Classic sitting meditation is a vital part of all meditation traditions and has taken many forms, some more effective than others. Traditional approaches to meditation demand that the student sit motionless for hours as if becoming a human statue is the key to enlightenment. A more scientific approach does not make the human body our enemy but rather works with our natural physiology to allow more intense meditation with less effort and discomfort. Masochism is not an effective path to self-realisation and the macho slogan "no pain, no gain" has no relevance to meditation.
Begin by finding a relatively quite place to meditate where you will not be disturbed. You can sit cross-legged on a meditation pillow on the floor or in a comfortable chair. Eyes can be fully open, half open, or just slightly open letting in two small slits of light. Sitting meditation with the eyes fully closed, especially in a darkened room, presents fundamental physiological problems.
When you sit quietly with your eyes closed in darkness your brain interprets this situation as a signal to start shutting itself down for sleep. Sleep inducing hormones such as melatonin are released that make you drowsy at the same time your circulation and heart rate are reduced due to lack of movement. You feel as if swept away on a sea of quite relaxation. This pleasant feeling may just be light sleep state hypnosis, not meditation. Meditation means that you are relaxed as if sleeping but your consciousness is fully awake.
To achieve a positive combination of deep relaxation and heightened awareness keep your eyes open at least slightly. If your eyes are fully closed then the room must remain brightly lit so that some light passes through the eyelids. The second defense against sleepiness is to break up your meditation into -minute sessions that are easy for your body to tolerate. Sit quietly for fifteen minutes, then stand for two minutes, then sit for another fifteen minutes, then stand for two minutes, then sit for a final fifteen-minute session. This 49-minute technique can be done once a day, twice a day, or even three times a day for intense practice. You can time yourself by making a tape recording with the sound of a bell or a gong to let you known when to stand up, sit down, and begin and end the meditation.
This technique largely eliminates the problem of cramps, soreness, and numbness in legs often experienced by meditation students attempting to sit for longer periods of time than the body was naturally made to sit. The standing breaks increase blood circulation, which helps wakefulness. Comfort is maintained and we avoid the light, sleep state hypnosis problem mentioned earlier.
The transitions between sitting and standing in this method are an opportunity to practice meditation in action. Normally unless we are physically ill our waking lives are spent in motion and activity. Meditation must not be thought of as something that is done only in a physically rigid state far removed from the world of work and play. The goal is to become meditative continuously so that your very being becomes cosmically conscious permanently and irrevocably. So when you stand up and sit down during these meditation sessions, feel the inner flow of meditation continue. Observe that your body is moving but your existential identity remains the same.
What do you do while sitting?
The most basic approach to meditation is to relax, let go, and do nothing. Surrender to the moment and watch yourself as a silent witness. If thoughts come to mind then observe the thoughts without adding to them by your active participation. Be a detached and passive observer and simply feel your most basic and fundamental being. This inherently immense being has been respectfully called the ground of being.
Another method is to lend special awareness to the breathing process felt in the belly. Just behind and below your navel (belly button) lies the hara. The hara is a natural balancing point of your consciousness that can be thought of as the center of your subtle body. What the hara actually is no one really knows but we can use it to our advantage. When your consciousness is centered at the hara instead of in the head your thinking process slows down and can even stop. When the thinking process slows down you can relax in the expanded world of pure being. Trying to stop distracting thoughts by will power alone can often lead to even more thoughts and a self-defeating inner struggle. By transferring your center of consciousness to the hara thoughts gradually disappear on their own without any inner conflict. This is why you see Buddha statues with a big belly. This is an esoteric message that the hara is a key to meditation.
Sit quietly and focus on your belly as it moves in and out as you breathe. Over time the hara point will become noticeable, as your meditation grows stronger. We all feel the hara when suddenly startled or in intense danger. Sudden emergencies, such as near collisions on the highway, tend to push consciousness to the belly center. You get a "gut reaction" from sudden danger. You can nourish the feeling of the hara by simply paying passive attention to it. This relaxed concentration is very close to doing nothing yet is still a subtle effort. Drinking warm liquids such as herb tea or a cup of hot water before meditation sessions relaxes the gut and facilitates awareness of the hara. Overeating and consuming cold drinks tends to make hara awareness more difficult.
