the techniques she was learning and each time had to force herself to come back to the exercise. When prompted about what was distracting her from the Mantric Meditation, she described seeing and moving towards a pure, bright white light, and a sensation of melting into it. She was proud to have been able to pull away from the lure of the light in order to return her attention to the mantra. Some people meditate for years waiting for just such an experience! The techniques are just tools. Do not confuse a technique with the goal of meditation. Do not reject the experience in favor of the exercise. The techniques serve as a wedge to open the door to a different state of consciousness. In such an event it is up to you to seize the opportunity to step through the door and explore what you find, not to hide behind the wedge that has opened that door.
“Meditation is one of the greatest arts in life – perhaps the greatest, and one cannot possibly learn it from anybody. That is the beauty of it. It has no technique and therefore no authority. When you learn about yourself, watch yourself, watch the way you walk, how you eat, what you say, the gossip, the hate, the jealousy – if you are aware of all that in yourself without any choice, that is part of meditation.
So meditation can take place when you are sitting in a bus or walking in the woods full of light and shadows, or listening to the singing of birds or looking at the face of your wife or child.”
J. Krishnamurti – Meditations
Everyone who does not fall into the previous category should include meditation as part of their daily routine, along with brushing their teeth and washing their hair. How absurd to spend an hour or more a day feeding, exercising, washing and cleaning our bodies, and neglect doing the same for our minds. Life is experienced by your mind, in your mind. Although the tree may be growing in the middle of a field, your experience of seeing the tree, hearing the rustle of the leaves, smelling the flowers, touching the bark, all of these experiences take place in you mind! A crowded chaotic mind can neither notice nor appreciate the subtleties of the universe. A well-kept clean and quiet mind can accept and hold the image of reality in it’s purest form.
Imagine looking at the reflection of a glacier covered mountain range reflected in the silvery silent surface of a lake. Now imagine 50 people on jet skis, and motor boats racing up and down the lake, while around you people throw rocks and boulders into the water causing a chaotic churning of the water. Further imagine a layer of motor oil, fallen leaves, and trash scattered over the surface of the water. Clearly the image of the mountains would be lost, or at best vaguely comprehended, and only partially appreciated. The mountains are still there and just as beautiful, but their reflection in the lake is lost. So it is with your mind. Only a silent mind can capture and hold the vibrations of the universe. In such a mind, the sound of a bird is bliss. Meditation improves your capacity to experience and appreciate the universe. It also lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and anxiety, and much, much more.
Generally speaking, meditation is considered to be safe for most people to learn with or without supervision. Even if the practitioner is doing the techniques poorly or flat out wrong, it is not as hazardous as doing physical exercises wrong, and usually even poor meditation leads with practice to continued improvement. The exception to this rule is for people with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Epilepsy, Seizures, Schizophrenia, or any similar or related disorders of the brain. If you suspect you might fall into one of these groups, you should not practice meditation without the knowledge and approval of a qualified health care provider. The right type of meditation is very beneficial for these types of problems, but the wrong style can exaggerate the symptoms and make the condition worse. Find out from your doctor what frequencies of brain waves you should avoid and which frequencies need to be strengthened, and then consult with a qualified meditation teacher who can design exercises to promote the desired effects. Better yet, seek out a qualified biofeedback lab that can diagnose abnormal brain-wave patterns and teach you how to compensate with specific biofeedback guided meditations.
Now you are ready to begin meditating. The meditations listed in the directory above can be practiced in any order, although I recommend the breathing meditations first. If you find one that works well for you, you need go no further, unless you want to explore other styles. It is not important to learn every style of meditation. What is important is to find one you like and work on perfecting that one meditation.
Do, or do not… there is no try!
~ Yoda – from the movie “Star Wars”s a text block. Click the edit button to change this text..
Walking Meditation is a wonderful initiation for beginners into the art of Meditation. It is easy to practice, and enhances both physical, mental and spiritual well-being. It is especially effective for those who find it difficult to sit still for long periods of time. Some people enjoy practicing in a beautiful outdoor setting, like a park. Others prefer to practice indoors, due to poor weather, or desire for privacy.
Walking Meditation should generally be practiced for between 15 minutes to 1 hour. A 20 minute walking meditation can also be used as a break between two 20 minute sitting meditations, allowing 1 hour of meditation without placing undue demands on the practitioner.
You can practice indoors by walking around the perimeter of your largest room. If you practice outdoors choose a scenic and quiet setting. Walk without a destination. Wander aimlessly without arriving, being somewhere rather than going somewhere.
Start out walking a little faster than normal, and gradually slow down to a normal walking speed, and then continue to slow down until you start to feel artificial or off balance. Speed up just enough to feel comfortable, physically and psychologically. At first you may need to walk fairly fast to feel smooth in your gait, but with practice, as your balance improves, you should be able to walk more slowly.
