This article is a preview of my book Meditation In Not About Emptying Your Mind. The book contains everything you should know about meditation: how-to, the science behind meditation, different practices, questions and answers, and more.
Introduction To The Most Misunderstood Practice
Have you ever had an experience where the whole world disappeared, and all that was left was an indescribable silence or emptiness that pervaded your entire being? I had this experience a couple of years ago where everything in my conscious awareness disappeared.
The bliss of emptiness had such a profound effect that it changed my life forever. I left my well-paying corporate job to venture into an unknown territory. A glimpse of that emptiness or experience completely changed my perception.
It mitigated all concepts, theories, ideologies, and even the spiritual quest to know oneself. The deeper I went in meditation, the more peaceful I felt, and at some point, that was no “me” to speak of.
It was similar to the peace of deep sleep as the person with his worries, stresses, and troubles were not there. Yet, something was there. Something that always was and always will be. I have known it. I have seen it. I am it. Can meditation make this happen for you?
I don’t claim that. But meditation, if you’ve understood the core principle, can undoubtedly slow down the mind where this revelation may happen. Irrespective of the fact whether a spiritual awakening happens or not, meditation is a helpful practice that has the potential to calm the mind. A calm mind is focused and a better decision-maker because it reduces emotional volatility.
There’s a lot of buzz around meditation nowadays, but very few understand it all. I would go on to say meditation has been mostly misunderstood in the western world. Even in the east, where this practice originated, people mostly follow an imported version. It is not to say that the western version is bad. There will always be benefits, no matter which meditation practice or tradition you follow.
But there’s a fundamental misconception about meditation that keeps us trapped in a never-ending cycle of rumination, either in the dead past or an imaginary future, and that’s precisely the problem I’m going to address in this book.
There’s a lot of confusion about meditation. People often say they can’t do meditation or that they don’t know how to do it. And that’s the thing. Meditation is not something YOU do. Meditation happens. If it’s not happening, then you’re simply wasting time.
Confused? Don’t worry. We’ll get to the bottom of it. But before that, I’ll introduce you to meditation both from the eastern and western perspectives. We will talk about the physical and psychological benefits, how and where to practice, why we even need to do it in the first place, seating postures, different types of practices, and breathing exercises. In the final chapter, we’ll take a look at some common questions on meditation.
We’ll dive deep into what scientific studies tell us about meditation and how it affects brainwaves that significantly impact our daily lives. That said, meditation is not a magical formulation or prescription to treat psychological disorders and other physical conditions. But it can be a powerful supplementary practice if you’re suffering from ailments.
The benefits are not why the meditation is done. Benefits happen as a consequence of mental stillness. The idea of any spiritual practice is to go deep within to inquire into the nature of the “being” that experiences the world in its own light.
Stillness comes when things are witnessed with an undistorted perception, which can happen only when the mind is still. What do I mean by undistorted perception? It is where things are seen for what they are rather than what they should be.
When you cultivate the ability to see things the way they are, your decisions have less bias in them. Your emotional state does not interfere with your decision-making. It is not to say that you’ll never make a wrong decision in your life.
For sure, you’ll make wrong decisions, but you’ll never carry the load of guilt for making those decisions because you’ll know that you made them based on past circumstances, and that has got nothing to do with who you are at this very moment.
Meditation has the potential to get rid of useless chatter of the mind. It’s not that the chattering stops, but your involvement in the chatter finishes. That, in my opinion, is one of the most peaceful states of the mind.
A still mind brings out the highest creativity. It is not a thinking mind. A thinking mind is constantly engaged in incessant thinking and what-ifs. The thinking mind is more attached to the outcome of work rather than simply doing what comes naturally.
A creative or working mind is an engaged mind. It doesn’t care about the outcomes. It simply allows the work to happen by bringing you into a flow state where you have no sense of time.
When the thinking mind is dominant as the inner critic or otherwise, the working mind doesn’t get a chance to unleash its potential. To have a laser-like focus, the thinking mind has to disappear. Meditation is one of the practices that can help with that.
Meditation allows us to access deeper states of our minds. The deeper we go, the more peaceful it becomes. At a certain point, you experience yourself as the pure unchanging awareness that is infinite and one with everything in this universe.
This mental state is a place of absolute restful calm. Reaching such depths enables us to rise above our worries, fears, anxieties, and insecurities and gives us a profound realization of the essence of the pure being that we are. When the mind is quiet, we discover who we are and why we are here. Meditation provides us with a host of other benefits I shall cover in the following chapters.
