Meditation has been a self-help superstar for a while now. People around the world ‘practice’ it on daily basis but there is little consensus on what meditation really is given the myriad of gurus, experts, and techniques. I had the same question when I started my spiritual journey around 14 years back. This article has been inspired by my own journey and what worked for me. So, What is meditation, and how to do it?
Meditation or Dhyana can be traced back to the Vedas(dated between 1500 and 800 BCE), but the most comprehensive work on it available today is in the form of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras written by Maharishi Patanjali circa 200 BCE, which is a compilation of archaic Yogic traditions’ practices, and knowledge. Patanjali has given 8 fold system(Ashtanga system) for the spiritual progress of an individual, of which dhyana is the 7th limb preceded by Yama (abstinences), Niyama (observances), Asana (yoga postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration) and followed by Samadhi(absorption). Maharishi describes meditation as effortless concentration on an object of concentration such as breath, or any other subtle/gross object, quality, or feeling. In Dharana(concentration) stage, the act of concentration on an object includes conscious effort on part of the doer but the transition from a conscious effort to effortless concentration has to happen on its own, hence meditation is something that cannot be done, only the body, mind and very energies have to be provided right conditioning and nourishment for it to happen, that nourishment and conditioning can be provided by prior six limbs of this 8 fold path. Ashtanga system is also called Raja Yoga(the highest yoga) in Indian Yogic tradition for its detailed and comprehensive approach to spiritual advancement.
“Yoga is the cessation of the movements of the mind. Then there is abiding in the Seer’s own form.”
― Patanjali, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Ashtanga system is cool but in a Modern Yogi’s routine everything has to go from Pareto Principle’s filter a.k.a 80/20 rule, so let’s apply 80/20 to Ashtanga System and derive insight into how to do meditation in modern settings and limitations. So it all boils downs to 5 qualities, Dharana(Concentration) on a special object(that we will discuss later), and 2 precautions to get your meditation right. Let’s explore.
“Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked.”
~ Patanjali, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The Five Qualities :
- Equanimity: Evenness of mind.
- Acceptance: Seeing things as they are.
- Beginner’s Mind: Makes us more receptive and saves us from the Curse of knowledge.
- Gratitude: Being grateful for the immensity of the present moment.
- Temperance: The Middle Path, as expounded by Lord Buddha.
The sum total of imbibing all these five qualities makes us more open, grounded & present and makes the transition from Dharana(requiring conscious efforts) to Dhyana(effortless quality) smoother.
“He who is mentally concentrated, sees things according to reality.” ~ Buddha
The Secret Object :
As Buddha would have said, the secret object is an Objectless Object. So, rather than concentrating on a particular object, concentration should be moved to awareness of the object than the object itself e.g. If you focus on breath then you should start focusing on awareness of breath, if you focus on a sensation, then you should start focussing on awareness of that sensation. This helps us to move to Dhyana(meditative state) faster as the connection from the onset is established with pure awareness.
In true meditation the emphasis is on being awareness; not on being aware of objects, but on resting as primordial awareness itself. Primordial awareness is the source in which all objects arise and subside. As you gently relax into awareness, into listening, the mind’s compulsive contraction around objects will fade. Awareness naturally returns to its non-state of absolute unmanifest potential, the silent abyss beyond all knowing.”
- Do not treat your meditation routine as an escape route.
- If you think that the meditation routine is aggravating your mental woes…STOP…take expert guidance.
Meditation is a tremendously helpful experience with positive effects ranging from psychological to physiological health but one should get the basics right regarding the kind of emotions and qualities to cultivate before taking up a regular meditation routine because without a basic understanding of meditation prerequisites it becomes an escape. If emotions and routine are correctly cultivated meditative state becomes a quality of your life and is not left behind on the yoga mat.