Posted by Ben Koch, Managing Editor
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=meditation&iid=232134″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/232134/thinkstock-single-image/thinkstock-single-image.jpg?size=500&imageId=232134″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]One of my favorite research organizations on the edge of a science/spirituality convergence, The Institute of HeartMath, has released a new free e-book titled The State of Ease (Click to download). In it, institute founder Doc Childre outlines a very simple relaxation practice designed to reconnect us to our heart intelligence—a concept bourne from HeartMath’s years of research into that unique organ’s role in our physiology, psychology, emotions, decision-making and spiritual well-being and evolution.
Many established spiritual traditions have similar grounding practices that involve breathing and/or visualization. The Buddhist tradition, for example, is rich with a variety of techniques for nurturing a state of compassion and developing a sphere of awareness that includes others’ point of view, and I have been exposed to many of them. In one practice, for example, called TONG-LEN, the practitioner breathes calmly and on the in-breath visualizes the sufferings and negativities of other living beings coming into her heart in the form of black smoke. Yes, it is a psychologically courageous process and I have struggled with it throughout the years, but it has the immediate effect of connecting you to your “heart-center” and heightening your awareness of your impact on those around you.
Other practices utilize mantras and harness the power of vibrational energy in concert with visualizations to develop a state of loving kindness. Simpler still are breathing techniques in which you simply “watch the breath” and resist engaging with the inevitable thought-intrusions that will indeed plead strongly for your attention.
For one reason or another, though, many people interested in meditation are turned off by practices that seem too “religious” or[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=meditation&iid=232163″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/232163/thinkstock-single-image/thinkstock-single-image.jpg?size=500&imageId=232163″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /] closely tied to a particular tradition. That’s a wonderful aspect of Childre’s State of Ease process—it is a completely secular approach to getting us into a very centered and natural state. There’s no need for high-minded debate about the “perennial practices” of all religions here—this is a pragmatic (requires no particular belief system) and poignant (a perfect, nonchalant methodology that can be done anywhere) technique. Please take a moment to study and practice it yourself.
If you’re new to meditation, you may be surprised by both Childre’s technique and the ones I describe above in just how active the mind is throughout the process. Many of us are stuck in the dogmatic idea that in meditation we somehow “blank out” our minds and become some kind of blissful vegetable. This unfortunate misunderstanding scares many would be yogis away from the proverbial meditation cushion. This very myth, that meditation involves stopping all thoughts, is one addressed directly in Susan Piver’s “3 Misconceptions About Meditation” (The Huffington Post, June 1, 2010).
Here’s an excerpt in which Piver deals with the “no thoughts” misconception:
If I had a dollar for everyone who said to me, “I can’t meditate! I can’t turn off my thoughts!” I’d be, well, richer. Many people think that emptying the mind of thought is the point and if you can’t do so, you’ve failed.
Your mind exists to produce thought. That’s what it does. It thinks things. Getting it to stop is akin to opening your eyes and telling them not to see anything.
Go ahead. Try that right now. Look out through your eyes and plead with them not to see anything. Try really hard.
That’s how frustrating it is to think you’re supposed to hop off the 190-mile an hour freight train in your head and onto a meditation cushion where you will somehow have magically stopped dead on the track.
Instead, the idea is to relax with your thoughts exactly as they are. This turns out to be far more relaxing than fighting them off.
Meditation has nothing to do with stopping thought, but everything to do with not going along for the ride. You hop off the train, but you don’t stand it front of it, hands held out insisting it stop, whereupon you get shmushed like a bug on a windshield. Instead, you have a seat on the grass and watch it roll by. Trains keep coming, but eventually each fades from view. They all pass by. You don’t have to do anything to make this happen. So don’t get all hung up on stopping thought. I promise, your mind will slow down on its own.
So what’s your takeaway for this post? If the idea that mediation is “not for you” because your thoughts and mind are too busy, think again. Nurture your innate curiosity for meditation with a new openness to the fact that no matter what your state of mind, there is a practice for you that just might change you.
“3 Misconceptions About Meditation” by Susan Piver (The Huffington Post, June 1, 2010)