Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The What Why and How of Meditation

The ABC’s of Meditation What is Meditation? 1. Meditation is the exercise of the mind to achieve calmness and clarity. 2. The mind is often restless, wandering aimlessly; meditation is to minimize this aimless wandering by bringing order. Bringing order to the mind helps it to be calm and clear. 3. The aimless wandering mind is like a misguided missile, shooting all over the places. A misguided shooting missile represents an agitated mind or a confused mind. 4. The technique to bring order to the mind is by emphasizing on single-mindedness. Single-mindedness leads to a calming and clarifying effect on the mind. 5. Meditation, thus, is the development of mindfulness. What Meditation is not 1. Meditation is not the emptying of the mind; the mind does not operate in a vacuum. 2. Meditation is not a trance. 3. Meditation is not a dreaming phenomenon. 4. Meditation is not part of sleeping. In fact, if you are sleepy, you should not try to meditate. It is better that you go to enjoy a good sleep and get up to have a good meaningful meditation. Trying to meditate when you are sleepy deprives you a good sleep as well as a good meditation. 5. Meditation is not a case of the ‘soul’ leaving the body and venturing out. 6. Meditation is not a spiritual experimentation, although one Christian faith claims that meditation allows the devil to enter the mind. Nothing could be further from truth. Meditation helps to bring order to the mind, thus leading to the calming and clarifying of the mind. In a way, jogging is also a meditation process when the jogger mindfully observes his/her step or at his/her breathing as he/she jogs along. At the end of the jog, his/her mind is orderly, calm and refresh. Further, some of my Christian friends say their church encourages them to meditate, and in support of this encouragement, these verses from the Bible are quoted: Written in The Bible in The Epistle Of Paul, The Apostle To The PHILIPPIANS, Chapter 4; Verse 8: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things". Verse 9: "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you". In fact, Jewish rabbis and Catholic priests and nuns do meditate as part of their spiritual development. Dr Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and founding President of Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard University reported that when Jewish rabbis and Catholic priests and nuns meditated, they became spiritually stronger in their faith (The Relaxation Response, HarperCollins Publishers Inc., Nov 2000). 7. Meditation is an Awakened Sleep, in that it is just like a sleep except that one is fully conscious of oneself and of the surrounding … the noise, the smell etc. This conclusion is derived from the similarity of the brain wave patterns in meditation and sleep. In the early phase of meditation, the brain wave patterns starts with the beta pattern; this is the pattern when one is awake. Then the meditation brain wave pattern becomes alpha pattern, same as when going to sleep or half-asleep. And finally it morphs to the theta pattern that is the pattern of deep sleep, except that one is fully conscious. The person is conscious at all time and he/she can stop the meditation at any point in time, whereas in sleep, the person cannot stop the sleep at any point in time. In other words, the mind is passive in the sleep, whereas in meditation, it is a knowing mind fully conscious of the present as well of the past. Why Meditation? The benefits of meditation are known for thousands of years. Recently, most of these benefits have been substantiated by scientific and medical research. 1. Meditation helps to reduce anxiety. Scientific research indicates that, during meditation, the body produces more endorphrine, a hormone that causes one to relax. Endorphrine can be considered as the opposite of adrenaline. 2. Meditation helps to reduce stress. This benefit is due to the increase level of endorphrine. 3. Mediation helps to reduce blood pressure. 4. Meditation helps to reduce depression. Depression is caused by the low level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, in the brain. During meditation, the level of serotonin is increased. 5. Meditation helps people with insomnia to sleep better. This is also due to increase level of serotonin. 6. And because of the all above, meditation helps to increase immunity. This increase in immunity is reported in the scientific publication by R.J. Davidson, et al: Psychosomatic Medicine (2003), 65, 564 – 570. 7. In Singapore, a well-known meditation teacher, Dr. K.K. Tan who is also a retired pathologist helped the then Deputy Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong to meditate to increase his immunity in his successful fight against cancer. 