Be mindful of your breathing, without trying to control it. Allow the breath to become diaphragmatic if possible, but always make sure your breathing feels natural, not artificial. Allow the breath to become circular, and fluid.
Walk with ‘soft vision’ allowing the eyes to relax and focus upon nothing, while aware of everything. Smile softly with your eyes (see Mirror Exercise in Vision Chapter for details). Gradually allow the smile to spread from your eyes to your face and throughout your body. This is called an “organic smile” or a “thalamus smile”. Imagine every cell of your body smiling softly. Let all worry and sadness fall away from you as you walk.
Walk in silence, both internal and external.
Be mindful of your walking, make each step a gesture, so that you move in a state of grace, and each footprint is an impression of the peace and love you feel for the universe. Walk with slow, small, deliberate, balanced, graceful foot steps.
After a while, when both the breath and the walking have slipped into a regular pattern of their own accord, become aware of the number of footsteps per breath. Make no effort to change the breath, rather lengthen or shorten the rhythm of your step just enough so that you have 2, 3 or 4 steps per inhalation and 2, 3 or 4 steps per exhalation. Once you have discovered your natural rhythm, lock into it, so that the rhythm of the walking sets the rhythm for the breath like a metronome.
After several weeks of regular practice you may experiment with the ratios adding a foot step to your exhalation and later to your inhalation as well. Whatever ratio of steps-to-breath that you settle on, it should feel comfortable, and you should be able to maintain it for the duration of the meditation comfortably. After several months you may find your lung capacity improving. If you are comfortable, lengthen your breath an extra step but avoid trying to slow the breath too much or you will do more harm than good.
Notice the beauty of your surroundings, both externally and internally. Smile with every cell in your body.
For more information about Walking Meditation read “Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life” By Thich Nhat Hanh Foreword by H.H. the Dalai Lama, published by Bantam Books. This wonderful book is available on-line.
Remember laying on your back as a kid, and watching the clouds without trying to change them, control them, or pass judgment on them? These are the very same qualities we look for in the practice of Detached Observation. This was J. Krishnamurti’s favorite form of meditation, and the following description is based upon his work. There are only three rules to follow:
- Let go of control. Let the mind wander where it wants, or let it sit still… it is all the same.
- Pay attention. Do not fall asleep or let the mind wander off by itself.
- Do not judge. Whatever the mind is doing is real. Accept it dispassionately, neither take credit for good thoughts or blame for bad thoughts. Watch the mind carefully, as if from a distance, like a child watching clouds.
This practice will give you insights into the inner workings of your own mind. Let the mind wander where it will, without any interference, but stay with it always, watching from a distance. This practice will encourage a creative, spontaneous and “alive” mind whose spirit is unbroken.
Between each thought is a pause… a drop of silence. See if you can become aware of these moments of silence between thoughts and then focus on them. Gradually these moments of silence will become longer pauses, and come more frequently until you learn to tap into the silent source of all thoughts at will.
This technique is slower than some, and harder, but worth the extra time and trouble. It is like breaking a horse gently with love by winning it’s trust, rather than breaking it’s spirit with force until it submits to your will (Quicker but violent). *Note – this form of meditation can be done anywhere, at any time, with the eyes open or closed.
Think about the qualities you would look for in an ideal friend or lover. Imagine someone who allows you the freedom to be yourself, who pays attention to you, and does not judge you, but rather accepts you unconditionally. In the presence of such a person can you not see that you would flourish and do well, as opposed to someone who tried to control you, or did not pay attention to you, or judged you?
Now think about your relationship to your own mind! Do you try to control it? Do you ignore it often slipping into semiconscious? Do you judge it as good or bad? If you answer yes to any of these questions then you have a less than the ideal relationship to your own mind. Detached observation teaches you to become your own best friend. It gives you the key to knowing yourself. It creates a healthy relationship between the observer and the observed in the realm of your own mind and leads to healing and illumination.
Of all of the forms of meditation I have studied, Detached Observation Meditation is my favorite… and the best part is, you cannot do it wrong! After all, wrong implies there is a right way to do it and requires judgment which is not part of the exercise. If you find yourself judging yourself during this meditation, and realize it, do not try to stop judging yourself, as that is an act of control, which is not part of this exercise. If you are unable to stop yourself from controlling yourself so as not to judge yourself, do not judge yourself for your inability to control your judgment…. And so it goes, round and round chasing its own tail until the mind collapses exhausted, and catches a glimpse of itself in the mirror of self-awareness.
There is a simple formula for spiritual growth… Awareness and acceptance. Through acceptance of reality we become more aware, which requires additional acceptance which permits more awareness to flow through the iris of the ‘I’. This is a positive spiral of illumination.
If you do not accept reality, then you reject it! And if you reject reality, are you not rejecting God? If you reject reality, what is left? Illusion! This is the choice, to live in a world of illusion and self delusion, or to move out into the world of awareness through continuing acceptance.