But an important thing to remember is that meditation is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. It takes a lot of patience and consistent practice to see the actual results. But again, benefits are just the by-products of a still mind. Let’s understand this through the analogy of an ocean.
Our mind is like an ocean with turbulent waves at the surface, but the bottom is always quiet and peaceful. The troubled mind is the conscious mind used to survive in the world.
But there is a deeper layer known as the subconscious mind. This one is extremely dominant and powerful. The habits we form by exercising our conscious mind get stored within the subconscious mind. For example, daily routine activities like brushing your teeth, bathing, eating a meal, and driving down to work, are stored in your subconscious mind.
You don’t have to think about performing these activities. They get done automatically. While brushing your teeth, you don’t have to think about where and how to move the brush. That knowledge is within the subconscious, which has come about through repeated actions.
Deeper than the subconscious mind lies the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is the storehouse of vast amounts of information that answers deep-seated questions. Stress arises when our conscious mind is not in sync with the subconscious mind. For example, a person might claim to be very loving and spiritual on the outside but behave like a complete materialist when no one is watching.
Another example would be when people make plans and resolutions to achieve goals – these could be anything like fitness, making money, improving relationships, or merely practicing self-care. But when the time comes to take action, they don’t do anything.
Have you ever thought about why we fail to take action on our goals? What stops us? It is the fear that resides deep within the subconscious mind. The fear gets accumulated in the subconscious’s vast depths, and some of it trickles down into the unconscious.
Meditation offers an opportunity to reach the deepest layers of the mind and light up the stored afflictions. It initially feels uncomfortable, but as the stored toxic energy dissipates, it makes room for calm and tranquility.
Initially, this can be an overwhelming experience, but with guidance and time, your mind will build resilience to afflicting thoughts and emotions as you witness yourself completely separated from them. Your involvement with those afflictions will finish.
Meditation reduces stress by calming the conscious mind. When the conscious mind is calm, we create space for uncomfortable stuff to come up from the deeper layers. It’s important to understand that our behaviors are primarily dictated by what lies within our unconscious mind.
It is extremely powerful. Unfortunately, we do not directly access our subconscious or unconscious mind. And that’s the reason why we become slaves to our habits and tendencies. Time and again, troubling emotions come from within our subconscious, and they can be pretty traumatic to re-experience.
When the mind makes rumination into a habit, we live continually in a state of restlessness and anxiety. Problems like stress, anxiety, and depression are just the symptoms felt in the body. The problem lies somewhere deep.
We become slaves of our own minds. To free ourselves from the above ailments, we need to realize that the mind is simply an appearance in our consciousness, and it has no concrete existence of its own. Such realization itself can bring about liberation from the tyranny of the thinking mind.
It is not that we want to get rid of the mind. If we do that, we won’t be able to operate in life. All we need to do is to uncover the thinking mind. Knowing your mind, in and of itself, is freedom. Nothing else needs to be done as such.
But is that even possible? I would say it is. But it requires commitment and dedication. Learning to quiet the mind is a skill, and it can only be mastered through regular practice. The ocean is deep, but it is not inaccessible.
Meditation works to synchronize the conscious with deeper layers. With enough practice, it can go even further and create a union between the conscious, unconscious, and superconscious (universal) mind. And this union is called “Yoga” in eastern spiritual traditions.
But is calming the mind that easy? Well, I’d say that it’s much easier to tame an untrained horse than to calm the mind. But it certainly can be achieved with discipline and consistent practice.
That said, we don’t need to force ourselves into hard discipline to quiet the mind. That won’t work. Meditation is simply witnessing whatever arises in the conscious mind without clinging, rejecting, or judging the content of experience.
There’s a lot of information on meditation and relaxation techniques to combat stress and anxiety, but what disappoints me is that majority of them (even the most reputed sites) ignore some fundamentals (which we shall cover here) when it comes to practicing meditation.
Some prerequisites are essential and should not be ignored under any circumstance; otherwise, we’ll be just wasting our time. We are going to talk about a practice that not merely brings about a temporary change in physiology to make you feel relaxed but an approach that has long-lasting effects.
What I’m saying is that we should not think of meditation merely as a quick fix for stress relief. Just 15 to 20 minutes of meditation sessions can easily relax anyone. For that matter, even a 10-minute deep breathing exercise or a high-intensity workout will bring relaxation.