8. Meditation helps one to be more thoughtful and measured in speech. 9. Meditation helps to manage anger and craving. 10. Meditation is useful when one is physically disable, the worse situation is being in a coma. The body cannot move, but the mind can meditate to kill boredom. 11. And probably, when closer to death, meditation helps one to come to term with reality without fear. How long to Meditate 1. Initially just try 10 – 15 minutes a day for at least 2 weeks. 2. When you find that you are enjoying it, you will want to do longer. Then next try 30 minutes a day. But do not rush. Patience is the key to building a good foundation in meditation. 3. Soon you will find that 30 minutes pass by very quickly and you will find time to do a one-hour meditation a day. How to Meditate 1. We must first understand that the mind has its own mind, just like a teenage. We do not control the mind. We cannot control the mind. That is why when you are told not to think about something (for example, a particular worrying problem), invariably you will think of it and become depressed. It would be nice if we can dictate our mind what to think and what not to think. 2. As meditation is to bring order to the mind by minimizing it from wandering aimlessly, then the mind should anchor on one single object or vehicle. Hence, the technique is on single-mindedness. 3. A single object could be a piece of music, or a picture of a holy person or a recitation of some holy words. 4. The best one single object to practise single mindedness is the breathing process as it is with you all the time (although we have taken its presence for granted!). This is probably the only time you are single-minded, as often you are doing more than one thing at a time without realising, such as reading the newspaper when at the same time eating your breakfast, and at the same time breathing. 5. Further, breathing is neutral in that it does not excite or depress. Also breathing has no religious connotation. 6. And breathing is continuous, unlike a piece of music. 7. Hence breath meditation is also known as concentration meditation. 8. First choose a quiet place. One such place could be a room with the door closed. The radio or TV is off and ensure that the telephone is off the hook too. 9. As meditation is an ‘exercise’, the body will generate some heat, though not as much as in aerobic exercise. Therefore, ensure the room is cool. There should be at least a fan to help to get rid of the body heat generated. Of course, a working air-conditioner is better. 10. Further, the monotonous sound of a working air-conditioner helps to muffle outside sounds/noises. 11. The room should not be brightly lighted. 12. Dress comfortably and loosely. Definitely no swimming costume or tight belt. 13. You should be relax and comfortable. You are most relax and comfortable when you are lying down, and least relax and comfortable when standing. 14. Lying down is most comfortable because your body is resting on the largest possible surface area, that of the whole body. Standing is the least comfortable because the body is resting on a small area, that of the two feet. 15. But lying down is far too comfortable in that you are likely to fall asleep when meditating. And falling asleep is not part of meditation. 16. Therefore, a happy compromise is that of sitting, as that of the familiar sight of the sitting Buddha. 17. Sit on a cushion, with the buttocks comfortably on the cushion. In this way, the buttocks are supporting the rest of the body. 18. With the legs on the floor, cross the legs but not over each other. This is different from the cross-legged lotus position of Buddha in meditation. Very few of us can do the lotus position, let alone in that lotus position for one hour. 19. In our case, the paramount consideration is that we do not wish to have numbed legs or “needles-and-pins” on the legs when we sit for a considerable length of time, say, at least one hour. Therefore, cross the legs, but with one leg just in front of the other. In this way, there is no pressure on any part of the leg, and this allows a better circulation of blood in the legs. 20. If you are unable to sit on the floor, then you can sit on a chair, but be sure you do not rest your back on the back of the chair, and that your feet are firmly resting on the floor. 21. Close the eyes loosely. Close the mouth, with the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth. 22. Make sure your body is upright. Having your body upright is to position the full weight of your body be supported by the buttocks. 23. Your head is slightly tilted downward, probably by 10 degree. (I think this is for comfort). 