A friend’s 5-year-old daughter sits on the lap of our meditation teacher, Swami Veda, as he leads a guided meditation. As she sat there, with deep devotion, she was able to intuitively recite the meditation practice with him.
Meditation has been practiced, over thousands of years in different forms and in different cultures, as a way of quieting the mind so that we can more fully experience who we are in connection with the Divine.
It was in August of 1988 while on a camping trip with my classmates from graduate school that I sat quietly on a rock for over an hour in a riverbed with my eyes closed in meditation. The experience was so incredibly peaceful that I decided to commit to a daily practice for the rest of my life.
Meditation hasn’t always been easy; it takes consistency, determination, and dedication. Having learning disabilities I have always been easily distracted. I now find that I am no longer as easily distracted, and clarity and peacefulness are among the qualities that have improved since I started sitting.
I say sitting for meditation because there are days that my body-mind has been so agitated that I couldn’t meditate. But it is the consistent sitting each day that is like an anchor that stabilizes and changes us.
Someone once compared meditation to playing the piano. When we first sit down to play all we get is noise. It is only after much practice that we finally are able to actually hear the music.
One day I wrote the following in my journal while recalling my meditation practice:
My thoughts go to what will happen today ~ insights arise ~ I notice my breath and my posture. I feel my body relaxing as I watch my breath move from my nostrils to the space between my eyebrows. ~ I am aware of my breath moving throughout my body. The peace and the stillness are wonderful. ~ I suddenly remember a phone call I need to make. ~ I quickly settle in again and feel the stillness. ~ My mind again wanders for a short time. ~ When I realize how difficult it is for me to stay in the peacefulness I feel sad. I want to be present and enjoy what is without being attached, and without being distracted by the past or the future. ~ My breath becomes smooth and even ~ an occasional thought or feeling of sadness arises ~ mostly peaceful presence. ~ The witness is strong. Peacefulness-----
Meditation expands the awareness of the present moment into a deep stillness that can be incredibly joyful and peaceful. At this time one may notice the breath but now watching it or following it is effortless.
Linda Johnsen in her book, Meditation is Boring? Putting Life in your Spiritual Practice, writes, “There are no sights or sounds in this state, because one has left the world of names and forms. In this state is pure awareness filled only with itself. Time and space, life and death exist within this radiant beingness, but it is not disturbed by them.”
Recommendations for a basic meditation practice
The first step in having a meditation practice is the intent to consistently meditate on a daily basis. To start with, find a place in your home that is quiet and where you won’t be disturbed. Determine how much time you wish to spend meditating (10 to 20 minutes is generally recommended), and determine the time of day that you will be sitting for meditation.
Start by systematically relaxing your body with just enough tension to sit with your head neck and spine straight. What was helpful for me when I started to meditate was the instruction to sit as though you are a marionette with a string that is attached to the top of your head pulling you upward.
Bring your attention to your breath, and breath slowly and smoothly through your nostrils. Feel the coolness of the air as you breath in, and the warmth of the air as it flows back out.
Now notice which nostril that air is flowing through more freely. Normally the air in one nostril is flowing more fully than the other, and they alternate about every 90 minutes. There is a whole science of breath that addresses what happens when each of the nostrils are open or closed. Just know that the respiratory system and the nervous system are intricately connected, so that smooth even breathing leads to a serene, centered state.
You can simply continue to follow your breath or silently concentrate on a syllable or phrase such as the universal mantra “so-hum,” or the Jesus Prayer.
As thoughts and feelings arise, rather than getting emotionally or mentally caught up in them, we can simply observe any thought or feeling that comes up and let it go, again bringing our attention back to the breath.
This practice enables us to access deeper states of meditative stillness.
Swami Veda used to say that meditation is like brushing your teeth. You wouldn’t think of going through the day without brushing your teeth. So too, get in the habit of brushing your mind by meditating. My favorite meditation story, The Giant Roped, was a story Swami Veda told. It is a delightful story, but a bit too long for this blog. However, for those of you who are interested, I added it below.