WARNING: Avoid the use of mantras and repetitive chanting. Repeating the same words over and over is a method of forgetfulness, which will bore the mind, and leads to the light sleep state hypnosis problem mentioned earlier. Mantra use has proven to be medically helpful for some people because it unleashes hormones that can temporarily calm the mind. Mantras are healthier than taking tranquilisers but they are fundamentally different from meditation, which relies on the purifying fire of self-observation. Self-observation is a difficult task that requires courage and an endurance of character and spirit. Real meditation has the real payoff of leading to a naturally calm expanded state of consciousness, not just an artificially silenced mind that remains fundamentally shallow.
There are powerful words that can help you to expand your consciousness but they form a strategic question, not a mantra. Before formal meditation sessions slowly and deliberately repeat the question "Who am I?" three times. Invoke this question with intensity and ask it from the hara center, not from the head. Do not think of intellectual explanations regarding who you are but rather resonate the question deep inside you without expectation of an answer. Over time you will find these words become a trigger mechanism that allows your mind to instantly drop all peripheral involvement and come home to the true center of your being. You can then use this existential questioning any time of day or night you wish to refocus your consciousness on the essential fact of your cosmic identity.
Sit in front of a mirror and gaze into your own eyes for twenty minutes. Allow your eyes to deeply relax focus and become a silent witness to the moment to moment act of seeing and observing. Your reflection in the mirror will start to change shape and take different forms. You will appear to be changing from one person to another, the same soul in different bodies. Are the new faces you see from past lives, fantasies of the mind, or just the fluid nature of your own visual field consciousness? Do not expect to answer this question with certainty because it is inherently unanswerable. I personally suspect the visual changes are caused by a combination of all three factors mentioned.
Enjoy the mirror gazing for twenty minutes and then stand up for two minutes, maintaining your heightened awareness as you change position. Then resume sitting in quite meditation for ten minutes with eyes almost totally closed, allowing in just two slits of light. Be aware of your being existing in it's most basic form without activity. This method is to be used occasionally but not on a daily basis. Ancient meditators even before the invention of manufactured mirrors used such self-observation techniques. The ancient ones used reflective pools of water for their experiments in cosmic consciousness.
To do this technique you must have a partner of the opposite sex, preferably someone you love. It is identical to the mirror gazing technique described above except you look into the eyes of your loved one. Sit together staring softly into your partners eyes for twenty minutes, then stand for two minutes, then sit in quiet meditation with eyes almost totally closed for ten minutes. This technique can readily lead to romantic intimacy so pick your partner carefully. Like the mirror gazing technique it is meant to be practiced once in a while but not every day.
This active meditation technique is a cosmic powerhouse that can be used by students in good health with a normal cardiovascular system. As it is a physically strenuous exercise one should get a complete physical examination by a competent doctor before trying it. Explain the technique to your doctor and ask if it would be physically dangerous for you to do. He won't understand your motives for wanting to do it but he can tell you if he thinks your body and heart can take it. As with jogging or mountain climbing you must practice this method at your own risk.
This method is similar to Rajneesh "Dynamic Meditation" but is simpler, easier to do, and more likely to keep you interested month after month, year after year. I have found that most people will benefit from doing this method daily for a period of from one to five years. After five years most people simply do not need to do it any more. It changes you from head to toe and benefits all the other meditation techniques you practice. It also helps you develop a powerful hara center. I am reluctant to bring up the subject of kundalini (see definition near the bottom of the page) because of the common misrepresentations of that subject. I feel compelled, however, to honestly inform you that this technique is the most powerful kundalini method I know about. This active meditation has three stages and lasts for forty minutes.
Stage #1 (ten minutes) Start by standing with your eyes closed (blindfold optional) and breath deep and fast through your nose continuously. If you are only physically capable of doing deep breathing for five minutes then reduce the length of the first stage without feeling guilty. Remember that you are doing this method to help your meditation, not to physically injure yourself. Allow your body to move freely as you breathe. You can jump up and down, sway back and forth, or use any physical motion that helps you pump more oxygen into your lungs.
Stage #2 (twenty minutes) The second stage is a celebration of catharsis and wild and spontaneous dancing. Let go totally and act as an ancient human being dancing in tribal celebration. Energetic, nonverbal background music is highly recommended. African tribal drum music works especially well. You may roll on the ground and do strange spontaneous body movements. Allow the body to move within the limits of not hurting yourself or others. For once in your life screaming is encouraged. You must act out any anger you have in a safe way such as beating the earth with your hands. All the suppressed emotions from your subconscious mind are to be released. "The ghosts in the machine must come out". If anytime during the second stage you feel that your energy level is starting to decline you can resume deep and fast breathing to give yourself a boost.
