Category Archives: Meditation

Be Still

One of the most powerful practices you can learn in your life is to be still — that is, to meditate. You might think, immediately, that sitting around doing nothing couldn’t possibly be powerful. Not so! The ability to meditate rests on the ability to concentrate and concentration is the foundation of any effective human endeavor. Deep concentration, which evolves into meditation, has profound relaxation and transformative benefits for mind, body and spirit. It creates deep relaxation, internal integration and harmony and leads to greater effectiveness in life. It can bring you into entirely new states of consciousness.

There are numerous styles of meditation many of which have, in recent times, sailed west on the waves of migrating eastern gurus. In certain sects of Buddhism the practice is Vipassana meditation, very popular in the U.S. In Yoga Philosophy there is a system called the Eight Limbed Path of Raja Yoga. In Japan the practice is Zen meditation. In Catholicism there is Centering created by Father Thomas Keating and The Interior Castle of mystic St. Teresa of Avila among others. That’s the short list. Most styles or systems of meditation have one thing in common: drawing your attention away from your physical senses and inward to stillness to begin to know and connect with your self/Self; and to create the ability to direct your mental capacity by choice rather than by habit or default.

In a culture that is based on constant distraction through the senses, being still is not easy. Your energy and attention get scattered by the many daily – even hourly –issues that you encounter, the multitude of tasks that you have to accomplish, the never ending ads that make your senses crave everything you never knew you needed, and, maybe worst of all, never ending, repetitive thoughts. Your attention is fragmented like broken glass. You are unable to focus.

So how to meditate? Learn to concentrate, choose a focus point. Concentration is an art, the art of being able to direct your mind. The process is akin to learning to ride a bicycle – you get on, you fall off, you get on, you fall off, you get on, until finally, you don’t fall off anymore. Similarly concentration is intermittent – the focus point comes and goes until, at some subtle point, an unbroken stream of focus, called meditation, finally arises after much practice. This ability to focus is key to success in meditation and any endeavor. Einstein would vouch for that!

Meditation, or uninterrupted concentration, draws all of those scattered energies back into one integrated stream of consciousness that you can then direct at your choice. You too can cultivate genius! The trick is that it requires internal self-direction or discipline, the discipline that mastering any art requires. In this case, the discipline itself is a commitment to steadfastly bring attention back to a focus point. In Yoga Philosophy this practice is called one pointedness; in the bible, “If thine eye be single….” It is the ability to focus so deeply that you go right to the heart and pulse of life.

Draw your energies inward into one location by persistently bringing your attention back to your chosen focus point. As you master this, instead of thoughts and energies being scattered all over creation, you are learning to direct your full flow of attention and are no longer a slave to distractions. In this way you begin to enter the state of meditation. An internal synergy develops that might be compared to drawing water from a reservoir and sending it through a hose. The process of constantly returning to your focus point ultimately gives you complete control of where you direct your attention and your effectiveness in using it.

Get into a comfortable sitting position but don’t slump. Choose a focus point – one that is positive, beneficial, simple and doesn’t automatically lead into story lines but into deeper stillness, peace. That focus point can be your breath, the sensations in your body, a calming word or sound, a prayer, knitting, a piece of calming music, your heart beat, watching your thoughts pass, and sundry other supports that can help you to concentrate, to anchor your attention and direct it. Whenever your mind wanders, patiently bring it back to that focus point. Let go of judgment and expectation. What you need to attain the multitude of benefits of meditation is patience and an unwavering commitment to stay the course. Practice every day!

Thinking About…

I’ve been thinking about thinking. What if you could unroll the entire lifetime of your brain, word by word, like a ticker tape? What a shock and an education that might be! What is thinking? How does it happen? Here’s what I came to. Thinking is a way of sculpting and arranging energy — your own individual energy. The process of thinking assembles and organizes the elements of our lives, both conscious and not so conscious elements, into something intelligible.

Thinking happens by virtue of the ‘mind,’ which is composed of thoughts. But what is ‘mind?’ Sally Kempton, author and Meditation instructor says, “…the phenomenon we experience as “mind” is actually a particularly vibrant and subtle kind of energy. An ocean of energy, in fact, in which waves of thoughts and emotions arise and subside.” The mind is a tool that individualizes energy by engaging the process called thinking.

The mind is the most important tool that we have. Think of it as a horse. You can leave a horse out in the field to wander, or you can train a horse so that you can ride it, enter it in races or shows, or do work that you can’t do yourself. Just so, you can train the mind to consciously serve your purposes or allow it to wander endlessly and waste away all of your energies and talents.

What do you spend your time thinking about? Is your mind enthralled constantly by all those pre-taped messages that go through it over and over and over (a form of self-hypnosis) – broken records of past unresolved events, ungrounded fantasies, bland repetition of who knows what? Does that accomplish anything beneficial for you or anyone else? Is that really the process called, “thinking”? Let’s hope not!

You can use the mind in countless ways. Think about it! Some of the synonyms for thinking are reasoning, rationalizing, discerning, intellectualizing. You can ruminate, ponder, reflect, cogitate, meditate, deliberate, muse. Within that framework, thinking can be many things. It can be a response to internal feelings or external stimuli. It can be your way of creating representations of your world and your life – your particular perspective. It can be a way of directing your thoughts to resolve problems, put together information in a way that clarifies and brings deeper understanding. Or you can use the thinking process to create — in the sense of someone having an idea and then thinking through the process of designing a city, house, a rocket, whatever.

How does ‘thinking’ come about? Each of us has impulses towards certain activities; moods or attitudes that come from feelings – feelings of depression, curiosity, anger, love, harmony, discomfort, etc. Each of those impulses or moods draws to it a certain constellation of thoughts and behaviors. Out of that constellation of thoughts, you can take what you want and ride the wave in that particular realm. That wave — for instance, curiosity — can be creative, coherent, expansive, or it can be negative and destructive– ie., depressive thinking.

The power of directing your thoughts is called concentration. Concentration draws all of your energies into one coherent stream — called one-pointedness in Yoga philosophy. In Christian terms, it could be said: “If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light,” lighting the way to greater understanding and action; bringing flow to your life. One-pointedness, singleness of mind, can direct that inner stream of energy into something that is organized and powerful. When you learn to concentrate, you learn to use your energies to your greatest, and possibly everyone else’s, benefit.

Begin the practice of concentration by choosing something that you love to do – learn to knit, do woodworking, dance, research a certain subject, etc. — and put your heart and soul into it even when the going gets rough. In this way you are learning to direct your energies, to be single-minded-one-pointed, and train your thinking processes. You’ve made a decision to choose and use your thoughts instead of letting them use you or wander aimlessly. You’ve trained your horse – the mind – to take you where you want to go. That’s what brings empowerment, satisfaction and a rich, wholesome life.