But these effects are temporary. Meditation practiced with the right mindset will have a long-lasting impact. Not only that, but it will also help in building emotional resilience and endurance. Meditation does something much more than induce temporary relaxation.
It brings about a significant change in the way we perceive ourselves and the world. It is not about changing thoughts or blocking them. It’s about examining who is this entity that we call “me” and how it relates to the outer and inner world.
Meditation is not a new-age fad but a practice that dates back thousands of years, and many great sages and monks have practiced it throughout centuries. They didn’t do it to achieve some temporary state of bliss but to understand their mind and how it makes identifications that bring about suffering in the world.
The oldest written evidence of meditation is in the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of Hindus, dating somewhere around 1500 BCE. Over time the practice of meditation has undergone a lot of change. Many new meditation practices consider the contemporary lifestyle and are most apt for modern-day living.
A lot of research is happening on the positive effects of meditation and how it helps in treating various mental ailments. Suffering ends with self-knowledge. In this fast-paced world of indulgences with virtual connections and 24×7 access to entertainment, we forget to spend time with ourselves.
We are going to explore it all in the chapters to follow. The objective of this book is not to make you a good meditator. The objective is to end suffering and bring about peace in daily living by understanding the nature of our own minds.
The above text is offered as a preview and contains only the first introductory chapter from my book: Meditation Is Not About Emptying Your Mind.
Discomfort And Pain In Meditation
Body and mind are intricately connected. Just as a physical injury perturbs the mind, an anxious mind adversely affects the body. Human beings are psychophysical creatures – a mind-body complex acting in tandem.
When we suppress some affliction, its effects manifest in the physical body as pain and discomfort. Some of these are mild, and we don’t feel them so often daily. However, in meditation, we frequently experience these sensations. As the mind settles down, we become sensitive to even the slightest intensity.
Please note that I’m not speaking about the pain and discomfort we experience due to injury or tightness in body parts such as knees, hips, lower back, or neck. I’m referring to the minor discomforts like itching or painful stinging sensations we commonly experience while meditating.
There’s not much significance to these minor discomforts. They’re just a form of release in the body. At times, they may feel intense but are generally harmless. So what do we do about them?
Don’t Fight With The Uncomfortable Sensations
Generally, we carry a negative attitude towards uncomfortable sensations, and we want to get rid of them at any cost. But this attitude in and of itself hinders the meditation practice.
Being more accepting of the pain or other bodily discomforts (in bearable limits) will eventually reduce their frequency of occurrence. When you don’t fight or offer them resistance, they disappear after playing around for a couple of seconds.
A particular body part that feels tense needs to expend the accumulated energy. This idea forms the basis of practicing yoga postures, where we stretch different body parts to release energy tensing up the region.
When sitting for long periods in meditation, it is common to feel tension in lower body parts such as the lower back, hips, and knees. Whenever you experience discomfort in any body part, observe the sensation without labeling it. As you do that, gently breathe into that area of sensation.
Over time, you’ll notice a decrease in the intensity of the discomfort. The idea is to let go of the pain and discomfort by acknowledging and accepting it. Every time you do it, you release some of the accumulated energy in the concerned body parts.
Please remember that you should be extremely gentle with your body while you perform this practice of observing the pain with love and kindness. If the discomfort is too much, break the posture by all means. Don’t force yourself to endure pain if you can’t bear it.
Let me elaborate a little more on this with a practical example. When we experience a headache, our initial thought is to get rid of it as soon as possible. The easiest option at that moment is to pop a pill and make it go away.
However, this kind of suppression never helps in the long run. The headache reappears with higher frequency and greater intensity. After a certain amount of time, the brain becomes tolerant of the medicine, and it stops working.
Energy accumulation can happen for many reasons. One I can think of is poor posture. The modern lifestyle demands are such that we spend long hours working sitting on a chair. It makes the back muscles weak.
So when we meditate sitting in complex postures such as cross-legged, the weaker muscles cannot support the lower body structure, and hence, we experience soreness and pain.
Additionally, there can be psychological reasons for pain as well. For example, reoccurring headaches may happen as a result of high stress. Pain is an indication from the body that something needs correction.
In addition to physical exercises, mindful living, and other corrective actions, paying attention to the pain while meditating can help hasten the energy release process in the particular body part. Headache is merely an effect or symptom of energy imbalance and not the primary cause.
