Meditation is the state in which we directly experience our essential nature, our consciousness, our connection to the creative spirit. Meditation has no particular religious connection though the mystics of every great religion practise it in some form. Meditation creates the rich possibility for experiencing all that is sacred within and around us.
You have very likely experienced it without being aware that it was called meditation. You might have many such memories or you might have to dig deep, perhaps back to childhood to remember these luminous moments; when the mind is bypassed and beauty, joy, love, a sense of union with all things or a profound moment of peace and realisation strikes us. These glimpses of a more fully alive state of awareness stir us in our depths. We yearn for the experience of being rapturously alive. We can all actively work towards living in that conscious awareness.
Meditation becomes a way of life, not just a formal practice once or more a day. We can live each moment of our lives, consciously aware of all that surrounds us and is within us. From this serene state, we respond open-heartedly, moment-by-moment to life’s encounters.
We don’t meditate to become fabulous meditators. We meditate so that we are more easily able to liberate ourselves from the judgments, attitudes, beliefs, thoughts and patterns that are second nature to us. This enables us to reveal and experience our first or essential nature.
Regular meditation practice enables us to live with more clarity and choice. It is simple to practise and it establishes a foundation from which we create our lives.
Human endeavour and achievement is often brought about through struggle, strain and tension whereas in meditation we relax into a deeper sense of ourselves. Meditation is the process of unlearning, of letting go all false identities, the accumulated information we’ve gathered about ourselves.
The regular practice of meditation gives us greater presence of mind. With presence of mind comes the possibility of choice: we can continue to react to the events of our lives from our unprocessed emotional history or make a more appropriate response. Until we are present, aware, awake we don’t see the choice: we simply react. It is liberating when we react less to events in our lives and have a greater ability to respond to them instead.
Note the words, ‘presence of mind’. That state of being when the mind is present to what ‘is’ rather than caught up in the inner world of idle mental chatter. Our responsibility is to quieten the mind so that we can hear the voice of our intuition. Otherwise the mind is forever jumping five seconds, minutes, weeks, months or years into the future or into the past. In this way it seeks fulfilment in all the wrong places.
Meditation liberates us from these thoughts and feelings as we develop our ability to witness and release them, but not react from them. In this way, we choose new and more appropriate responses to life situations.
Whilst your mind is often absorbed in the future or in the past, your body is always in the present. One of the most effective ways of bringing your mind to rest is to focus on the senses of your body. Do this simple practise now while you’re reading these words.
Take a couple of long, slow, deep breaths. As you exhale, feel your body soften and relax. Become aware of your weight and posture. Feel the pressure of the chair against your body, the floor against your feet or whatever your body might be in contact with. Become aware of the space between your feet and the floor. Feel the touch of your clothing against your skin. Notice its texture and the temperature your clothing helps create. Feel the touch of the air against your hands, your cheeks. Become aware of all the sounds within and outside the space you’re in – not judging, labelling or resisting anything, simply allowing every sound to be heard, to come to pass. Let your listening travel right out until you hear the silence beyond all sound. This state, where the mind is at rest is what we’re aiming to achieve by focusing it in the present moment.
The more present we are to our own lives, embracing each moment without judgment, the more alive we become. Connecting with the senses of the body can become our constant practice. The mind is forever projecting into the world of ‘what isn’t’ by projecting into the future which hasn’t happened yet, or rehashing, resenting or reliving the past which we cannot change, whilst our bodies are immersed in the world of ‘what is’.
Meditation gives us greater access to our intuition. Access to our intuition is available to everyone who brings the mind to rest. Intuition only functions when the mind is quiet. The chemical and electrical state of the brain when the mind is quiet makes it available and receptive to information from within and around itself. The chemical and electrical state of the brain when the mind is agitated makes it impossible for our intuition to function.
In time, meditation enables us to live by our intuition. Then we know effortlessly what to do, how to be, where to go, when to speak, when to reach out and touch, when not to, when to stay silent, when to use humour, when to stay with the anguish and say nothing and so on. Intuition is our greatest guide for living skilfully on the planet. It is the voice of our creative spirit.
In meditation, as the mind quietens and becomes more peaceful, so your body relaxes. Meditation is the state of simply being. It has no religious connections, though it may be a profoundly spiritual experience. We see the benefits of meditation in our lives through increased clarity, joy, spontaneity, creativity, wisdom, love, confidence, vitality and humour.
A spiritual practice does not necessarily involve a doctrine, a guru or anything imposed from the outside. Your spiritual practice is what you do to be at peace within yourself and in the world. The goal of our spiritual practice is simply to change our perception of ourselves and the world. That becomes our spiritual practice. This practice is the essence of all the world’s spiritual traditions.