This is the same formula as detached observation… awareness of one’s own mind, and acceptance, leading to greater awareness and in turn demanding more acceptance… as we slowly learn to love ourselves and the universe around us.
Try practicing one of the following two Eating Meditations before your next meal. Take a small portion of food, like a single strawberry, raisin, a slice of apple or a cracker.
Imagine you have never seen a strawberry (or any piece of food) in your life, and examine it the way a baby would examine something newly discovered. Look at the strawberry and try to notice something about it that you have never noticed before. This should be easy, as no two strawberries are ever identical. Now close your eyes and see if you can smell the strawberry. Lick your lips and rub the strawberry over your lips, massaging your lips gently. How does it feel? Now lick your lips. Can you taste the trace flavor of the strawberry? Hold the strawberry in your mouth, and roll it around. How does it feel in your mouth? As you chew, notice the immediate change in the intensity of the flavor. Slowly chew the strawberry while resisting the urge to swallow. Sit a little taller and notice if posture affects your appreciation for the strawberry. Breathe in deeply and let your breath go with long soft sighs. Does breathing help you enjoy the strawberry? Relax your face and smile. Notice how smiling improves the taste of a strawberry.
Eat a second raisin practicing Sincere Appreciation. Eating just as slowly and following the same instructions from the first raisin, but this time contemplate the many miracles that brought this raisin to your lips. The farmer who grew the grapes, the truck driver, the architect who designed the store where you bought the grapes, all of the people whose lives helped make this moment possible, including your parents for raising you, the rain and sun and the miracle of life present in a single raisin. Give thanks for the wonderful gift of taste. Students who practice this eating meditation are often amazed at how much better food tastes when they take the time to notice and appreciate the food as they eat it. You will notice that a single raisin, eaten with sincere appreciation brings more joy and happiness than a whole box of raisins swallowed unconsciously.
Kids take to this exercise readily, and when they realize that they can get more enjoyment out of a piece of candy by practicing mindfulness they are sold on the idea. Even animals can learn mindfulness!
I used to have Rhodesian Ridgeback named Chani. She was a big dog, and loved bananas for some reason. She used to eat bananas like she ate rib bones, crunching them into two pieces and then swallowing both halves, skin, stem and all. One week I decided to teach her the eating meditation using a raisin.* Normally she would swallow a raisin without noticing what she had eaten, so I held the raisin between my fingers so that she could only nibble the tiny exposed portion of the raisin. She took my whole hand in her mouth! After a while she let go of my hand and contented herself with licking and nibbling the exposed portion of the raisin as I slowly exposed more of it over the next minute. During this time she grew increasingly excited and wagged her tail and her whole rear end. This might have been the first time she had ever tasted a raisin, although she had swallowed more than her share.
After a couple of weeks of this ritual with the raisin, I was amazed when she took a whole banana from me, and instead of swallowing it, took it out onto the back porch and set it down almost delicately. She held the banana with one paw and peeled it with her teeth, and then ate slowly, wagging her tail, and pausing occasionally to look back at me. Finally when it was all gone, she returned to the banana peel and ate that as well.
* Please note that I have since found out that raisins can cause renal failure in dogs. Although it is doubtful that a single raisin would be sufficient to cause any symptoms, I would still advice using some thing other than raisins, if for no other reason than to reduce the likelihood that your dog will seek out raisins on it’s own and consume larger quantities which can be harmful to your pet.
All forms of meditation are built on a solid foundation of good breathing techniques and are centered around breath awareness. This is so fundamental that it is often taken for granted by teachers and authors. Just as I would not think to remind you to use a cup to drink tea from instead of the teapot, a teacher might neglect to mention breath awareness. It is important for your continuing success with meditation to remember to first become fully aware of your breathing before proceeding with any meditation, regardless of whether or not the instructions mention breathing.
Simple Breath Awareness
This is one of the simplest of all meditations, yet also one of the most powerful, and rewarding. Initially it is best practiced while lying flat on your back on the floor with knees either straight or bent. As you improve it can also be practiced while sitting, standing or walking, as long as you can maintain good posture. Poor posture impedes the breath and distracts from the meditation.
The secret of this meditation is to observe the breath without consciously trying to change it. Your observations of the breath filter down to the subconscious levels of your brain, which will begin subtly to shift and refine the breathing to lead you gradually along the perfect path towards perfect breathing. Conscious attempts to alter the breath will only interfere and create anxiety and tension.
All effort to meditate is the denial of meditation J. Krishnamurti – March 1979
When you get the hang of Simple Breath Awareness, the character of the breathing may improve dramatically in a short space of time. Gradually, over a period of a few days or months, you will approach a plateau of improvement where you are utilizing the full capacity of your lungs. At this point, your lung capacity itself will begin to expand, but this is a slower process, involving the growth of new lung tissue which can continue over a period of years and should not be rushed.