24. And the arms and the hands? Just relax the arms, allowing these to “droop” by the side of the body, with the hands resting lightly on the lap. Or allowing one hand to rest on the other, with both resting lightly on the lap. The hands must not be supporting the arms, as this will cause tension. 25. Now, the breathing. First, do a warming-up breathing exercise. Take one deep breathe to expel out all the carbon dioxide in your lungs. Hold your breath in as long as you can and think of your breath. You will notice that you are already practicing concentration meditation, in that your mind is concentrated on holding your breath as you hold in as long as you can. Holding in the breath also means flooding your blood with oxygen. Thus, when you start your meditation, you will not be short of breath. 26. Immediately after you let go of the deep breathe, you will find that you are short of breath, and therefore, the next few seconds, you will be breathing heavily to “catch” the breath. As you breathe heavily, just note “in” when you breathe in, and “out” when you breathe out. Here again, you are already practicing concentration meditation, as your heavy breathing helps you to focus on your breathing. 27. Repeat this cycle (hold your breathe, and then “catch” your breathe) two more times. This whole warming-up exercise should take about 5 minutes. 28. Then breathe normally, in and out. 29. Observe the normal breathing, in and out. One way of observing is to imagine that you are the sentry at the entrance of your nostrils, watching the breath going in and breath going out. At this stage, it is the sense of touch that alerts you to the in-coming and out-going breath, as it brushes through the nostrils. 30. Sometime your breathing is so light that you are unable to feel it (as opposed to the 3 deep breathe you took earlier). Sometime your breathing is too short that you do not feel the full impact of breathing. To overcome this, then take a full breathe (not a deep breathe) each time, so that you can feel the breathing for a length of time. Do this for the first 30 – 40 breathe. A full breath will be somewhere between your unconscious voluntary breathing (the breathing that you normally do not feel when talking) and the fully conscious involuntary deep breathe. 31. With the air-conditioner on, you will be more aware of the in-coming breath because the air is cool (sense of smell). 32. To have an even greater awareness of the in-coming breath, then burn incense in the room. There is now an additional signature of the in-coming breath, that of the sense of smell of the incense. 33. Keep continue to observe this breathing-in and breathing-out continuously. 34. If you have difficulty in following this process, then try this technique: Mentally noting “in” and “out”, as the breath moves in and out. This noting process is an additional concentration to get the mind anchored onto the breathing process, so that the mind does not wander off the track too frequently. 35. And if the mental note of “in” and “out” does not work, try the next stronger technique: Counting the breathing-in and breathing-out, as “1”, “2”, and then “3”, “4”, then “5”, “6” until “9” and “10”. Then start again with “1”, “2”. 36. Invariably, the mind may wander off, now and then. In the initial practice of meditation, this will happen quite frequently, perhaps as often as 50% of the time. Do not be discouraged. Every time, you are aware the mind has wandered off, come back to the breathing, starting with “1”, “2”. 37. Sometime, in going from “1” to “10”, if you are not mindful, you may then be on the “auto-pilot” going onto “11”, “12” etc. In this case, you need more “force” or “concentration” on your meditation. Thus, when you reach “10”, count the breathing backward: from “10” to “1”, and then back again from “1” to “10”. By going through this “to-and-fro”, you will be more mindful of the breathing, and there will be less wandering out of your meditation. 38. When your mind is steadily focusing on the breathing with minimal wandering, you may not need this forceful noting of “1” to “10” and reverse. You can now reduce your “force” by noting with “in” and “out” to help you to anchor onto the breathing process. 39. After much practice, the mind wanders off less often, probably at about 10%. But always come back to observing your breathing whenever you are conscious that the mind has wandered off. 40. Continue to focus on the breath, “in” and “out” for as long as possible. 41. Initially, try meditation for 10 –15 minutes. After you are confident of minimizing the wandering of the mind (and this could take up to a week or so), then extend the session to 30 minutes. And again, when you feel that you have laid the foundation for good concentration of the mind, then extend to 45 minutes, and finally to 1 hour. This is just like starting the jogging exercise. Start jogging for a short time, and then slowly lengthen the time of the jog. 42. As you meditate, saliva accumulates in the mouth. Pause your observation of the breathing process. Mindfully, swallow the saliva, and then continue the observation of the breathing process. 