presentd by Peter Dennis
As I stated in the first article, meditation is an altered state of awareness that results from a response in the nervous system. To induce this response, we need to place our attention on a singular thing so that our mind can begin to calm itself and stop jumping around from thought to thought. The idea here is that the mind can only be on one thing at a time. It is very quick at bouncing back and forth between thoughts, but at any instant, it can only be on one.
To place our mind on a singular thing we select what is known as a mantra. A mantra, among other things, can be a word, a sound, or an object. It might be musical notes, a symbol, one’s breathing, someone’s voice, a setting sun or a candle flame.
What mantra works best? This is very subjective and I suggest that you experiment until you find one or two that you prefer. I also suggest, that when starting out, you focus on your breath. When doing this, add a couple of words that sync with each inhalation and each exhalation. For example, you could use: in and out, one and two, let and go, etc. When using such words, don’t say them out loud, don’t even whisper them, just think them. The words are like training wheels and they will help your mind to stay on your breath.
What typically happens in meditation is that we focus on our mantra and, after a few moments, the mind wanders from the mantra to some distracting thought or idea. This is normal and it is important to relax and realize that this is normal and not “beat oneself up”. Just simply and gently come back to the mantra. When the mind wanders again, once again, just bring it back to the mantra and carry on. Pretty soon, perhaps, after five minutes or so, the meditation response will kick in and you will be meditating.
To give it a try, here is a simple procedure:
- Select a quiet environment where you know you won’t be disturbed. Shut down telephones and advise others that you wish to be undisturbed for the next 20 minutes or so.
- Sit on a firm chair, in a comfortable position, back straight, feet flat on the floor, hands in lap, eyes closed.
- Assume a passive attitude – empty the mind of all thoughts and distractions as much as you can.
- Select a mantra and focus on it. When you notice that your mind has wandered to a thought, just gently come back to your mantra.
- Continue until you wish to stop. Fifteen to twenty minutes is enough for many people but sometimes it is attractive to stay in meditation longer. Don’t force anything, just be comfortable.
- When you’ve had enough or time has run out, open your eyes slowly.
My next article deals with frequently asked questions about meditation and will be published here next month.