The Ujjayi Breath is practiced by half closing the epiglottis at the back of the throat. This partially restricts the flow of air, and causes a rasping or hissing sound in the back of the throat as you breath in and out. Often people breath like this when they fall asleep. Do not try to make the sound loud enough for others to hear. Instead your breath should sound like a gentle, soft whisper.
With practice you will be able to breathe easily in this manner. Ujjayi Breath allows you to listen to the sound of your breathing, and thus helps to focus the mind on the breath. It can be used to enhance most meditations that are described in the following pages. Ujjayi Breath can be used with diaphragmatic breathing, complete breathing, and alternate nostril breathing exercises. In fact, it can be used with almost any breathing technique with the possible exception of Breath of Fire, bellows breath, cleansing breath, or other similar techniques involving forceful and sharp contractions of the diaphragm.
Tension in Tanden
This is one of the harder breathing exercises to actualize, but once experienced it is really very easy to do, like riding a bike. The Tanden Center is the name used in Zen Meditation to describe the seat of spiritual power, said to reside in the diaphragm. Creating tension in the Tanden Center is accomplished by putting the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles in isometric opposition. Normally the diaphragm contracts to pull air into the lungs and rests while you breathe out using the abdominal muscles to empty air out of the lungs. When you practice maintaining tension in the Tanden, you do so on the inhalation by making the diaphragm work a little harder while resisting with the abdominals and on the exhalation by making the abdominal muscles work harder while resisting with the diaphragm. Thus the diaphragm and abdominals never completely relax, but instead trap tension between them as they are in an ongoing game of give and take.
Once you learn how to create and hold tension in the Tanden Center, you can experiment by holding more or less tension as you meditate to see for yourself what works best for you. This technique helps to still the racing or wandering mind, by maintaining your focus on the Tanden Center and on the breath. It may also well conceal deeper secrets known only to those who perfect and practice this technique.
Working Meditation is ideal for those who feel they do not have time for a formal sitting or walking meditation practice. It is easy to fit it into your daily schedule and it is simple to learn. Benefits include improved performance and enhanced enjoyment of whatever activity you choose to practice with. Over time, Working Meditation can be a powerful tool for improving both your internal, and external environments.
There are several criteria to consider when choosing an activity to practice Working Meditation with. First is the length of time. Choose a task that takes between 2-30 minutes to complete. Choose an activity that you have to do anyway, but that usually you might consider as wasted time. Choose an activity that you do not usually enjoy. Some suggestions are: driving to work, washing the dishes, brushing/flossing your teeth, watering plants or doing yard work. Avoid the temptation to try to do long drawn out jobs as a working meditation. Concern yourself with the quality of the meditation, not the quantity. It is much better to do a 5 minute Working Meditation perfectly, than 2 hours fairly well. Only when you find that lengthening the duration of your Working Meditation actually improves the quality of the meditation should you choose a longer job to practice with.
Although you can do a Working Meditation anywhere, or any time, it is best when learning to choose an activity that is performed privately or independently.
The attitude with which you approach the job you have chosen is very important. Consider the following story, as told by Joseph Campbell – Three men are working together on the same job. An observer asks… “What are you doing?” The first answers, “I am working.” The second answers, “I am laying bricks.” The third answers, “I AM BUILDING A CATHEDRAL.”
Whatever your Working Meditation is, determine to set about the activity with as much awareness and joy as possible. Incorporate as much yoga into the work as possible. As you work, breathe diaphragmatically. Make a game out of creating the most efficient, fun and flowing movements. Make each gesture a dance, moving as though you were practicing Tai Chi. Do not let the mind wander, keep bringing it back to the job at hand. Do not let any tension accumulate, either mental or physical. Take frequent breaks if necessary, for 15-30 seconds to stretch and enjoy your surroundings. Smile from the inside out, and put away all thoughts of trying to Finish by a certain deadline. Make this one chore the highlight of your entire day, and resolve to do it PERFECTLY. Make washing the dishes an act of worship.
The more energy and awareness you put into your work, the better the results, the less tiring the work is, and the more satisfaction you receive from your work. Working is an opportunity to practice and enhance your powers of concentration and meditation, and a chance to celebrate life. At first do this once a day, with a small project, and as you see the difference in the enjoyment of the chore, not to mention the quality of the work, and the satisfaction that accompanies a job well done, you will want to practice this Working Meditation more often throughout the day, every day, with joy and awareness.
Note: To enhance your practice, before undertaking your meditation, try doing 5 -20 minutes of yoga, with a 5 minute relaxation. Stretch, yawn, stand up slowly, and then turn your mind to the task at hand.
Anything can be elevated to the level of meditation when the goal is not the finished product, but instead to be fully immersed in the process. You can meditate upon washing dishes, walking, chanting, or the flow of thoughts through your mind.
