For many people the thought of sitting “doing nothing” is pretty scary…..so is that what meditation is really about??
I guess it is important to clarify here what we mean by meditation. There are certain elements that need to be present to be meditating and perhaps the most important of these is being relaxed. When you are relaxed your whole body is able to sit comfortably, or move more fluidly and there is a correlation between relaxing the body and the mind. When your body is relaxed the mind is able to relax – when your body is tense then the mind tends to run at 100 miles an hour!
Meditating does not mean not having thoughts. Thoughts are constantly flowing in the mind but someone in deep meditation is able to “let the thoughts go”… to not get caught up in the mental chatter. At the retreat in central Australia, Ian Gawler who was leading the retreat used a lovely analogy of blue sky and clouds which I really liked. He suggested that the blue sky represented the still, quiet mind that is always there and the clouds represented the thoughts (the active mind). In meditation what we are hoping to achieve is to “break through” the clouds to the quiet mind. He said that there were 2 ways to do this directly or indirectly.
The direct approach according to Ian is to just “do it”..sit in a relaxed quiet state and wait for the clouds to disappear. (this may prove challenging for most of us and we could be waiting a long time!!) The indirect approach is to use some technique to lead you to that quiet state and this often involves engaging the active mind in watching the breath, counting the breath or repeating a mantra.
Ian spoke of the difference between relaxation, mindfulness, concentration and meditation. The first three are the basis of most meditation techniques — you are training your thinking or active mind but the purpose is to lead you to meditation.
In the Satyananda yoga tradition one of the first things we learn in preparation for the practice of meditation is Pratyahara or withdrawal of the awareness from the senses. The purpose of this is to allow an internalisation of awareness. Developing body stillness through the practice of Kaya Sthairyham …learning to sit relaxed in a comfortable meditation posture without being distracted by the body is also very important. The next stage is inner concentration or Dharana ….training the thinking mind and this may well be done using the breath as a focus or chanting a mantra either out loud, in whisper or mentally. The final stage is known as the state of meditation and is called Dhyana where you have achieved internal concentration and develop the experience of unity, internal harmony and equilibrium.
According to Sw Satyananda “There is a fine difference between Dharana and Dhyana. In Dharana the mind continually tries to think of things other than the object, and the practitioner has to bring the awareness back to the object; distractions still exist in one form or another. In Dhyana however the mind has been subjugated and is totally and continually absorbed in the object. It is in meditation that the deeper aspects of the object start to manifest themselves.” (Meditations from the Tantras 1983, p 80)
Both Sw Satyananda and Ian Gawler stressed the point of regular practice to develop concentration ….to break through the clouds and experience the blue sky beyond. This practice does not need to be considerably long the most important factor is really regularity…start small and it will build of its own accord.