That said, if the pain is unbearable, it can be a severe issue that needs medical or professional intervention. In such cases, don’t rely on meditation for a cure.
When I say, “observe the pain and discomfort in meditation,” I assume that you can discern destructive pain – the one that needs medical treatment, from the mild pain that comes about because of the muscle tension.
There are specific pains that require medical treatment, and we should never ignore them. Some of them are as follows:
- Any kind of shooting pain should not be managed on your own by observation.
- Any continuous pain (dull or sharp) that doesn’t go away on its own and poses challenges in day-to-day functioning.
In such cases, use meditation as a supplementary practice in addition to medical treatment.
I have personally seen some people acting very stubborn when it comes to meditation. Despite shooting pain, they remain unwilling to compromise on their seating posture. Such an attitude is dangerous and can lead to permanent damage to the body.
What Else Can We Do To Reduce Pain?
As I mentioned earlier, most of us spend a lot of time sitting on chairs. As a result, we develop flexibility issues in the different parts of the body, especially the lower ones, like the lower back, hips, hamstring, and knees.
One common problem people face while meditating is that one or both legs become numb sitting in a cross-legged position. For example, tightness in the hip area may stop the blood flow to the legs, and as a result, the leg goes to sleep.
The following yoga poses help open up the hips:
- Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)
- Child’s Pose (Balasana)
- Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana)
- Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
Daily practicing the above yoga poses will help develop flexibility in your hips to sit in a cross-legged position. Also, you can buy a Zafu.
Zafu is a comfortable meditation cushion specially designed for meditation. It eases the pressure on the legs by raising the hips.
If you are a beginner, don’t attempt to sit for a very long time in meditation. Avoid complicated postures like lotus or half lotus. What matters is not the length of time but the comfort you experience in meditation.
As beginners, our focus should be to form a daily routine, so just 10 – 15 minutes daily is good enough to start.
All of the discomforts, like aches, itches, and minor pains, result from suppressions and repressions that accumulate as energy and create stagnation in the body parts.
Don’t pay too much attention to these, as they will resolve with time. Don’t torture yourself to sit in uncomfortable poses. The idea of meditation is not to become a better meditator.
At times, meditation may not leave you with a pleasant experience, and that’s okay. We have to accept the afflictions which arise from within without resistance or judgment to let go of them. It is a slow process, so give it time.
Popular Buddhist Meditation Practices
Buddhist meditation techniques are quite popular worldwide, and some of them are very easy to practice. Their concept is simple and does not involve adopting any rigid beliefs or dogmas.
Some of the well-known Buddhist meditation practices we are going to discuss are as follows:
Samatha (Mindfulness) Meditation
Samatha meditation is a widespread Buddhist practice that helps develop calmness and clarity of mind. For beginners, this is usually the starting point of meditation.
Samatha is a meditation technique that involves maintaining awareness of the breath and observing the flow of air in and out of the nostrils. This is something easy to practice across all age groups.
If you have never meditated before, practicing Samatha meditation can be a good starting point.
The objective here is to allow the flow of feelings and emotions through our minds without invoking any kind of reaction to them.
Many people have a misconception that we must stop the flow of thoughts in their minds completely. As a result, they try to do it forcefully, and when they cannot do that, they get frustrated.
Our body has been designed so that it’s impossible to stop thoughts altogether. But yes, we can reduce the frequency of these thoughts and, more importantly, be indifferent to them. Trying to fight with your mind is futile. Just let it go (surrender).
With regular practice, you will become more resilient to the afflicting thoughts and emotions arising in your conscious mind. They will no longer affect you in any way. You will be able to watch them come and go simply.
To do Samatha meditation, you sit in a comfortable cross-legged position (if sitting on the mat is uncomfortable for you, you can also sit on a chair and practice) on the mat, close of eyes, and keep your back straight.
Don’t force yourself in any particular position, and make appropriate adjustments to comfort yourself. If you are not relaxed, you will not be able to meditate.
Start by watching the movement of the breath in and out of your body. Don’t force your breath, and try to maintain a steady rhythm.
While practicing meditation, your mind wanders to thoughts every now and then. Whenever that happens, bring your awareness back to your breath gently.
Don’t feel bad if you cannot keep your attention on your breath. That happens to everybody in the beginning.
Slowly with time and practice, the wandering of your overactive mind reduces significantly, and as a result, you start feeling more calm and relaxed.