There are places on the planet and particular people who exude a profound air of peace. This ‘air’ is a vibrating energy that we may feel as a blessing because it reminds us of something we’re seeking within ourselves.
The cave in which I meditated for some months outside of Assisi when I had leukaemia, was just such a place. St Francis used this cave for long periods of prayer and meditation and though that was many hundreds of years ago, there continues to be an atmosphere of tangible bliss within its walls.
It is a tiny cave, holding not more than half a dozen people at a time. I sat in a corner of the cave for up to 18 hours a day. The cave also played host to dozens, even hundreds of visitors on some days. I could hear the advent of their arrival long before they entered the cave.
Some people came reverentially, preparing themselves to soak up its atmosphere. Others came laughing and skipping down the stairs full of chatter and clicking cameras. Whilst I sat, probably unnoticed, with eyes closed in my corner I would hear the noises subside and people always left in a quieter and more reflective state. In the hours of undisturbed solitude within this cave I found it easier to melt into the bliss that I felt existed within and around me.
Just as there are the chemicals and hormones of stress, so too, our bodies secrete beneficial chemicals when we experience contentment, peace, joy, love and bliss. When the mind is anxious or stressed our bodies secrete many chemicals and hormones into the blood stream. These inhibit the natural functions of our bodies decreasing the activities of some whilst increasing the activities of others. This is a significant way in which we directly affect our own health. This ‘chemical wash’ affects the functioning of our cells and, along with other factors, activates or doesn’t our genetic predispositions.
Your mind is not separate from your body. Your emotions are not separate from your body. As human beings we’re an integrated whole. The beliefs and thoughts that we hold in our minds affect the functioning of our bodies. The feelings that we have, whether acknowledged or ignored, have an effect on our bodies. They are our experience of reality and therefore are real for us. Therefore each person’s reality is unique to them.
We all have the capacity to change the beliefs that our mind holds dear. This gives us a tremendous point of power in that we can change the beliefs that cause us stress, depression, fear, resentment, hopelessness, powerlessness, frustration into those which lay down the foundations for greater peace, fulfilment and joy in our lives. This choice is unique to human kind.
One of the most powerful tools for change is meditation. There are many techniques of meditation that different people promote. Some believe theirs is the best or the highest! The best technique is the one that works for you. There is no right technique, no higher or lower technique, nor is there one teacher. There are as many techniques and teachers as there are people. Allow yourself the freedom to find the right technique and teacher that works for you. The technique is not meditation. It is the tool we use to lead us into the state of meditation.
In meditation the physiological responses to stress, already spoken of, have an opportunity to re-establish their natural equilibrium. We breathe more slowly, the heart rate and blood pressure drop, our muscles relax and physiologically we come to rest as the mind begins to settle and a sense of ease is experienced.
Meditation is like relaxation for the mind. It is very simple. Just as we bring our awareness to the various muscles in our body and allow them to soften and relax, so we observe the thoughts and feelings which pass through our mind, through our body. We observe and let go. Not holding on to thoughts or feelings, not adding to them, not resisting them, just ‘observe, and let go’.
You may wonder how you will know if you are meditating. The hallmarks of meditation are that the mind becomes quieter than usual and your breathing is generally very light. If that is your experience then trust you are meditating.
Brain imagery shows some of the biological changes that occur in those that meditate regularly. It seems that meditation enables the brain to literally re-wire itself in positive ways and that negative patterns of emotional reactions diminish. This demonstrates that it’s not only the physical body that has a naturally tendency to heal; our minds are likewise designed to relinquish un-useful patterns that are not borne of our essential nature. In meditation we literally loosen our attachment to our second nature, our acquired nature – the overlayed patterning of the past – and experience the truth of our consciousness or first nature.
If we’re to experience our own creative source, we need to return to the stillness that is beyond the mind’s activity. This silent observer witnesses without judgement, comment, preference, resistance or aversion. The practice of meditation involves the conscious witnessing of our mind’s activity. As soon as we become aware that our consciousness is absorbed by the mind, we let go the thought, the image, the feeling and return to witnessing.
The clarity and peace in your mind after meditation is what your practice is aiming to achieve. It is this calm and centred state of mind that we continue to practise and prolong so that it infuses every moment of our day. The result of regular meditation is a profoundly heightened awareness in daily life. The richness it brings to our everyday experience is a treasure beyond words and should we lose it even momentarily, it is sorely missed.
[This article is an excerpt from Your Life Matters, published by Random House – Ed]
Petrea King is the Founding Director and CEO of the Quest for Life Foundation. Petrea’s innovative approaches have seen her recognised as a leader in the field of health and well-being.
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