A few weeks ago, a young friend, just 23 years old, came to me with a question of earth-shattering importance, something only someone as wise (perhaps he meant wizened) as me could answer: which is the best smartphone under Rs. 25,000?
As he sat me down and made me navigate page after page of e-commerce sites, an expectant and excited look in his eyes, I sat back and wondered: In today’s age of 20 MP selfie cameras, does anyone really care about anything beyond the physical?
What’s wrong with the Physical?
Now, don’t get me wrong: there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look good! The body is a gift and it is everyone’s responsibility to take good care of it, to nourish and clothe and look after it. An unhealthy body cannot possibly host a healthy mind.
The problem is that for most people, their entire focus is rooted firmly and solely in the physical. Material wants, sensory desires and momentary pleasures have become the sole purpose of life.Every thought, every action, and way too much emotional energy are being spent on feeling good about the body and giving it what it craves.
But what about nourishing the Mind and feeding the Soul?
Meditation: A Map To The Soul
India is the world’s oldest living and unbroken culture with knowledge and practices passed down since time immemorial. And almost since the very beginning, the quest of this culture and every man, woman, and child who was a part of it, has been to find the answer to a burning question: Who Am I?
This realization that there has to be something more than just what we can see and taste and touch, this yearning to find something beyond everything we know, has led thousands of people over thousands of years on an endless search for a deeper meaning to their existence.
A few did find the answer and when they returned, they told us what it was: I Am THAT.
Confused? So was everyone else who heard this answer.
The only way to understand what THAT meant was to become THAT – that which is indescribable in words and can only be experienced. Then, all questions dropped.
The 4 Vedas, The Upanishads, The Puranas, The Itihasas, the thousands of commentaries – they all contain the knowledge and experience of those before us who walked the path of fire and light and found the answer.
The beauty of Sanatana Dharma is that it does not prescribe a one-size-fits-all prescription but understands that there can be – indeed, that there are – different paths to the same ultimate destination.
However, despite their differences, every single path has one thing in common, the one thing that they value above all else: Meditation.
What is Meditation?
Let’s first look at what meditation is not: Meditation is not thinking or contemplating or daydreaming. It is also not visualizing, even if one is bringing to mind the image of a particular deity.
Meditation is a specific technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state.
In meditation, you are fully aware and alert but the mind is not focused on the external world or the events of the day or any other thoughts. Instead, the mind is relaxed, calm, clear and inwardly focused.
Yoga means union – the union of the individual consciousness with the consciousness that created the Universe, by whatever name it is called. The ultimate aim of the Yogi is to enter the state of Samadhi which is described in the Katha Upanishad (111:10) thus:
“When the five senses of perception together with the mind are at rest when even the intellect has ceased to function, that, say the sages, is the supreme state.”
Meditation helps the individual realize a way of living and perception beyond the five senses. When the person is no longer ruled by the senses, he/she is also no longer troubled by thoughts of lack, loss, anger, jealousy and the like. Meditation builds a one-pointedness of the mind so that it is no longer troubled by external stimuli and our own internal dialogues about them.
That is the key to lasting happiness.
How To Meditate
Meditation practice builds over time. A novice needs to be patient and consistent with his meditation practice. I’ve described below a very simple technique that even a beginner can use:
- Sit in a calm and quiet spot. You may sit cross-legged on the floor or even in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
- Posture: The spine has to be ERECT. Do not slouch.
- Take a few deep breaths. Concentrate on your inhalation and exhalation. Do this for 3-5 rounds. The idea is to relax the mind and let go of your worries and cares, even if it’s just for a little while.
- Now, close your eyes and focus on the bhrumadhyai.e. the space between your eyebrows.
- Keep your attention on your breathing. Notice how the breath comes in and goes out of your body.
- The breathing should be kept even and relaxed, not jagged or hurried. Don’t strain yourself.
- If thoughts come into the mind – which they definitely will – don’t focus on them. At the same time, don’t make any effort to ignore them. The more you try to ignore a thought, the more it will persist.
- Keep observing the inhalation and exhalation and sit in this position for as long as possible.
- Whenever you are ready, slowly open your eyes.
Initially, aim for at least 10 minutes of meditation at a time. Slowly increase the duration in increments of 5 minutes till you reach an hour.
Common Mistakes & Precautions
- Expecting too much too soon – Meditation is a skill and like any other skill, it takes time to master. Don’t expect too much too soon or else the temptation to give up will arise.
- Trying to stop the thoughts– The mind is a separate and independent entity which thinks it is our master. When you start meditating, certainly in the initial stages, the mind will try all kinds of tricks to derail you. It does this by bombarding you with images and thoughts and sounds, all designed to distract you. However, while one must not focus on these distractions, one should also NOT make any effort to push them away. The more you try to push these distractions aside, the louder your thoughts will become. A better strategy is to observe the thoughts without getting distracted or agitated by them. In time, the thoughts will quiet down and ultimately, cease altogether.
- Practicing advanced techniques without guidance– Meditation and Yoga are best done under a Guru’s guidance. There are several books on Yoga and Meditation which have been written with the right intention – knowledge dissemination – but certain techniques and practices are not meant to be done by reading books. Practice them at your own peril.
- Practicing too many things at the same time– I know people who have done Reiki and Pranic Healing and follow this Guru while they also do that other Guru’s mantra even as they practice 5 different mantras on each day of the week! This hodge-podge will do nothing to help your progress and will do everything to derail you and mess you up in the head!
Meditation has the potential to transform you from the inside out. Done right, it will turn you into a different person – one who is calmer, more focussed, happier. Wouldn’t you like to become all that? Let today be the day you take the first step towards the new you – the real you.
Author: Jaideep Bhide
- Swami Rama – Meditation & Its Practice
- Four Chapters On Freedom – Swami Satyananda Saraswati