The Basic Steps of Meditation
By Jim McElwee
"Meditation is the tongue of the soul,
and the language of our Universe."
In essence, meditation is a general term that has many different applications. It's an activity where the participant quiets the mind and embraces the power and mystery of the universe in an attempt to reach a higher state of enlightenment. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Jainism, and Taoism are just a few of the religions that practice meditation, but non-religious applications are practiced worldwide as well. Let's take a look at the aspects of meditation that are accepted by all traditions...
- Step One: It's likely your environment is at constant risk of being disrupted by distractions. Turn off the television, shut down your phone, and try to do what you can to reduce jarring noises. If you're in a shared space with people who will likely disrupt your meditation be sure to talk to them ahead of time.
Alternately, you can find a place outside of your home to practice meditation. Parks commonly have the perfect place to find inner peace. Some Universities and Community Centers have places specifically set up for the purpose of meditation. You'd be surprised how common but hidden good peaceful places are. Just be sure to plan ahead and know the location you're going in to. Comfort is key when finding a location. Once you've found your spot, sit in a comfortable position (close your eyes if you wish) and begin step two.
- Step Two: Control your breathing. You've probably heard it before, but breathing is one of the absolute most important aspects of meditation. Breathe in slowly and rhythmically letting air fill your lungs. Feel the life essence of the universe drawn into your body as you bring it in. And as you exhale, understand that each exhalation is an opportunity to feel the joys of inhaling more life. Goal oriented people may find it more difficult to meditate at first, and that will manifest in quicker breathing. Understand there is no rush, and that the very activity you are performing is the goal in itself. After understanding this your deep slow rhythmic breathing will fill you with a sense of life and joy.
- Step Three: This step is the next level of meditation. Detach yourself from your mind, by observation of your own thoughts. Do not judge your thoughts or try to change them. Just observe. As you observe your thoughts you gain insight into who you really are. You cease to be the mind observing the mind. Your conscious elevates out of the subconscious so you can see what is really going on behind it all. This step is one of the most difficult for some people, who must always be in control of what they're thinking.
- Step Four: After observing the mind and becoming detached, you may find some form of inner peace and understand that you are immovable like a young tree in the wind. Though larger trees will be snapped over by great gusts of a tornado or a hurricane, the sapling bends and remains rooted to the ground unmoving. In this way you too you will feel unmoving and solid. Around this sensation you will feel serenity and peace.
These basic steps should take you far on your journey. These are powerful basic steps that will lead you on the path to serenity and oneness with the whole universe.
"Better indeed is knowledge than mechanical practice.
Better than knowledge is meditation.
But better still is surrender of attachment to results,
because there follows immediate peace."
I'd like to take a more in-depth look at what we can do to really achieve a higher stage of enlightenment. Above we talked about breathing and how it is widely considered the most important physical aspect of meditation. I say physical aspect because the state of the mind is, as always, the most important. Next we're going to talk about the verbal aspect of meditation.
You may have seen others meditating and uttering a single syllable at a specific frequency making the "Om" or "Aum" sound. This sound is considered to be sacred to several religions and spiritual traditions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. The sound "aum" is formally referred to as the "Omkara," or "name of God" in Sanskrit and there are several ways of speaking it.
There are five parts to the Omkara. First begins in the mind. Open yourself up to the universe in a meditative state until you feel peace, then work on your breathing.
After breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth in a deep rhythmic pattern begin with the 'h' sound, which should come from deep within the throat and be barely audible, but felt by the speaker. In this sound you should not be speaking in the way you speak to others, but rather resonating your voice and using your body as an instrument not only of sound but of energy.
From there we go to the "ah" and "oo" sounds. These two go together because the transition between the two should be blurred sufficiently that it will be difficult to tell when one ends and the other begins. Though you are making sound, the sound itself is not as important as the feeling your body creates.
Finally we reach the "mm" sound, in which we feel the vibration, which began in the heart chakra and climbed up the throat and to the mouth. This sensation of energy rises up to the crown chakra.
Omkara is the musical sound the universe makes during a ten million year sigh. It is the symbol of the universally present being within every drop of rain, every speck of dust, the ice crystals around Saturn, the aurora borealis and the muscle making up the heart. It is the energy that binds us all in unity, and from which all matter came and will go. Upon understanding the unity with this sound you understand the interconnectivity you have with all things.
The best posture for meditation:
Now that you've been practicing breathing, I'm going to elaborate on the specifics of posture so you can maintain physical discipline and truly have a consciousness expanding meditation experience.
First, it's important to remember to keep your back straight. There are several meditation positions, including laying on your back, but we're focusing on the traditional posture. The back must be straight, and the head held high with the chin pointing forward, but not looking up. An easy way to achieve this posture is to picture a straight line in your spine, and have your head and body follow that line. As you achieve this posture you will already feel an increase in confidence and independence.
Second, though the back is straight it is also relaxed. This may be one of the more difficult aspects to play around with. If at first your back is unable to fully relax, or feels tired that's okay. There are several reasons people cannot meditate for long periods of time at first. If rather than meditate you must spend a few sessions building up your "posture muscles" in and around your spine then it's time worth investing in. Once you've grown used to the feeling you'll be surprised how powerful it is, and how invigorating.
Third, your mind must master the art of letting go. When we first start meditating, we constantly want to move around. The clock in the other room's ticking can become obsessively bothersome, an itch on the arm or nose can suddenly crop up out of nowhere, and the pain in the back can feel at first agonizing even if it's only very minor. The reason is your mind has nothing else to focus on. Our minds constantly demand stimulation. Meditation is not about being content so much as it's about "being" without the body to drag us down. If at first you feel an itch, and find you cannot ignore it, scratch and move on. Don't beat yourself up over the small stuff.
As the hands are concerned, lay them flat on your lap. A great posture for your hands is to lay them on your knees with the palms up and your thumb and forefinger touching. The hand position isn't specifically important, however, and you can lay them face down on your knees if you prefer.
Though traditional meditations happen with closed eyes, this isn't required. Often people will meditate with a visual aid or simply stare into the room in front of them. Others meditate while making eye contact with another person, though this can be distracting.
The face should be relaxed, with the jaw unclenched and all the muscles in the face letting go. If you have facial jewelry, you might find it distracting at first and should probably take it out ahead of time.
The legs can be crossed with the feet under the knees, or you can attempt to do another position called the Lotus position. The Lotus position is similar to leg crossing, but the feet are pulled up over the thighs. This position is fairly difficult for many people, and care should be taken not to pull any muscles while attempting or practicing it. Alternately, you can perform a half-Lotus in which only one leg is above the thigh while the other rests comfortably beneath the knee.
Thank you for taking the time to read this lesson on meditation. These basic steps should take you far on your journey.
Wishing you a safe journey to inner peace.
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