Stage #3 (ten minutes) This stage is complete relaxation and quite. Flop down on your back, get comfortable and just let go. Be as if a dead man, totally surrendered to the cosmos. Enjoy the tremendous energy you have unleashed in the first two stages and be a silent witness to it. Observe the feeling of the ocean flowing into the drop. Become the ocean.
This dramatic active meditation technique is intended to grow with the student and change as the student changes. After a few years of vigorously practicing this method the first two stages of the meditation will drop away spontaneously. You may then begin the meditation by taking a few deep breaths and immediately go deep into the ecstasy of the third stage. If practiced correctly this method is health giving and fun.
WARNING: One must practice this vigorous technique in a safe location. Not near the edge of a cliff or on a hard surface where one might fall and break one's skull. A large room or hall with thick carpeting is good. Outdoors in the early morning on a soft and well-tended lawn with group participation is best. Do it on an empty stomach and avoid falling into dangerous objects such as windows. It is allowable to briefly open one's eyes occasionally to maintain your location. Create a safety zone around your dancing and spontaneous body movements. Be courteous to neighbors and delete the screaming if it will be heard by others.
This method is recommended for those students who have practiced the other described techniques long enough to gain a feeling of floating body less. If you cannot feel your subtle body you cannot practice this method effectively. In the beginning it should only be used during formal sitting meditation sessions. Latter on, after you have gained some progress with the method, you can use an evolved version of the meditation while engaged in any activity that does not require thinking or your full attention. For example you can practice it while walking in a safe location away from highway traffic.
Begin experimenting with this method while sitting with eyes fully open. Softly gaze at a wall or out a window. With the mind's eye (the eye of consciousness behind your body's purely physical eyes) define your field of visual consciousness as a circle. Imagine the top of your field of consciousness as the position on a clock and the bottom of your field of consciousness as the position. With your mind's eye, not your physical eyes, slowly sweep your attention clockwise from the top position down to the position, then on to the position and then back up to the position. Repeat this process in the counterclockwise direction. Mentally strain to observe the very outer edges of your visual field of consciousness where the light of consciousness turns into the darkness of empty space. Go on repeating this process until you feel you have had enough.
This is a soul awareness exercise, not an eye exam, and that is why it is recommended only for students with a number of years of experience in meditation. After practicing this method for some time one can begin to transform the method into one of sudden expansion of awareness. You can gain the ability to perceive the complete 360 degrees of the outer edges of your consciousness in one jump. This feels like stepping back, literally out of your own mind, and looking back into your mind from a close and friendly distance. You become identified with the void and space around the flame of consciousness and this makes the flame grow even brighter. This truly esoteric method is difficult to fully explain and there are aspects of it that you will have to learn on your own through practice.
One discovers from this technique that our visual field of consciousness is roughly football shaped with greater width than height. This is because our brains evolved out of a need to look for food and danger more on the horizontal axis than on the vertically axis. To survive you need to be aware of what is on your right and left more than what is directly below your feet or above your head. This soul awareness method has a deprogramming effect that allows one to appreciate the play of existence as an ever-changing drama. You feel as if you are in it but also out of it and beyond it.
This is an easy technique designed to quickly sweep the clutter of thoughts from your mind. It can be used before starting formal sitting meditation sessions or anytime during the day you feel you have lost your existential focus. Begin by placing both hands behind your head with fingers interlocked. Rest your hands at the point where the neck and the head meet. Then slowly sweep your hands over the top of your head. Imagine that your hands are gathering up all your thoughts as they move. When your hands reach your forehead use a flicking motion as you simultaneously unlock your fingers and throw your hands away from your face. Feel as if all your thoughts are being swept out of your head and discarded. Do this between three and seven times as needed and then relax and enjoy the inner silence. This method takes less than one minute to do and can be used at bedtime to help free the mind from the problems of the day.
Definition: kundalini (k¢n´de-lê´nê) noun of Hindu origin. Physical and sexual energy that lies dormant at the base of the spine is activated through esoteric kundalini practice. This energy is directed through the kundalini channel in the etheric body upward to the top of the head