One of my favorites is a writing meditation. Record your thoughts without editing, filtering, or judgeing. Keep the pen moving, if only to write about how you have nothing to write about. This exercise eventually slows the mind down to the rhythm of the pen and from this slower rhythm our unconscious mind is able to occassionally break through to the surface, surprizing and delighting us.
This is a wonderful exercise in letting go of control. When you are finished you have a written record of your meditation, that can be revisited at a later date.
Below is a fun little peice that I wrote several years ago at my first Mexico Mind/Body Writing Retreat. I had tried several times to write with out editing or judging, but was easily distracted by thoughts like Ôthis does not make any senseÕ, or worrying about switching tenses in mid sentence. My intellect would take over and I would end up writing a peice that was grammatically correct, and made perfect sense, but was uninspiring. This time however, when I realized that I was writing nonsense, and later when I suddenly changed directions without warning, I was able to surrender to the flow of words and not let my ego take over. I wrote with abandon and actually enjoyed the process!
Of Glaciers and Chess Games
Expanding Paradigms – Spring 2001
I watch the glacier closely, convinced that watching long enough I will see it move. I know that this is a contest of wills, and blinking I will be presented with an accomplished fact. Glaciers do not flow, they jump from one small quantum state to another, if only we look closely enough. They prefer to do this unobserved, and scientists returning each day measure their slow progress down the valley and are satisfied to imagine that they flow, but I know better. The scientists blink and the glacier seizes the opportunity to reposition itself more comfortably on itÕs bed of rocky moraine.
This is a test of will, mine and the glacierÕs. If only I do not blink, the glazier will be forced to reveal its will to action. I can feel the glacier, increasingly uncomfortable, longing for relief, but too proud to reveal its true nature to mortal man. It whispers softly to me, to abandon my silly quest, that humans come and go and glaciers remain. My eyelids grow heavy but I shake off the trance. I know it is growing desperate. I can feel itÕs creaking ice and hear the ache of its fissures. I imagine how powerful I will be, how triumphant, exultant, conqueror of glaciers, and smile wistfully. The glacier feels my resolve and groans under its own weight.
I am 9 years old, sitting across a 3 foot high African wooden drum from my father, already an old man. We are playing chess and I am winning. He whistles uneasily, discordant whistling that ofttimes jarred opponents into mistakes.
I have been here before, perched on the edge of victory and let him slip through my fingers and dance away only to return, driving hard into an exposed flank, or sit back to pick off neglected pieces one at a time and always… always I had lost. But not this time!
He grins mischievously at me, proud and embarrassed at the same time, as I press the attack carefully. He desperately throws out bait to distract me with an easy kill and I pass it by, taking my time, closing relentlessly for the kill. His last option closed, he looks into my eyes confirming that I too see it and will not be swayed… and tilts over his king in formal resignation…
I am shocked to find mixed with the pleasure of victory my first taste of mortality. The world just lost a little of its magic and I am older and I see clearly that my father just grew older too. Neither of us celebrate. My father and his youngest child are closer now than ever, the pedestal removed, the harsh reality of life, of competition, of predation lay exposed between us, recorded in the patterns of the board for any trained eye to read.
I am not yet ready. I still need to believe in something larger than myself. I still need the magic of mystery. And so I blink, slowly and deliberately – and the glacier sighs and for today at least remains a mystery to me. Namaste’
If you are interested, check out our Yoga and Writing retreats.
So-Haun Mantra Meditation
This is one of the oldest of the Mantras. A Mantra is a sacred sound used to enhance meditation. Mantric Yoga is a school of yoga that uses different sounds to induce spiritual awareness. So-Haun is sometimes called the Universal Mantra, or the Mantra of Breath. It is said that all creatures repeat this mantra unconsciously as they breath in and out. On the inhalation each creature unconsciously prays So-Ham: that (the immortal spirit) – am I. On the exhalation each creature unconsciously prays Hamsa: I am that (the immortal spirit ).
There several variations on the mantra, and all are equally valid, but my personal preference is the So-Haun variation. In this style you imagine the sound So as you breath in, and Haun as you breath out. As you repeat this over and over, you are saying “That – I am” with each breath. If you allow your awareness to widen you lose focus of beginning and end, and you get … that, I am, that, I am, that, I am, that, I am. If this sounds familiar, you are probably thinking about the passage in the Bible where God is asked, “Who are you?” and he replies, “I am that I am.”
To grasp the power of this statement, refer back to the philosopher Descartes, who said “I think, therefore I am”. If being is the result of thinking, what happens if I do not think? At a deep level most of us are scared to allow the mind to stop because that is the absence of ego, the absence of self. And yet it is only in the absence of self, that the power and mystery of God can be experienced!
My father provided me with such a powerful example of this mindset that I was able to begin seeing it in myself. One day, while watching my eldest sister meditate, he could barely restrain himself. Finally when she finished, he moved in with naked curiosity. “I just don’t understand this meditation stuff,” he began. “When you sit there with your eyes closed, what do you think about?”