43. Try to stay on a one-hour meditation daily. 44. If you are ready to go past the one-hour meditation, then you have exceeded the objective of this Do-It-Yourself manual. You now need a teacher. 45. After the initial 20 – 30 minutes of noting your breath (i.e. the counting of “1” to “10”), the mind takes off onto a different plane of consciousness. You will know that the mind is onto a different plane of consciousness when you have problem in keeping track of the counting, and this has nothing to do with outside distraction. Thus, at this phase, you will have to note your breathing by way of “in” and “out”. This way of noting the breath is simpler and less strenuous. Your breathing and the mind appear to have synchronized in a relaxed and calm mood. This is the Meditative Calm phase. 46. This synchronization is obvious when your breathing will not be so obvious. In other words, the breathing has become very smooth and subtle. 47. Continue the noting of “in” and “out” of this smooth and subtle breathing in a relaxed and calm mood. This Meditative Calm phase will then flow into a phase whereby you need not have to note your breathing, and yet you are fully aware of the breathing with ease. This is the phase when you experience Bliss and Tranquility. 48. Is this Bliss and Tranquility phase for real? Well, scientific measurements of the brain waves indicate so. The brain waves, start with the beta pattern when you are not meditating. Then when you start the meditation process, the brain wave pattern changes to alpha, and when you are in the bliss and tranquility phase, the brain wave pattern is the theta pattern. This sequence of brain wave patterns is similar to that when you are awake (beta pattern), when you are going to sleep or half-asleep (alpha pattern) and when you are fully in deep sleep (theta pattern). However, there is a difference. In sleeping, you are not conscious or aware of anything, but in this bliss and tranquility phase, you are fully conscious. You can still hear noises and think. 49. And this Bliss and Tranquility phase is not a trance, because you are fully conscious. You can get out of this phase if you wish to because you can still think. 50. On some days, you may have difficulty to take off onto the Bliss and Tranquility phase easily. It may appear you are struggling, and that you are having a bad meditation. There is no such thing as a bad meditation. It is that on these days, you have more obstacles/distractions (such as being angry or worrying about something that is bothering your mind, or being happily excited over something), and the more you struggle to overcome these obstacles/distractions, the stronger will your discipline be for meditation. It is during such ‘bad’ meditation that you strengthen your single-mindedness. Eventually, you may be even able to meditate in the heart of town with the surrounding bustling. 51. In fact, when you are upset or angry or depressed about anything, all the more reason you should meditate. The meditation helps to calm and clarify your mind. And you will feel less upset or angry or depressed. 52. Briefly, the meditation process has gone through 3 phases. 53. The First Phase is the use of the possible strongest mental “force”, that of counting “1” to “10” and back, to get the mind focused on the breathing. Here mental work is being done, in that as you mentally count, you “force-synchronize” the breathing of in and out. You can “hear” your counting and the breathing. For beginners, this phase is usually 10 – 20 minutes. 54. Then, as the mind is steadily on the breathing with minimal wandering, you can reduce the strength of the mental “force”. Thus, stop the counting and start noting the breathing with the “in” and “out”. This is the Second Phase, the phase of Meditative Calm. You can still “hear” your noting and breathing even though the breathing is becoming smooth and subtle. For beginners, this should be around 10 minutes. 