It has been nearly 30 years since I sat on that rock in the riverbed to meditate, and I have changed as a result of my daily meditation practice. I feel less irritated, less afraid, and am more able to see a broader picture of life. I feel more inner peace and am more in touch with my intuition. I have more awareness, and am more able to be present in the moment, letting go into the next moment. Physically I rarely get sleepy during the day any longer, I wake up alert, my hands are warmer, and I am better able to trace my thoughts back to my original train of thought.
Being the first month of the year, how about meditation as a New Year’s resolution? I challenge and encourage all of you who are not meditating on a regular basis to try it and watch how your inner life changes. I would love to hear the results! Bye the way, a fun little book to read is Meditation for Kids (and other beings) by Laurie Fisher Huck. Linda Johnsen’s book is also marvelous.
Love and Peace,
The Giant Roped
There was a disciple who served his guru for twelve long years but received no secret knowledge. Impatient, he finally protested, and threw a tantrum. The Guru agreed to teach him some serious and deep mystery. He whispered into the disciple’s ear the mantra whereas he could call a giant to serve him on command. The disciple was overjoyed at having gained such power as a reward for his services to the Master. “But”, said the Master, “Do not use the mantra until I have taught you all the controls.” The disciple promised he wouldn’t. The Master said: “It can be very dangerous to use the mantra without the controls.” Again the disciple promised!
The disciple could not wait. As soon as the Master left his forest cottage on some errand, the disciple recited the mantra and evoked the giant’s promised presence. The giant appeared and bowed deeply, “I am at your command, my Master” – said the giant. The disciple was ever so elated, and ordered the giant to take him on his shoulder and transport him in a few strides to his village home. The giant obeyed. A series of commands followed. Cook my food; serve the food. Clean up my house and garden. The giant obeyed the commands.
Finally, the disciple got tired and said, “Well, it has been quite a day, giant; I am tired and will rest. Why don’t you rest too?” suggested the errant disciple. But the giant replied saying that he doesn’t rest, and he only exists to carry out his master’s command. “Well, I will rest; you are free for a while” – the disciple told the giant. “But,” said the giant, “your Master must have told you the terms on which I am called to serve one who evokes my mantra. I have to be kept constantly occupied with my master’s chores. Whenever I have nothing to do, I get dreadfully hungry and usually eat my master. In fact, I am now getting very hungry and must eat you”.
At that, the disciple panicked, and ran towards his master’s hut with the giant striding behind him. “Help, help, Master!” – shouted the disciple as he approached the Master’s hut. The master came out and saw what was happening. “So you did do what I forbade!” – the Master scolded. “I am so sorry, Master. Forgive me this once, please!” and he fell at the Master’s feet.
The Master gave in and whispered another secret into the disciple’s ear. The disciple beaming, turned around and told the giant, “Giant, I do have something for you to do”. The giant bowed deeply again. “Thank you master; that is all I wanted. I did not mean any harm.
He then told the giant to go into the forest, strip the tallest and sturdiest tree of all leaves and branches and bring him the post. The giant obeyed and was back in just a short while; lightly lugging the heaviest of the smooth logs he could find. He then told the giant to dig a hole and set the tree trunk firmly into the ground. The giant did so. He then told the giant to bring a strong and sturdy rope and tie it to the top of the trunk. The giant obeyed. “Hold the lower end of the rope, and climb up the rope, and then down again,” the disciple said. The giant again obeyed. “Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down! Keep going until I have something else for you to do.” So this is how the disciple brought the giant under control.
Mind is the giant. It will eat us if we give it no commands. The spine is the tree trunk firmly placed in a meditation posture. The breath is the rope. The mind and the breath ascending and descending along the path of the kundalini in the spine is the meditation exercise that brings the mind-giant under full control.
Mary Mohs LVN, MA, RYT,