One of my students wore a t-shirt to class that said, “Meditation: It’s not what you think!” To my father, not thinking equaled oblivion, and thus he was scared of the silence deep within his own mind. People who identify with their thoughts are terrified of letting go of thought and thus must constantly stay busy, distracted, entertained… sound familiar?
Now let us compare these two mantras. First close your eyes and repeat to yourself, “I think, therefore I am. I think, therefore I am.” for a couple of minutes. The more you repeat this statement, the more hollow it begins to sound. It loses power with repetition and dissolves into mush. Now repeat “I am that I am” for a couple of minutes. Notice the power and sense of permanence in this Mantra. This is what Mantric Yoga investigates: the ability of certain sounds to gain meaning with repetition, while the majority of words lose meaning.
By identifying with being rather than thinking, you are free to not think, without the fear of oblivion. It is only ego that disappears, not awareness of the present moment. “I am that I am” serves to lesson the fear of the practitioner as they approach the silence of deep meditation, with each breath reminding them that they are one with God, and God with them, and that thoughts are like ripples on the surface of a deep clear pond.
INSTRUCTIONS: Lay down, or sit upright, in a comfortable position, and with good posture. Breathe diaphragmatically. Practice breath awareness. Once the breath has found a steady and comfortable rhythm that has a calming effect on the body and the mind you can begin the Mantra. As you breathe in silently repeat the sound “So” stretching the sound out over the length of the breath “sssssssssoooooooooooooooooooo” (with a hard ‘o’ sound, as in “so”). As you breathe out silently repeat the sound “Haun” or “Ham” again stretching out the sound over the length of the exhalation “hhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuunnnnnnn” (with a soft “a” as in “haunt”) . Repeat this with each breath for 5-30 minutes.
Ujjayi / So-Haun Combination: If you have become comfortable with both the Ujjayi breath (see Breath Awareness Meditations for instructions) and the So-Haun Mantra, then you can try combining them for a more powerful effect.
Instructions: Lie down, or sit upright, in a comfortable position, and with good posture. Breathe diaphragmatically. Practice breath awareness. Once the breath has found a steady and comfortable rhythm that has a calming effect on the body and the mind you can begin the Ujjayi-Breath. Practice until you find a soft whisper that is easily maintained and sounds pleasant to the ear, like a soft sea breeze. As you continue Ujjayi-Breath, overlay the sound of the So-Haun Mantra over the top of the sound of your breathing. Listen to the two sounds, of breath and mantra, and over time allow the two sounds to merge and meld into a single movement.
AUM Mantric Meditation: The sound “Aum” or “Om” is a widely used mantra. “Aum” is said to be the sound of creation, echoing down from creation through the millennium, and heard by adepts in the deepest of meditations. The mantra is divided into 3 parts. Aaaaaaa…Ooooo…MMMMMM…., but all three syllables blend together into one sound. The Aaaa starts in the back of the mouth, and moves into the mouth with an Ooooh, and rolls off of the lips with an Mmmmm humming noise. The first sound of Aaaaaa represents birth, separation, or creation. The second sound of Oooooh represents balance or preserving. The third sound of Mmmmm represents death, surrender, or oneness. The Silence from which the AUM sound rises, and into which it submerges again represents the void from which all things come into being.
The Aum mantra can be chanted out loud, or repeated silently in your mind. Breathe in silently. As you breathe out slowly and smoothly, repeat the mantra. The slower and smoother you can repeat the mantra, the better. Breathing in silently, repeating Aum on the exhalation. Note: this same mantra can also be pronounced OM by dropping the ‘aaa’ sound.
Counting Back From 10
This counting meditation is designed to improve your ability to hold the mind steady, without wandering. It is not very elegant or spiritual, but it does strengthen your “concentration muscles.” Practicing this meditation is like an athlete who lifts weights to improve his or her golf swing. There are 3 main variations of the counting back meditation. Each one is slightly harder than the previous one. The important point to remember is that the goal is not to reach 1 as many times as possible before losing count. The goal is to learn how to notice the slightest waver of the mind, so that you can bring it back to the meditation again. Every time your mind wanders, and you bring it back to the exercise, it is like doing a push-up – you get a little bit stronger.
The secret to success is to notice the first flicker of attention loss and take immediate steps to bring yourself back to full attention. If you do not notice the first fleeting excursion of the mind, it is less likely you will notice the second or third, and 10 minutes later you will be thinking about work, politics, or something, and you will gain little benefit from the exercise. But if you notice the first flicker and immediately come back to the exercise with full attention you will get stronger with each passing minute.
The best way to notice if your mind has wandered is to listen to the way you say each number. If there is any doubt, no matter how small, as to whether you are at 6 or 5 then you have lost your place and should start over. Listen to the inflection of count… do you say 6!!! or is it more of a 6…..? Remember, if there is any question about what number you are on, you must have wandered or you would know!