55. As the Second Phase of Meditative Calm continues, it will sub-consciously flow into the Third Phase. In other words, you do not consciously ‘switch’ to this Third Phase as you did from First Phase to Second Phase. The smooth and subtle breathing just continues and as the meditation process becomes deeper, you no longer need to apply any “mental force” to have the mind focusing on the breathing. Unlike in First Phase and Second Phase, you do not “force-synchronize” the breathing in this Third Phase. You have de-linked the mind from the breathing, but you are consciously aware of the breathing with no interference from outside, that is, no wandering of the mind, as the mind is aware of the breathing. The smooth and subtle breathing seems to have its own momentum, and you are aware of it. You do not count or note, and hence there is silence. The smooth and subtle breath just continues naturally on its own, in silence. This Third Phase is the phase of SILENT AWARENESS OF THE BREATHING. This is the phase where your mind is clear and is the “knower”, being consciously knowing the breathing in the silent environment. So, just observe (“know”) the breathing in silence for as long as possible. You are now basked in the phase of Tranquilly and Bliss. 56. And like jogging, meditation should be done daily, otherwise you lose the ‘stamina’. Regular jogging helps to develop speed and endurance. Similarly, daily meditation helps to develop speed (can get into the Meditative Calm phase very fast) and endurance (can meditate longer). 57. The earlier you get onto the Meditative Calm phase, the faster you can get onto the Bliss and Tranquility phase, and thus you will have more time on this phase in the same period of meditation. However, do not rush into this Bliss/Tranquility phase, because if you do, then this phase will have weak foundation to sustain your conscious awareness of the silent breath for a long time. When the foundation is weak, then your mind tends to wander, and then you will have to start the noting (the “in” and “out” of the breathing) to build up a stronger foundation. Basically, back to Second Phase, the Meditative Calm. 58. The Bliss/Tranquility phase is not the end of meditation. It is the end of this Do-It-Yourself manual. To progress beyond this Bliss/Tranquility phase, you need a teacher. 59. A good time to meditate is early in the morning after you have a good sleep and very much alert, and probably without any hang-up. Or in the afternoon, after you have a good afternoon nap. 60. Night is a poor time to meditate, because it is close to your bedtime, and therefore you are sleepy. However, one can turn this into an advantage: night meditation is thus a good process to get to sleep easily. And this makes sense because, as you meditate, you will be observing the breathing-in and the breathing-out, and this is no different from the generally known Western practice of counting the sheep. The only difference is that, in counting the sheep, there is no end to the number of sheep (there are 40 million sheep in New Zealand), and you may end being awake all night. So, before you do the meditation at night, be prepared to go to doze off immediately thereafter. 61. Further, night meditation is a good time to unwind after a hard day’s work. 62. I suspect there is a relationship between meditation and dream. This is because dreams, as expounded by psychologists, come about because a person is tired, confused or agitated, and dreaming is the process of unwinding the mind. However, when one meditates regularly, one is bringing order to the mind, and effecting the calmness and clarity on it, and thus unlikely to have dreams. If this relationship holds true, then a good measurement of the success of meditation is whether one has dreams and deep ones. 63. Finally, the best type/technique of meditation is the one that suits you most. Personal Experience My personal experience is that meditation has helped to calm my mind, and reduce my anxiety. If I had taken up meditation when I was in the high-stressed corporate world, I would not have burnt out so early, though I believe my regular jogging did help to slow the burnt-out process. Also, I would have a better EQ with more patience … as a result of my being impatient, hard-hitting and heavy pressurizing, some wonderful people could not take it and left the employ early. At that time, I called these people “softies” who did not have the will and/or the intellect to stomach through. Today, these are my lost sheep. But on the other hand, without knowing the benefits of meditation, and with so many things in the mind, so much to do, I wonder whether I would have the time and patience to learn to meditate. And if someone had told me that I need to try 10 – 15 minutes initially, I believe I would have given it a try. At the moment, I am not sure whether meditation has helped to increase my immunity, though my blood pressure is that of a young man at 110/70, and my resting heartbeat at 60 per minute (must be due to my regular 5 –6 days a week jogging, ranging from 30 minutes to 1 hour each jog). My heartbeat is around 52 when meditating. A coincidental benefit: Concentration of my breathing helps to reduce the pain when the dentist applies the anesthetic injection. Anonymous November 2004

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