Meditation FAQ

During the day we are constantly subjected to sensory input. Our minds are always actively thinking. We read the newspaper, study books, write reports, engage in conversation, and solve problems. As we do these normal activities, we typically engage in a constant mental commentary — sort of an inner "drama of me." Usually we aren't fully aware of all the mental activity that we are engaged in.

Meditation allows this activity to settle down, and often helps the mind to become more peaceful, calm, and focused. In essence, meditation allows the awareness to become rejuvenated.

Meditation usually involves concentrating on an object, such as a flower, a candle, a sound or word, or the breath. It can also be objectless, for example consisting of just sitting. Over time, the number of random thoughts that occur diminishes during the practice. More importantly, one's attachment to these thoughts, and one's identification with them, progressively diminish as well. The meditator may get caught up in a thought pattern, but once he or she becomes aware of this, attention is gently brought back to the object of concentration.

Experiences during meditation vary significantly from one individual to another, especially if different techniques are involved. Relaxation, increased awareness, mental focus and clarity, and a sense of peace are the most common by-products. While much has been written about the benefits of meditative practice, the best attitude is not to have any expectations. Expecting results is likely to create unnecessary strain in the practice.

Since meditation involves becoming more aware and more sensitive to what is within, facing unpleasant parts of oneself may well be part of the practice. No matter what is happening, the meditator should try to be aware of the experience and of any attachment to it.

Failure to experience silence, peace of mind, mental clarity, bliss, or other promoted benefit of meditation is not in itself a sign of incorrect practice or that one can't concentrate. Whether one experiences peace or bliss is not what is important.

What is generally considered important in meditation is that one practice regularly—every day—and that one make a reasonable effort, without strain, to remain with the object of concentration during the practice. With regular practice, one inevitably acquires an increased proficiency with the technique.

Some people use the formal concentrative meditation as a preliminary step to practicing mindfulness, in which one tries to maintain a heightened yet calm awareness of one's thoughts and actions during the day.

For some people, meditation is primarily a spiritual practice, and in some cases the meditation may be closely tied to the practice of a religion, such as Hinduism or Buddhism.

How is meditation different from relaxation, thinking, concentration, or self-hypnosis?

Relaxation is a common by-product of meditation. Relaxation itself can assume many forms, such as taking a hot bath or reclining in the La-Z-Boy and watching TV. Meditation is an active process in which the meditator remains fully aware of what the awareness is doing. It also attempts to transcend the thought process, whereas many forms of relaxation still engage the thought process. Meditation allows the body to relax and can offset the effects of stress both mentally and physically to a potentially much greater degree than passive relaxation.

As for thinking, thoughts generally consume energy in the process of their formation. Constant thought activity, especially of a random nature, can tire the mind and even bring on physical symptoms like a headache. Meditation attempts to transcend this crude level of thought activity. Through regular practice, one becomes aware that one is not one's thoughts but that there is an awareness that exists independent of thought.

Meditation begins with concentration, but after an initial period of concentration, thought activity decreases. The meditator can then keep the awareness focused more spontaneously. At this point the person may or may not continue to employ the object of concentration.

Self-hypnosis, like meditation, involves at least an initial period of concentration on an object. However, in hypnosis one does not try to maintain an awareness of the here-and-now, or to stay conscious of the process. Instead one essentially enters a sort of semiconscious trance.

What are the different meditation techniques?

Meditation involves concentrating on something to take one's attention beyond random thought activity. This can involve a solid object or picture, a mantra, breath, or guided visualization.

Typical objects employed include a candle, a flame or a flower. Some people use pictures, such as a mandala—a highly colored symmetrical painting—or a picture of a spiritual teacher in a high meditative state. Mantras are sounds which have a flowing, meditative quality and may be repeated out loud or inwardly. The breath is also a common focal point. Some consider guided visualization to be a form of meditation. In this practice, someone else (either live or on tape or video) will guide you through a mental journey. You will be asked to imagine a landscape, for example, and will be led through it. Once you are proficient at it, you can make this kind of journey on your own. A guided visualization can help to bring one into a meditative state; visualization may also be used once a meditative state has been reached to produce various results.

Which technique is right for me?

There is no "right" meditation technique for everybody. The best way to find out is to try one or two of the types that most appeal to you. You should find that the practice is satisfying at some level, even if it isn't easy to do at first. You will not be able to continue with a practice that you don't like or feel comfortable with.

What are the ABCs of meditation?

There are a few recommended guidelines for meditation:

• It should be done every day, preferably at the same time.

• It should preferably be done before rather than after a meal.

• A quiet place should be set aside for the practice.

• One should sit with the spine straight and vertical

(it's OK to use a chair).

Does meditation have religious implications?

Meditation has been and still is a central practice in Eastern religions for contacting God or one's higher Self. Christianity, Judaism, and other Western religions also have meditative practices, though they are not as well known.

But meditation can be practiced without adhering to any particular religion or spiritual teaching. Meditation deals with contacting something within us that is peaceful, calm, rejuvenating, and meaningful. Whether one calls this something "God" or "soul" or "peace" or "silence" is not important. It is there, and anyone can benefit from it regardless of what they believe.

