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!