A calm mind helps in developing more clarity and improves decision-making. It makes us more kind and compassionate towards ourselves and others.
Samatha is a stage in which you understand the connection between your mind and the body. It helps you to clear your mind and liberates you from stress, anxiety, and depression.
Eventually, it prepares you for a higher stage of meditation known as the Vipassana, where you start developing insight.
Vipassana (Insight) Meditation
Vipassana originates from the Theravada school of Buddhism. While the Samatha meditation helps us to bring our mind to a restful state and experience calm and happiness, vipassana helps us to see things clearly, as they are in reality.
The ultimate objective of practicing Vipassana is to see clearly the impermanence of life and liberate oneself from the shackles of the illusory world. It is a process through which awareness and mindfulness can be cultivated in a gradual manner.
This practice does not have any dogmas associated with it. In vipassana, you completely let go of all that you have learned over the years and clear your mind to realize the absolute truth. It is our ego that puts false beliefs in our minds and which is also the root cause of our suffering.
By practicing vipassana, we learn to let go of the ego. And as a result, we feel much happier and lighter.
It involves paying attention to the sensations in various parts of the body. For example, while sitting in meditation, you are likely to encounter distractions like thoughts arising in the mind, discomfort in the body like pain in the back, or stiffness in the legs, etc.
You pay attention to how these sensations arise in your body, play for some time, and then disappear. The idea is not to fight these sensations but to simply observe them with a sense of detachment. All of the feelings, sensations, and emotions you experience in your body are not you.
The process of practicing vipassana is almost similar to that of Samatha meditation, in which we sit and observe the flow of breath in and out of the nostrils. But vipassana is much more intense than the Samatha and involves sitting for long durations of time.
Just as a restless monkey keeps jumping from one branch to another, our mind also behaves in a similar manner, jumping from one thought to another. This monkey mind does not like to be tamed and resists when we try to do so. By practicing meditation, we learn to tame the monkey mind.
Vipassana meditation’s popularity in India has been attributed to S. N. Goenka, who is a very renounced vipassana teacher. He was born in Burma, where he learned Vipassana from his teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin. In 1963 he moved to India and started teaching Vipassana himself.
Metta (Loving-Kindness Meditation)
Loving-kindness meditation, or Metta, is practiced to develop love, compassion, forgiveness, and kindness towards ourselves as well as towards other people. Even towards those who have not been very kind to us.
We divide this meditation practice into three broad phases just to get started.
In the first phase, we meditate on ourselves or our loved ones and generate feelings of love and kindness within us. If you don’t want to focus on any person, another way to do this is to imagine yourself to be in a happy place. This can be any place you like to visit.
For example, if you like to be in the mountains and watch the sunrise early morning, you can close your eyes and visualize the same setting. Imagine yourself to be filling up that entire space and seeing the emotions that come up.
If you don’t like to visualize a location, you can choose to meditate on someone you love, like your parent, spouse, children, or even your pet. The whole point is to generate the feeling of love within yourself and stay with that feeling.
If you are starting metta for the first time, you should stick with the first phase for a couple of days until you feel comfortable and are ready to move further.
In the second phase, we move on to those people who are neutral toward us. They are neither very pleasant nor unpleasant.
This could be that person who serves you coffee when you visit your favorite café or a person who cleans your office desk, etc. Close your eyes and wish well for these people. Generate a feeling of love and compassion for them.
Feelings of compassion and forgiveness work more for us than for other people. It allows us to heal ourselves and get rid of all the accumulated negative energy.
In the third phase, think about people who have been unkind or rude to you. The reason why these people are unkind or unpleasant to us in the first place is that many of them deeply hurt themselves.
Don’t allow them to hurt you, but at the same time, don’t keep ill will or hatred towards them.
Don’t carry around any negative energy transmitted by them, but instead, generate positive energy for yourself and them.
These people are already full of negative energy, and they don’t need more of it. When you practice metta, you generate love and kindness for these people. This helps you forgive them for their mistakes.
When you stay with positive emotions for a long duration, the darkness inside you vanishes and this, in turn, creates a space for healing yourself.
This can be a wonderful option for all the busy folks out there. Walking is something everyone can do. It doesn’t take much effort, and you can always spare time for it. In fact, walking meditation, if done right, can become your deep spiritual practice.
In walking meditation, we walk slowly and take each step with full awareness and mindfulness. We keep our bodies relaxed and take deep breaths before starting to walk. We notice how our legs touch the ground one after the other. Avoid taking sharp or sudden turns.
