Meditation: What, Why, and How
By Maggie Kelly, Meditation Teacher and Spiritual Guide, Satsang House
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is a journey from external activity to inner silence. In today’s world, we are bombarded by the stress of our daily lives, the chaos of world news, we’re busy taking care of kids, working hard or just trying to get through the day. Meditation gives us an opportunity to just stop moving and just Be. Meditation guides you to quieter and quieter levels of thought where you might even be able to notice and observe that silent space between one thought and another. Ultimately through meditation, you slip beyond thought and discover the perfection that you are and have always been. The perfection that has been hidden by layers of stress, fatigue, toxins, doubts, fears, and confusion.
When I teach, initially I talk a lot about stress and what it does to our physiology; how it keeps our heart rate and blood pressure up, can cause trouble with our sleep patterns and digestion, can even be an underlying cause for many of the diseases we experience as a society today. When we are under chronic stress, it’s often difficult to feel as though we have choices in our life. We begin to react on autopilot to most things in our lives. When you make your inward journey in meditation your mind settles down and your physiology settles down along with it. It is in these moments that you experience a deep state of rest. Rest is essential to restoring your body, mind and spirit to wholeness, how your body naturally heals itself.
I always tell my students that even though meditation is a powerful antidote to stress and toxicity, that’s only part of the picture. Once your physiology begins to settle down and the experience of stress along with it, the door opens for you to begin to experience the true value of meditation: a spiritual awakening. Through regular practice of meditation, you not only reconnect with your own essence, you also begin to understand your interconnectedness with everyone and everything around you. The separateness, which leads to so many challenges in the world, begins to dissolve into a deep sense of compassion, peace and harmony; an unconditional love begins to bloom, bringing understanding and compassion; and your connection with the Divine is reestablished opening you to higher states of consciousness.
It is said that we have about 60,000 thoughts per day, 95% of which are said to be repeat thoughts! Between two thoughts, there’s a silent space which most of us don’t even notice exists. This space has two very important qualities.
First, it’s silent. If it wasn’t, it would be the next thought. Second, it’s not an empty silence, but a silence filled with infinite possibilities. Even though most of the time, your thoughts follow certain predictable patterns, conditioned by your memories and desires, between any two thoughts is the possibility for any other thought. However, you are not your thoughts; you are the one who is thinking the thoughts so the only place where the thinker of the thoughts can be is also in the spaces between your thoughts. This is your soul, your essence, your Self, and who you really are at your most profound level. And, because your essence is in the spaces between your thoughts, who you really are is silence and infinite possibilities.
During meditation, your awareness settles to finer and finer levels of thought until you slip into the spaces between the thoughts, you dip into the silence, the infinite possibilities, you bump into the Self. When you come out of meditation after having slipped into the space between your thoughts, you bring the silence and infinite possibilities back into your life. You also bring the sense of stillness, tranquility and peace from your experience in meditation to every encounter and relationship around you. This is the beginning of you restoring the memory of who you really are, why you are really here.
By making this journey in meditation back and forth on a regular basis, you begin to reintegrate these qualities into your everyday life. You reestablish the silence that underlies all the noise and activity so that even in the midst of chaos and confusion, even in the midst of dynamic activity, you can still remain calm, you can still think clearly and creatively. It is a process of going from a state of reacting to the things that happen around you to the state of responding instead. It’s almost as if you are developing an inner and automatic pause. As infinite possibilities begin to dawn, you are able to break out of the prison of habits and conditioning that you have created for yourself. You enter a world where you rediscover that you have choice and that your life doesn’t have to be a series of deadlines, commitments, chaos and stress.
As you reduce your stress levels and begin to make the right lifestyle choices with your diet, exercise, and sleeping habits, your health naturally improves. When you feel healthier and happier and live life from your essence, your relationships become more harmonious and meaningful. As individual relationships become more harmonious, the collective relationships of a permeate society as well. When enough people practice meditation, world peace is possible. My vision is to create world peace one person at a time through meditation.
You will begin to notice the benefits of meditation within the first few days or weeks of meditating regularly.You’ll notice a subtle yet profound shift in your awareness of people, nature, conversations, relationship. The spiritual benefits also begin from your first meditation. Although the spiritual benefits may take longer to manifest fully in your life, their effects are profound, eventually revealing a world of higher states of consciousness.
How to Meditate
There are many forms of meditation available to you but my preference is the practice of silent, mantra-based meditation. Like any journey, it’s useful to have a vehicle to carry you from activity to inner silence. You can use the observation of your breath or a specific sound, called a mantra, for this purpose. A mantra is a sound with no particular meaning. Regular thoughts have a sound and a meaning. The meaning leads you from one thought to the next, keeping you on the horizontal, active level of the mind. Because the mantra has no particular meaning, there’s nothing to hold you at the active level of the mind (ego) so your awareness settles to deeper, quieter levels. A mantra chosen specifically for you needs to be learned from a qualified teacher; however, you can start by using the generic mantra, So Hum.
So Hum Meditation
Before you begin, there are three important points to successful meditation:
1. The less you do during meditation, the greater the rewards. Be easy and effortless.
2. Thoughts are part of the process—accept them and let them go.
3. Let go of any expectations about the practice, you meditate for the results in daily life not for any particular experience in meditation.
Follow these steps to try the So Hum meditation:
Sitting comfortably with eyes closed, take a few deep breaths, letting go of whatever doesn’t concern you right now.
Silently begin repeating the mantra So Hum without forcing, concentrating, or controlling it in any way. You may find that this mantra automatically follows the rhythm of your breath. Repetition of the mantra is always easy and effortless. Never try to think the mantra, it’s more like listening to it.
Whenever you notice you have drifted away from the mantra to thinking other thoughts or listening to noises, simply return to repeating the mantra.
Meditation will always give you the experience you need at that time. If you are tired, you may fall asleep during the meditation. That is your body’s way of letting you know that you need to get more sleep. If you are under a lot of stress, it may take a little longer in your meditation to calm your thoughts. You might feel fidgety or restless. Other times, you may become very quiet and peaceful. All of these are correct experiences.There truly is no right or wrong experience in meditation. It is a practice. No two meditations are ever the same. Listen to your body, allow it to rest and settle down. It’s likely you do not allow your body to rest in this fashion at any other time during your day. The rest received in 20-30 minutes of meditation is a deeper and more restful rest than the rest you receive in a nine hour nights sleep.
It’s recommended to practice this meditation for about 15 to 20 minutes, once in the morning and again in the late afternoon or whenever is convenient for you. If you make meditation a practice, before long it will become a habit. See if you can begin to create the habit of meditating twice a day every day without missing. At the end of each of your meditations, allow yourself to sit easily for a few minutes before resuming your regular activity. Take the beautiful stillness, peace and serenity with you into your day and into every encounter.
The number one most important thing to remember is that you are comfortable during meditation. If you aren’t, you likely won’t want to continue to make meditation a daily practice. If, during your meditation, you need to scratch, cough, shift yourself, do so. There is no need to remain stiff and rigid in your posture or your practice. Remember, this is your practice. Relinquish the need to judge or evaluate yourself.