Many people write and ask me how to meditate. I always suggest they read the book The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson . In it, Dr. Benson gives the exact technique as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation, but without the religious or spiritual overtones. The book also details what happens physiologically when you meditate. Many people find it relaxing to listen to a guided visualization cd, where they close their eyes and allow their mind to follow guided imagery. They call this a guided meditation, but it’s not what I mean by the word meditation. Here’s my process:
When I sit to meditate, I sit cross legged on a mat on the floor in front of my altar, if I am home inside, or facing the moon if I am outside at night. My altar is simply a small area in my home, a table upon which I have photos of teachers I feel devoted to or whom inspire me, and some small candles. It relaxes me to sit there twice a day and light some incense and look at each photo and be reminded how I am inspired by this one and that one.
I begin by doing a few minutes of stretching and breathing deeply as I stretch, some neck rolls and shoulder shrugs, just to loosen up a little. This might take 5 minutes, it might take 20, my body tells when it’s enough.
I might take a few minutes to circulate the chi throughout my system, and transmute it as fuel for the day’s meditation. I circulate the chi, or prana, or life force throughout my body on my breath. I take some deep breaths and I do a slow, controlled outbreath, imaging the life force being pulled into my body with each breath, and circulating throughout my body upon each outbreath. Don’t worry right away about where the chi should circulate, just begin doing the breaths and you will settle into a routine where you will feel guided to breathe more fully into, say, your feet or legs, or your internal organs, or your upper back or shoulders.
Ritual helps me relax and get into a receptive mindset. I have 2 crystal bowls, a giant Om bowl and a smaller throat chakra bowl, and I might take a moment to sound the bowls before I begin, striking each 3 times in bell-like fashion before churning them. When the sound of the bowls has driven the idle thoughts from my mind and is resounding in my brain, I then take 3 deep breaths and chant Om 3 times, long and low.
I say a set of prayers I have included below. By the time I have said them, I am typically in that higher state that facilitates meditation. If not, I act as though I were, and I soon will be. I keep my attention focused on my ajna (ahj’-nah – third eye) center, and feel as though I am breathing in and out of that center. I feel myself taking my breath in through the third eye area in my forehead and expelling the breath from it. As I do that, I am helping to awaken the ajna.
I listen to the sound of my breathing, the inner sound and the outer sound. As I feel the breath touch my upper lip, I remember to refocus on the ajna center, and to breathe in and out of there. This is when you’re walking the tightrope. Don’t fall into the trap of getting involved with how often your mind wanders, that’s just another thought.
This is why they call it practice, and yes, 40 years later, my mind still wanders. Keep bringing your attention easily back to the ajna center, your third eye center, and continue breathing through it. I believe when we sit and do this, we are acting as “transmitters” for whatever Higher Force animates us. Benjamin Creme calls it transmission meditation . And I do this until it feels like I’ve done it long enough. It might be 20 minutes, it might be 120 minutes.
When I belonged to a transmission meditation group, we did it for entire weekends, in 4 hour segments with half hour breaks. You get that buzz going and there’s nothing like it and you don’t want to stop. Like during Shivaratri (a Hindu festival) when you chant Om Namah Shivaya all night long and you get so high, every cell of your body sits lightly and you feel nine feet off the ground; the light blazing within and without.
HERE’S MY PROCESS
What I do is first sit, usually cross legged on a pillow on the floor in front of my devotional area, and take a few deep breaths, and place my focus on my ajna or third eye center. I envision that I am breathing in and out of my ajna center and just keep my attention there as consciously as I can. I strive to do this during the day as well. I then begin saying the following prayers:
**Prayer to Sri Sathya Sai Baba**
Oh Lord, take my love and let it flow in fullness of devotion to you.
Take my hands and let them work incessantly for you.
Take my mind and thoughts and let them be in tune with you.
Take my soul and let it be merged in One with you.
Take everything I have and let me be an instrument to work for you.
**This is a prayer from Alice A. Bailey**
I am a messenger of Light
I am a pilgrim on the way of Love
I do not walk alone, but know myself as One
with all great souls and One with them in service.
Their strength is mine, this strength I claim;
My strength is theirs and this I freely give
A soul, I walk on Earth, I represent The One.
**I say the Lord’s Prayer 3 times**
Then I do several rounds of saying my mantra. Several may be 9, it may be 108.
**Gayantri Mantra (phonetically)**
Om bhur bu-vah svah-ha
Tat savitur vr-ayn-yam
Bargo devas-yah dee mahi
Dee-yo yo nah, pra-cho dyat.
By the time I finish saying these prayers, my mind has considerably slowed down from whatever my thoughts were before I sat down. My attention is still directed at my ajna center and I am continuing to breathe consciously and rhythmically. If I find my mind is still scattered, I repeat the Gayantri Mantra until it stills. At this point, the prayers and mantras are still resonating in my mind. I usually say them silently to myself but when a friend sits with me, I do them aloud if they wish. As I am feeling the hum of the still-resonating mantras in my mind, I direct my attention inward and to the ajna. I feel my breath coming in my nostrils and being directed up to my ajna, nourishing it.
So the last physical act I am conscious of doing is looking within to the darkness before me, with directed focus (as though I might find a tiny white pinhole of light at the end of it) and feeling the expansion and contraction of my energetic “self” as I breathe. In those moments when I lose all sense of myself as a separate entity, in those moments I feel I have achieved meditation.
People talk about their sex life more readily than they talk about how they meditate, and it’s because so many people think they’re not doing it right. It’s one of those secret guilts so many spiritual seekers carry around ~ “What if everyone finds out I’m doing it wrong? No wonder I’m not evolving spiritually, no wonder my life is a mess. I don’t know how to meditate right and I’m too embarrassed to let anyone know that.” Sounds silly, huh? But I’ve seen it happen time and time again. Roughly a quarter of my practice is teaching meditation.
I’m always interested in what process others use to put themselves into a receptive state for meditation. You can email me your process at firstname.lastname@example.org
(also type “meditation” in the search box and find more)
Meditation Twice a Day Keeps the Outside World at Bay
Preparing For Relaxation; Preparing For Meditation; Daily Practice
Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response is Transcendental Meditation minus the ritual
Paving neural pathways to achieve meditation and access elusive inner states
Neurotheology: How God Changes Your Brain
Regulate your body chemistry: meditation as anti-aging medicine
A list of meditation’s positive effect on some of your body’s chemicals
Meditating to the superconscious state
An 11 Minute, 11 Step Meditation to Develop Compassionate Understanding