Just like with all other meditations, while practicing walking meditation, we also generate thoughts. Whenever we find ourselves lost in these thoughts, we bring our attention back to the steps. It’s also better to practice conscious breathing while walking.
Walking meditation can be done at any time of the day. It can be done outside in the park or even at home. One can get started by just practicing it for 10 minutes a day.
Zen Meditation (Zazen)
Zen meditation, originally known as ‘dhyana’ in India, is a traditional Buddhist meditation technique and is said to be extremely beneficial to people suffering from anxiety and depression. It is a great technique to bring the mind to a state of restfulness.
Zazen involves concentrating on posture and breath and is slightly different from the techniques we have described above.
The way to start practicing zazen is to start by taking a few deep breaths. Choose a place where you are not likely to be disturbed for the next few minutes.
The posture traditionally recommended for zazen is either half lotus or full lotus. But if you lack flexibility in your legs or hips, you can start by sitting on a chair as well.
As a beginner, you can also fold a thick blanket below you, but as you advance in your practice buying a zafu is a better option. Using a blanket will restrict you to a particular posture and may even cause a hindrance in your meditation practice.
Zafu is a cozy meditation cushion. It helps to manipulate the sitting posture in a way that feels comfortable.
Even the most experienced zen masters do not hesitate to use a Zafu because they have to ensure that no bodily discomfort causes hindrance in their meditation.
Once you are seated, you focus on your breath. Let the inhalations happen naturally, and concentrate only on the exhalations. Traditionally, Zen Meditation requires you to keep your eyes open. That way, we are not distracted by either daydreaming or drowsiness.
It is essential to keep the spine erect and aligned with your head and neck. If your spine is not straight, it will be difficult for you to concentrate.
For a beginner, practicing Zen Meditation for 15 to 30 minutes a day is sufficient.
Pure Land is a popular practice in Mahayana Buddhism and is focused on Amitābha Buddha (the Buddha of the infinite light). There are three main meditation practices in Pure Land:
- Chant the name of Amitābha, bringing all of the attention to it. In Mahayana Buddhism, Amitābha is the savior. Practitioners are supposed to perform a fixed set of repetitions every day, either vocally or in their minds.
- Repetitions of the Rebirth dhāraṇī (Mantra for birth in the Pure Land) are popular among Chinese Buddhists.
- Meditative contemplation or visualization of Amitābha.
Pure Land is more of a traditional practice performed by staunch Mahayana Buddhist practitioners. The Amitābha, or the celestial Buddha, is not the traditional Gautama Buddha (the prince Siddhartha) we usually refer to, but a monk who was known as ‘Dharmakāra’.
Gautama Buddha never preached divinity or any promise of heaven, hell, or paradise. The practitioners of pure Land believe that chanting the name of Amitābha will lead them to the pure Land (something synonymous with the concept of heaven in the western world).
Nichiren again is a practice from Mahayana Buddhism, which began in medieval Japan. This practice has been gained a lot of popularity in the west. It envisages that enlightenment is available to everybody through the course of chanting.
Nichiren was propagated by a 13th-century monk who believed that people lived a degraded life and that reform was necessary. Its concepts are based on the Lotus Sutra of the Mahayana Sutras that taught that all beings have the potential to become enlightened.
Diving Deep Into The Meditative Experience
When we sit for meditation, our mind gets tangled in random thoughts, and at times, we feel completely lost. After a few minutes, when we open our eyes, we feel that we wasted the entire session and didn’t make any progress.
For me, It was a long period of struggle and frustration. I did not have access to proper guidance at that time. Once you get the fundamentals right, you significantly shorten the learning curve and experience bliss during meditation.
As I have always said in my earlier posts, meditation is like running a marathon and not a sprint. So don’t expect quick results. It generally takes a long time to condition your mind to get into a deep meditative state.
If you want to experience deep meditation, you should be willing to spend a little more time than usual. I’d recommend that you devote at least 45 minutes to 1 hour of your time every day.
Getting to experience deep meditation is a process, and it requires time and practice. There will be many times when you will face disappointment. But don’t give up.
As of now, your mind is conditioned to behave in a particular way. It is like a child who is restless and full of energy. Therefore, it likes to wander now and then. This is also known as the monkey mind.
It takes time and patience to tame the monkey mind, so don’t expect this to happen overnight. Depending on how dedicated you are to your practice, it can take a few days, weeks, months, or even years.