Most people have already had some experience of meditative states. If you have relaxed while looking at a beautiful sunset, allowing your thoughts to quiet down, this is close to meditation. If you have been reading a book for a while, then put it down to take a break and just sat there quietly and peacefully for a few minutes without thinking, this too is close to meditation.

Does meditation have any ethical implications?

In many traditions meditation practice is a means for reinforcing ethical qualities. In these traditions, calmness of mind, peacefulness, and happiness are generally possible both in meditation and in life only if they are accompanied by the observance of ethical norms of behavior.

What is the best time of day to meditate?

While meditation is beneficial at any time, most practitioners agree that early morning is the best time. Part of the reason is that in early morning the hustle and bustle of the world has not yet begun and so it is easier to establish a meditative atmosphere. Having an early morning meditation also helps one to carry some of the energy and peace of the practice into daily activities.

Many people also meditate either before dinner or later in the evening, as well as at noon. A short meditation at these times allows one to throw off some of the accumulated stress of the work day and become rejuvenated for further activity. An important consideration is when your schedule will allow you to meditate. Having a time of the day set aside for meditation helps in maintaining regularity.

Why do some people use music while meditating?

Soothing music (not rock-'n'-roll!) can help in establishing a meditative atmosphere. Also, some people find meditation relatively easy but find that the hard thing is to actually get themselves to sit down and start their meditation. Music can help make this easier. Some people use music quite often while others prefer silent meditation and never use it.

Should I meditate with my eyes open or with my eyes closed?

Different traditions give different answers. Closing your eyes may contribute to drowsiness and sleepiness. If that's the case for you, then try opening them a little. On the other hand, opening your eyes may be distracting. If that's the case, try closing your eyes or directing your gaze on a blank wall Zen-style. Or try with the eyes open halfway or a bit more, the gaze unfocused and directed downward, but keeping the head erect with the chin slightly tucked in. Sometimes meditators experience headaches from focusing on a spot too close to the eyes (closer than, say, three feet). Whether focused or unfocused, the gaze should be relaxed in order to prevent eyestrain or headache.

Experiment and see what works for you, then stick with your choice of technique. If you are using a candle, flower, or other visual object in your meditation, then the technique itself requires your eyes to be at least partly open.

What are the physiological effects of meditation?

The most common effects are reduced blood pressure, lower pulse rate, decreased metabolic rate, and changes in the concentration of serum levels of various substances.

When I meditate I experience pain in my body. What should I do?

Sensations (itching, aches, pains) can arise in the body when meditating. Sometimes the cause is just an uncomfortable posture: make sure that your posture is comfortable under normal circumstances. At other time, the cause is that sensations are more noticeable in meditation. The body and mind are calmer, and you are able to notice more details in your bodily experience. It is often interesting to simply observe these sensations in your body—to use them as the objects of meditation. Sometimes these sensations just go away without your having to move or change your posture. Remember that a quiet body contributes to a quiet mind.

How long should I meditate?

At first it usually isn't possible to meditate for more than 10-15 minutes. After regular practice for a while, one becomes able to meditate for longer periods of time. Many people meditate twice daily for 20-30 minutes each time, but the right duration and frequency is for each individual to decide.

Do I need a teacher?

It is theoretically possible to learn meditation from a book. However, most people who teach and practice meditation agree that a teacher can be an invaluable aid in learning a meditation technique and making sure it is practiced correctly. The beginner will usually have questions that a teacher will be able to answer. Learning with a group of people, such as a meditation class, allows you to experience the benefit of meditating with others. Most people find that they have some of their best meditations in a group because there is a collective energy and focus present.

Various individuals and groups teach meditation. Some charge and some do not. Many different techniques are taught, some more spiritual in nature, while others are mainly concerned with stress reduction and gaining peace of mind. As always, the important thing is finding what works for you.

From the Web site of Saros, a Foundation for the Perpetuation of Knowledge. Used with permission.



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Replies to This Discussion

The witching hours! I find the energy *too* strong then myself. I prefer early morning when all is still and peaceful.
Thanks for writing this! It's one of the best intros to meditation I've read so far. Can you elaborate a bit more about trance please?

Hey Sabrina, I'm not the author, just reposting, it's from Saros .

A Trance state is a related, but different state of altered consciousness than that of a state of meditation. These are tricky areas as science is not really clear on what our brain is doing when it is in 'altered' states. Other than measuring brain wave activity, and measuring some other effects.

In general a trance state is more similar to what happens under hypnosis, different brain wave involvement, and a deeper state. When we talk about depth, in some ways that can be seen as distance away from connection to what we think of as our normal awake alert consciousness. So farther removed from our normal state of awareness. If you think of our normal state of awareness being the surface of an ocean, and different states of consciousness are farther and farther away from awareness of what is going on on the surface.

Thanks for the insight, am starting practice today.
Have always liked meditation but didn't know how to go about it.
Thank you


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