WHAT MEDITATION IS
Nowadays, we often hear talk of the practice of meditation as a method of balancing and calming the mind, and perhaps this sparks our curiosity to find out "what this practice is". Perhaps, because there come times when we feel that our minds will "explode" from too many thoughts, and we seek a way to calm it and make it clearer.
Then again, maybe we are (or have been) at a turning point in our lives where everything we know so far fails to provide an answer, and somehow, we decide to seek a way out in meditation.
Or perhaps we have sometimes felt that there is a Reality that transcends us, or we feel the sense of a presence within us, and wishing to connect with it, we come into contact with meditation.
In any case, and however we get in touch with it, sooner or later we will discover that the state of meditation is in fact the natural state of being! Young children are constantly in it, although they are not consciously aware of it. Thus, at some point, when the path of Self-awareness (or returning to our Source) begins for us, we are actually seeking to return to this spontaneous state of being, but this time, with awareness.
But what is the origin of this practice, which we usually associate with the yoga tradition, or even Buddhism?
In fact, from ancient times to the present day, elements of meditative practice can be found in almost all cultures and traditions: In the Indian, Buddhist, Buddhist, Jain, Taoist, Sufi, and even ancient Greek traditions!
The culmination of yoga practice is meditation. It is said that meditation allows us to know our inner being, awareness, and bliss that are the characteristics of our deepest Self. Besides, the tendency to know the inner self is innate in man. Thus, through meditation, we come to know our deeper self in a meaningful way, and become familiar with it on all levels - physical, emotional, mental, spiritual.
As we begin our journey into the practice of meditation, whether with a group, a teacher, or on our own, it is not long before we "stumble" into some obstacles common to all: First of all, the seated squatting position; but in reality, this is not necessary at all! Meditation may well be practiced while sitting, as long as the spine remains straight.
However, even when the unpleasant sensation in the body is overcome gradually with practice, the intense thoughts and/or feelings that arise will remain for some time. The best way to deal with them is not to directly oppose them - this makes the situation more difficult - but, for example, to take the thoughts simply as mental energy (normal for the mind), and return to the object of our concentration, without getting caught up in their flow. On the other hand, the practice of meditation does not aim at the absence of thoughts, but at focusing on a single thought.
The ways to exercise are practically infinite! For example, by focusing on an external or mental object, or on a sound, or on an auditory or mental narrative, or even by walking, focusing on our steps! However, the two most "popular" methods of meditation are also the simplest: none other than concentrating on our breath, or on a word (or syllable, or phrase) that we mentally repeat, the famous "mantra".
Whatever method we choose, it is good to approach meditation with exploration, originality, humor, and flexibility. It is not necessary to set aside a lot of time; initially, 5 minutes a day is enough, gradually increasing the practice time to 15-20 minutes. A combination of stability and flexibility is also important.
To give a personal example, I remember that when my children were babies, I had no time at all for "regular" meditation practice. But when I put them to sleep, I knew I had 20 seconds until they woke up again! I therefore decided to try and concentrate on something, within 20 seconds!
Our approach simply requires patience and persistence; as a modern meditation teacher says: "like training a puppy to clean itself: calmly, as many times as necessary, we will take it from where it is, and carry it to its newspaper." It is also essential to remember that there is no "failure" in meditation. Whatever arises it is welcome, as long as it brings us closer to our deeper self.
In this way our own practice becomes our best guide, teaching us in the most subtle way how to proceed. And then, as our practice matures, the following magic happens: Although we practice alone, we realize that we are not just separated, isolated beings; on the contrary, we are all together, inseparable parts of a unified indivisible oneness, full of infinite wisdom and bliss!
Meditation practice is, after all, the deepest, most complete, and most special relationship that it is possible to develop with ourselves. By knowing ourselves on a physical, emotional, and mental level, we finally get in touch with our deeper nature, which is true Awareness and Bliss. And this realization changes forever our view of ourselves and the world, and "gives us the power," as a great modern meditation teacher says, "to establish ourselves firmly at the centre of our Being as a Power of Love and Light."
Nancy Hitzanidou, March 2022
MSc, Yoga and Meditation Teacher
Υοga Alliance (Υοga Alliance E-RYT 500, YACEP)