Do not judge success by how far you get or how many times you can count back to 1 without losing your place. As you get better, the exercise gets harder, not easier! If you breathe rapidly, say at a 5 second interval, it is easy to stay on track, but as you improve, you breath slower – some people slow down to one breath every 30 seconds or slower – it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain focus.
These exercises can help you see the inner workings of your own mind, and how it can lure you away from your meditation and into daydreaming or worrying. To illustrate, let me share with you an experience I had while practicing this technique, some time past.
I breathed in and counted silently “10” as I breathed out slowly. I breathed in silently, and counted “9” as I breathed out. As I was breathing in, I was startled to realize that although I was almost certain I was at 9, I was not 100% sure, only 99.99%, and that if someone put a gun to my head and asked me again, I would probably admit that I was not as sure as I at first thought. I experienced a breakthrough in understanding the exercise as I realized that I must have allowed my attention to flicker, if only for an instant, otherwise I would know beyond all doubt that it was 9. I realized that what mattered was not the quantity of the concentration, but rather the quality. I was better to sustain perfect focus for a few seconds than 99% focus for a few minutes. I considered the diamond which is examined. If it is flawed, it is broken into smaller pieces in an effort to obtain the largest flawless diamond. Then I realized that I spent 5 minutes thinking about diamonds and meditation instead of practicing meditation, and I sheepishly returned to my meditation breathing out to “10.” This was an eye opener for me. I had no idea how devious and subtle my mind was, and how easy it had been to lure my attention away after a single breath!
This exercise gives you the opportunity to catch yourself straying and see the process in yourself, and so come to understand it and so come to recognize it and eventually to rise above such obvious tricks into a new and more subtle arena of mind-play.
1) The easiest variation involves employing simple breath awareness as you count backwards from 10. Count 10 as you breath in, and 9 as you breathe out, and 8 as you breathe in, and 7 as you breathe out… when you count 1 breathing out, start back at 10 as you breathe in again and repeat until you lose your place. Each time you lose your place, start over again at 10. Do not visualize the number, only sound it in your head silently. Visualizing makes the exercise too easy. You can either stretch it out like “tttt….eeeeeeee…..nnnnnnn” over the length of you breath or else just say it normally.
2) If this exercise gets too easy (you make it from 10 to 1 fairly often) then try a more difficult variation: breathe in to 10, breathe out to the sound AUM, breathe in to 9, breathe out to the sound Aum, breathe in to 8… and if you get to 1, start over.
3) The hardest variation requires you to breathe in silently, and count 10 as you breathe out, inhale in silence, count 9 as you exhale… again, if you reach 1 or lose your place, start back at 10.
Counting Back From One. The Counting Back From Ten Meditation Technique was adopted by Herbert Bentson who studied what he called the Relaxation Response and brought the detrimental effects of stress to the public’s attention. He wired college students up to monitors that could detect stress levels and taught them this counting back meditation, but found that after an initial drop in stress, many students then experienced a rapid and unexpected skyrocketing of stress levels. When he questioned these students, he found that they had gotten embarrassed or frustrated when they lost count before completing even one cycle.
Counting Back from One
Herbert Bentson decided to make the exercise easier so that students would not compete with themselves or others and suffer anxiety when they were supposed to be relaxing. He instructed the students to count back from 1 and when they reached 1, or lost their place, to start over…. “One………..One………….One………” This adjustment seemed to work well and he began teaching it to the public. One man who learned the technique thanked Mr. Bentson for taking all of the religion and mysticism out of meditation so that someone who did not believe in God could still practice and receive the benefits of meditation. Mr. Bentson was surprised a few days later when a priest thanked him for keeping the spirituality intact with his meditation, reminding students of the oneness of God and the universe… One…. This is a nice meditation because you can read into it what you choose to, and, in fact, you are free to choose your own word if there is one you are more comfortable with. Be sure that the word or phrase you choose has positive connotations, and a pleasant sound to you, and that with repetition it does not dissolve, but rather grows stronger and more clearly defined. This is the hallmark of a good mantra.
This technique uses a visualization to help students (even first time meditators) to experience profound meditative experiences. Students should maintain control of the process, and feel free to customize or adjust the exercise in whatever way feels right and works for them.
Please note that this visualization is included in Charles’ CD, “Visualizations for Meditation” which is available on-line at CDBaby.com
Sit comfortably as if for meditation. Close your eyes. Visualize yourself in a cave…. Find your way out of the cave and discover yourself on a path with a hill to your right, and a valley to your left…. Follow the path to where it crosses a stream below a waterfall.Pause and relax as you look around….
Continue along the path till it ends in front of a closed door in a high wall stretching as far as you can see in both directions…. Open the door, if it is locked you will find a key under a rock by your right foot. As you pass through the door, you find yourself in the perfect meditation garden. As you door closes behind you, it shuts out the world.
