Meditation- a beginner’s guide-
Preparing Mind for Meditation-
Meditation, especially passive meditation, brings us face to face with our subconscious. Opening up a Pandora’s Box full of mischief, if we are not ready to encounter our inner selves, it could end up being a disastrous experience instead of an enlightening one! And the most vulnerable seem to be-people with overwhelming anxiety, who are emotionally or psychologically disturbed, those who have problems accepting reality, people who suffer from acute paranoia and even those who develop delusions of grandeur from the altered states of consciousness that meditation tends to produce.
To avoid such psychosis or simply getting lost in our thoughts and ending up confused and disturbed, it is necessary to begin meditation sessions with formal practice. Different schools of thought prescribe different methods of such preparation, but they all agree on the absolute necessity of concentration exercises preceding meditation. These preparation techniques are as varied as praying, chanting mantras, performing pranayama or even visualizing. Once the mind becomes trained for concentration, actual formless or mindfulness meditation can proceed, such as sitting in silence, practicing self-inquiry or performing devotional meditation.
While Hinduism-based schools of thought insist on a proper sattvic (pure or ascetic) lifestyle as a primary condition to true meditation, Buddhist mindfulness meditation prescribes contemplation on the ‘Four Protections’ and the ‘Nine Attributes’ of the Buddha.
A helpful tip to keep in mind would be that ultimately meditation is all about being at peace with oneself. It cannot perform miracles out of thin air. It does not solve problems magically. It’s simply a technique, which acquaints you with the person you really are. And having gained that timeless knowledge, it is you who will take that first step towards self-transformation. Remember always that the technique of meditation is nothing more than a tool in your hands!
Harnessing the mind
Ways of harnessing the ever-changing, ever-shifting mind are as varied as the different techniques of meditation. But by and large, they all practice mental exercises, which aim at capturing the very nature of our minds. While the Buddhist Satipatthana Sutra advices the meditator to be mindful of: the body, feelings, the mind and mental objects—Patanjali‘sYoga Sutra talks about the three techniques of: dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption or enlightenment).
Dharana, the sixth limb of the Yoga philosopher Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, literally means ‘immovable concentration of the mind’. The essential idea is to hold the concentration or focus of attention in one direction. This is not the forced concentration of, for example, solving a difficult mathematics problem; rather dharana is a form of closer to the state of mind, which could be called receptive concentration.
In practicing dharana, conditions are created for the mind to focus its attention in one direction instead of radiating out in a million different directions. Deep contemplation and reflection usually creates the right conditions, and the focus on a single chosen point becomes more intense. Concentrative meditative techniques encourage one particular activity of the mind, and the more intense it becomes the more the other preoccupation of the mind cease to exist.
The objective in dharana is to steady the mind by focusing its attention upon some stable entity. Before retracting his senses, on may practice focusing attention on a single inanimate object. After the mind becomes prepared for meditation, it is better able to focus efficiently on one subject or point of experience. Now if the yogi chooses to focus on the center (chakra) of inner energy flow, he/she can directly experience the physical and mental blocks and imbalances that remain in his or her system. This ability to concentrate depends on excellent psychological health and integration and is not an escape from reality, but rather a movement towards the perception of the true nature of the Self.
Dhyana, the seventh limb of Ashtanga Yoga, means worship, or profound and abstract religious meditation. It is perfect contemplation. It involves concentration upon a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it.
During dhyana, combining clear insights into distinctions between objects and the subtle layers surrounding intuition further unifies the consciousness. We learn to differentiate between the mind of the perceiver, the means of perception, and the objects perceived—between words, their meanings and ideas, and even between all the levels of natural evolution. We realize that these are all fused in an undifferentiated continuum. One must apprehend both subject and object clearly in order to perceive their similarities. Thus dhyanais apprehension of real identity among apparent differences.
During dharana, the mind becomes unidirectional, while during dhyana, it becomes ostensibly identified and engaged with the object of focus or attention. That is why, dharana must precede dhyana, since the mind needs focusing on a particular object before a connection can be made. If dharana is the contact, then dhyana is the connection.
Obviously, to focus the attention to one point will not result in insight or realization. One must identify and become “one with” the object of contemplation, in order to know for certain the truth about it. In dharana the consciousness of the practitioner is fixed on one subject, but in dhyana it is in one flow.
The final step in Ashtanga Yoga is the attainment of samadhi.
to be continued ….