Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Meditation, ancient help for 21st century stress

The weeks leading up to Christmas can be hectic.  There is so much to do, present buying/wrapping/delivering, card writing, menu planning, invitations to send, food to buy and prepare as well as all the things you normally do.  Its important to stay calm, eat well and get your sleep to prevent getting run down and being too tired and irritable to enjoy Christmas when it comes.  
Meditation can help with the build up to Christmas! Meditation, practiced regularly is calming, helps you stay focused and aids deep physical relaxation.   In addition meditation causes measurable changes in the brain in that it increases the grey matter in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with focus and concentration.  This usually decreases as we age so meditation could be said to reverse aging.  
How does meditation work?
Meditation is a way of accessing and controlling a deeper level of the mind, the subconscious. Imagine meditation creating a ‘tunnel’ through the conscious mind.  Each time you meditate you extend this tunnel until you reach your subconscious mind.  The subconscious mind governs much more of our behaviour than people realise and it is in this part of the mind, the ‘inner critic’ and negativity reside.  Don’t be surprised if when you start meditating suppressed emotions arise.  Try not to judge but be accepting, it is all part of the healing process that will allow you to gain access to your true self which is kind, compassionate. 
The following story illustrates how meditation works.
The Elephant in the Rock by Eknath Easwaran (
This is an edited extract from Eknath Easwaran’s ‘God makes the rivers to flow’ explains how meditation works:-
 In Ancient India there lived a sculptor renowned for his life size statues of elephants.  With trunks curled high these carved beasts seemed to trumpet to the sky.  One day the king came to see these magnificent works.  Struck with wonder the king asked the sculptor ‘What is the secret of your artistry?’  The sculptor replied, ’Great King, with the help of many men I quarry a gigantic piece of granite from the banks of the river.  I have it set in my courtyard and for a long time I do nothing but observe this block of stone and study it from every angle.  I focus all my concentration on this task and do not allow anyone or anybody to disturb me.  At first I see nothing but a shapeless rock sitting there, meaningless, indifferent to my purpose.  Then slowly, very slowly I begin to notice something in the substance of the rock.  I feel an outline scarcely discernible show itself to me though others I suspect would perceive nothing.  I watch with an open eye and joyous, eager heart.  The outline grows stronger ‘Yes I can see it, an elephant is stirring in there’.  Only then do I start work.  I use my chisel and mallet, always clinging to my sense of that outline which grows ever stronger.  How the big fellow strains, how he yearns to be out, he wants to live.  It seems so clear now, I know the thing I must do.  With an utter singleness of purpose I must chip away every piece of stone that is not an elephant, then what remains must be an elephant’.
What can we learn from this story?  Just like the elephant ‘exists’ in the rock but cannot be seen until the rock is chiseled away, so too, our true self which radiates love and compassion already exists, but we do not see it.  Meditation is the tool that allows us to chip away everything that is not true self.
Myths about meditation
• You need a completely empty mind – thoughts will naturally arise, simply acknowledge them then continue to focus on the breath, mantra, etc (see below)
• Meditation is the same as relaxation – meditation is an active practice and therefore not the same as relaxation in which you completely surrender, let go
• You have to sit in Lotus position saying ‘om’ – you can meditate in any comfortable position.  The important point is not to be distracted by feelings of discomfort. When yoga was first practiced,the reason asana (posture) work developed was to be able to sit comfortably for meditation for long periods. Meditations can use mantras (a word or a phrase to focus on) such as ‘om’ (the supposed sound of the universe) but this is not the only way to meditate.
• Meditation is a religious observance- there is often no religious connection although if you wish a religious word or phrase can be used as a mantra. 
• Yoga has no place in western society – in our 24/7,  21st century society meditation is needed more than ever to prevent stress causing health problems. 

Ways to meditate – for all the following techniques sit in a comfortable position (on a chair if you wish).
If thoughts or feelings arise acknowledge then then gently but firmly bring your focus back
• Focus on the breath – just watching the breath move in and out of the body (do not try to change the breath in any way)
• Count the breath – breathe in, breathe out, count one, breathe in, breathe out, count two etc. until you get to 10 then start the count again. If a thought/feeling intervenes start the count again (most of us cannot get beyond a count of three at first)
• Focus on a mantra – this might be a word such ‘om’, ‘peace’, ‘love’ or a phrase such as ‘om shanti om’ (peace to all).  You can even use your own name saying your first name as you breathe in, you surname as you breathe out (or the first syllable of your first name as you breathe in, the second as you breathe out). If a thought/feeling intervenes gently but firmly return your focus to your mantra. One of the first people to meditate in this way was Wordsworth.
• Focus on an object – this might be a candle, flower or any object you wish to focus on.  If thoughts/feelings arise gently but firmly return to focusing on your object.
So there you have some basic techniques for meditating. Start today and start to receive the benefits.
See also

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