Walk around and explore the garden. Is it a water garden? a bamboo garden? a Japanese moss garden? a formal European garden? Does it have wind chimes? rocks? gravel? When you find the perfect place to meditate, you turn your back on the space, and when you turn around again, you find someone else is already there, deep in meditation. It is a perfected master (or your higher spiritual self or just a cushion waiting for you to sit on it)…. Look at this perfected master, and notice their posture, their face, their breathing, the effortless calm and serenity surrounding them…. Now move around to stand behind the Meditator, and then, on a count of 3, enter their body, as if it were your own…. Immerse yourself in their ongoing meditation…. Feel the garden around you with a certainty, that if you were to open your eyes, you would find yourself surrounded by that garden…. Notice how the garden helps to support your meditation. Sit quietly for 5 – 45 minutes.
When you are finished meditating, take a moment to visualize leaving the garden and returning to your body. Then take a few moments to stretch and release any tension.
This is a wonderful release for the overworked eyes. Moreover, it is a spiritual practice used independently in many widely divergent disciplines spanning the planet. This technique is practiced by Indian Yogi’s, certain tribes of American Indians, students of the Russian Gurdjeff Schools, European Gypsies, and it is described in detail in the series of books by Carlos Castenada based upon his friendship with a Mexican Indian named Don Juan. Soft vision is a way of looking at the world without straining the eyes. Equally important, it gives the practitioner a whole new perspective on the universe, turning the ordinary into the magical and giving insight into the mysterious. It is the first step in a series of visionary exercises designed to expand awareness.
Look straight ahead at the most distant object in your field of vision. Now cross your eyes slightly, so that your field of vision is blurred and seen in double vision. Spread your awareness evenly in an ever larger circle until you are aware of the entire field of vision. Soften your eyes with a smile (smiling with your eyes, not grinning with your mouth!). Completely relax the eyes without any attempt to influence what or how they see. Rather than focusing on a specific object and jumping from object to object, the eyes become equally aware of your entire field of vision, and they rest softly without jumping around. As the eyes relax, so the mind becomes calm. Smile with your eyes and allow that smile to soften your face and spread throughout your body. Focusing on nothing, you become aware of everything.
This technique enhances your control over the senses and increases your awareness and control of your external environment. Open your eyes and look at an object that evokes in you a pleasant reaction and hold it in your vision excluding all else. Do not let your eyes or your mind or your other senses wander! Release your eyes before they get tired or dry out and then splash cold water on your eyes to relieve fatigue. With practice you may experience the sense of separation between you and the object you observe melt away and allow yourself to become one with the object of your concentration.
This technique, once mastered, quickly shuts down your internal dialogue and quiets the mind, bringing your full attention into the present moment. It also can generate feelings of mild euphoria. Caution should be exercised when learning as it can lead to eye strain or headaches if overdone or done incorrectly. Contacts should be removed if they cause any discomfort while doing this exercise.
Open your eyes and gently roll them up to look at the ceiling, then drop your chin an inch as you continue to look at the same spot on the ceiling. Let you eyes slip out of focus and relax the eyes and the face and your whole body. Let the eyes be drawn toward the third-eye, a little above and between the eyebrows. Notice if there is any strain or unpleasant sensation in the eyes. If there is, immediately lower the eyes just enough so that there is no sensation of straining, but do not quit. The eyes should be positioned as high as possible without causing any strain. Then learn to breath and relax while holding this position. If it starts to feel good, roll up a little further. If it starts to feel unpleasant, immediately back off a little bit. Try to adjust for maximum pleasure with no discomfort. Hold for 1 minute at first and over a period of time, build to 3-5 minutes. Afterwards perform a facial and eye massage for a minute and then move into your favorite sitting meditation.
This technique, once mastered, also shuts down your internal dialogue and quiets the mind, bringing your full attention into the present moment. It often increases students awareness of their own bodies, and especially of their posture. Caution should be exercised when learning this exercise as it can lead to eye strain or headaches if overdone or done incorrectly. Contacts should be removed if they cause any discomfort while doing this exercise.
Open your eyes and gently drop them down to look at the floor, then raise your chin an inch as you continue to look at the same spot on the floor. Let you eyes slip out of focus and relax the eyes and the face and your whole body. Notice if there is any strain or unpleasant sensation in the eyes. If there is, immediately lift the eyes just enough that there is no sensation of straining, but do not quit. The eyes should be positioned as low as possible, without causing any strain. Then learn to breathe and relax while holding this position. If it starts to feel good, roll down a little further, if it starts to feel unpleasant, immediately back off a little bit. Try to adjust for maximum pleasure with no discomfort. Hold for 1 minute at first and over a period of time, build to 3-5 minutes. Afterwards perform a facial and eye massage for a minute and then move into your favorite sitting meditation.