Before starting your meditation, it is better to relax your body and mind. I know what you are thinking. But doesn’t meditation do that? And yes, it does, but our goal here is not just to relax but to go deep into the experience.
We start by doing a breathing exercise known as pranayama in eastern cultures. It’s an ancient Indian practice that teaches us a simple technique to master the breath. This exercise reduces stress and anxiety and makes your meditation more enjoyable and transformative.
You can either sit on a chair or sit on the ground in a cross-legged position. Whichever way suits you. Take deep breaths maintaining the natural flow. Observe the sensation of air moving in and out of the nostrils.
As you exhale, try and relax your muscles and let go of any tension and stress built up inside your body. This exercise prepares your mind and body for meditation and can be done for about 5 to 10 minutes.
Next, for a couple of minutes, just be seated and ground yourself. Try to be aware of what’s happening around you and observe any sensation arising in your body.
Try listening to your heartbeat, the chirping of birds, watching the color of the sky, and if you are sitting out in the open, feel the flow of air on your body.
If you still feel the tension in some areas, like the neck or back, do some simple stretches to let go of the tension in that particular area.
Every meditation starts with concentration and focus. We focus on our breathing or chant a mantra, and whenever we get distracting thoughts, we use a little bit of willpower to bring our attention back to our meditation method.
After a few minutes, we go into a deep state of mind, where we experience absolute stillness and perfect silence. Whenever you experience this silence, you will know that you have reached deep in your meditation.
At this point, you don’t need to concentrate anymore or apply willpower to maintain yourself in that state. There will be absolutely nothing. Even the sense of ‘I’ is lost. It’s hard to describe that state.
The best I can express in words is that it feels like a merging of nothing with the vastness of everything. Since one becomes merges with the vastness, the personal sense of ‘I’ does not exist in this state.
I still remember to this date how I felt when I first achieved this state. When I came out of meditation, the tears of joy flowed out of my eyes, my heart was filled with pure love and compassion, and I could understand how we are tied up with one another in all existence.
Role of diet In Meditation
The food we eat nourishes not only the body but also affects the alertness of the mind. Eating the wrong kind of food creates lethargy in the body and makes the brain foggy. In such a physical condition, it is difficult to focus or concentrate during meditation.
If your diet contains high-calorie, fatty, and sugary foods, you will not even be able to concentrate properly on day-to-day tasks, let alone the possibility of going into deep meditation.
For deep meditation, the body has to be light and properly nourished with a balanced diet. A light diet will ensure better sleep, higher concentration, and an alert mind.
Also, eating too much or eating in-between meals is not good for the body. When your body is busy digesting the food, concentrating is difficult. Your mind will invite unwanted thoughts. You mustn’t eat anything for at least 2 to 3 hours before starting meditation.
Some healthy eating habits that can help you experience deep meditation are as follows:
- Drink plenty of water. Water hydrates the entire body and rejuvenates the mind.
- Avoid carbonated drinks and avoid sugary fruit juices, as they can make your brain foggy.
- When you eat a meal, don’t fill up your stomach. Eat a little less than the usual capacity.
- Try to consume sattvic foods which are good for the body and can easily be digested.
- Consume more of a plant-based diet and fresh fruits. These take a shorter time period to digest than the meat-based diet.
- Avoid fatty and sugary foods like cakes, pastries, pasta, bread, cupcakes, etc.
- Treat your food with reverence and gratitude.
Eating the right food will increase prana (life-giving force) inside the body. As a meditation practitioner, your diet should be fresh fruits, organic vegetables, nuts, seeds and oils, whole grains, soups, salads, and much more.
In yogic cultures, especially in the east, it is believed that we have been given this body to complete our ‘sadhana’ (or meditation) and release ourselves from the cycle of birth and death (reincarnation).
This sadhana can be done only when we have the body. According to eastern sacred scriptures, once we die and leave the body, sadhana is not possible, and as a result, we have to take rebirth and try another time.
When we practice sadhana for a long time, we achieve ‘samadhi’ – the individualized soul’s union with the infinite cosmic spirit. We raise our consciousness and merge it with the universal consciousness, and it is then that we liberation from the trap of samsara.
This article is a preview of my book Meditation In Not About Emptying Your Mind. The book contains everything you should know about meditation: how-to, the science behind meditation, different practices, questions and answers, and more.