I’ve studied and practiced meditation of various styles now for over 50 years, so I think I know a little about what meditation is and is not–and no, it has nothing to do with religion! Outside of some fad, or an abstract ‘cultish’ view of meditation, an atheist, an agnostic or a religions person of any faith may practice meditation with good conscience, knowing that the practice will not violate his or her doctrine or belief.
Proper, practical meditation has nothing to do with so-called “emptying the mind.” For one thing, it’s impossible to empty the mind of thought because, to say that your mind is empty, is a thought in itself!
Meditation is like health food for the mind. Meditation involves quieting the mind. A person who leads a stressful life, a hectic life or a very structured life can benefit the most from meditation.There are various practices and rituals that one may employ in order to quiet the mind, like playing soft background music, chanting a chosen mantra, visualization, or deep breathing, although once you have even a small mastery over your thoughts, none are absolutely necessary to experience a productive session.
I recall, many years ago, it was common for some guru–real or sham: mostly sham, to come to North America and extol his abilities to lead anyone who would listen, to a higher realm of consciousness. Thousands of us sat for hours, cross-legged and practicing deep breathing and chanting “Om,” hoping to achieve Nirvana. A few of us did gain greater spiritual awareness, no doubt about it, but the majority of us ended up disappointed and left, and for good reason. India’s lifestyles are not the same as North American lifestyles and it was hard for us to employ the disciplines involved eastern yoga.
We’ve not abandoned East Indian and Tibetan wisdom in yogic practices, but we’ve learned to adopt it more to our Western lifestyle, and we’ve even coined a new name for it: “Mindful Meditation.” A wonderful thing about this new form of meditation was that one didn’t have to spend months in an Ashram or even longer periods cloistered in some Buddhist monastery in East India or Tibet. It could be practiced, a few minutes each day, in the privacy of one’s own study or bedroom.
Mindful Meditation is a more fitting name for this new fad, both because of its simplicity in meaning, and its intended purpose: to be mindful of one’s thoughts as we relax and calm ourselves. No longer was one required to “empty one’s mind” which, as I’ve already said, is impossible to accomplish in the first place, and was a mistaken view of what meditation is as was taught by some not-so-knowledgeable Eastern ‘gurus’. Also, I should mention that, to experience a relatively simple and satisfactory Mindful Meditation, it is not at all necessary to sit cross-legged in the customary Tibetan or East Indian manner. Fine if you can, or want to do it, but it’s not necessary.
Here are some simple, basic suggestions to get you started. After you’ve listened to about 15 minutes of quiet music, take a deep breath. Inhale deeply to the count of 5, hold it for a moment, then slowly exhale to the count of 10, and at the same time, feel all the tension leaving your body. Do this several times. After a minute or two of such breathing, you should feel much more relaxed, plus you should feel a warm, healing glow come over your body.
Now that you’ve reached a state of relative calmness, become aware of the thoughts that keep entering and leaving your mind. For now, don’t try to control them: just be aware of them coming and going. This is what’s called self-awareness, or mindfulness. Your mind will wander, but that is only natural. When it does wander, gently–I repeat–gently bring it back to a state of mindfulness. If you try to force your mind into a state of total awareness, you’ll only frustrate yourself and defeat the very purpose of Mindful Meditation. As I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve been at this meditation stuff now for over 50 years and my mind still wanders, so don’t think that you will master mind control after a few minutes, or even a few hours of meditation.
This form of Mindful Meditation has many benefits and can greatly enhance one’s life, one of the biggest benefits being how well it can relieve tensions. If you like the idea of meditation, there is a lot of good, practical help available to help you become more proficient at Mindful Meditation. If you live in any rural or city area, the best way to find out more is to search the Yellow Pages for active clubs in your area. Some may even be affiliated with health spas. Your town or city administrative office is another source where you can find names of clubs in your area.
If you are using your town administrative office to find yoga clubs in your area, you might want to, as a precautionary note, also check with your Chamber of Commerce just how reputable these clubs are. If a yoga club has several complaints against it, stay away from it!