Meditation: Receive and Be
In high school I didn't thrive in math. My parents and teachers said I had great potential but I honestly had no clue what they were talking about. Maybe they were getting me mixed up with another kid? I sat in class and tried to understand - in fact I even tried to want to understand but my questions always came down to a single line. How does this math stuff apply to my life after I leave high school and get into "real life?"
Looking back, I'm sure this question was met with irritation from my teachers but I kept asking (more irritating, I'm sure) because I knew sincerely that if I could find out the real purpose of math, I'd be motivated to open my teenage mind to learn trigonometry and calculus. I actually never got a good answer and I'm still not very good at thinking mathematically. I wish I'd sought the answer more passionately - and asked the question in a setting where the teacher really had time to talk to me in depth.
Math has magic and a connection to all aspects of "real life." But I don't have that connection. Instead, I have a reoccurring dream - sort of a nightmare- that I'm going to be tested in math class but I'm not prepared, I don't even know where the classroom is, and never bought the text book. When I look back at my lessons in math, I really wish a teacher had heard my question and helped me find the answer.
I feel as a teacher of yoga the concept of meditation for a beginner may have that same pitfall. Why meditate? How is it important for real life? How is it different from a good phone call with a friend or an afternoon nap? What if I just turn up my favorite rock n' roll song, or take a long bike ride? What is so special about meditation?
I'm approaching this paper from my math teacher's seat - one in particular, Mr. Delaney - he loved math and just believed that if I could learn the rules and delve into the advanced stuff I'd be a believer. He couldn't fully explain it but he trusted something special was on the other side of my learning curve...I feel the same way about meditation.
Meditation is profoundly healing. Sometimes for its silence and sometimes for the multi-faceted journeying it takes the person who meditates on. Often times it's healing in ways subtle and not easily describe. So why is meditation important? Probably a good answer is: because it is an active time to surrender the left brain activity and realize our life is more that a string of created thought patterns. Meditation is also important because it puts our whole being into a listening mode.
From her book titled Eat, Pray, Love - Elisabeth Gilbert wrote, "I've heard it said that prayer is the act of talking to God and meditation is the act of listening." Yoga practice provides beautiful non-religious ways to open our consciousness to a higher awareness. I may change the quote for yoga class to say, "I've heard it said that prayer is the act of asking or requesting from a higher consciousness and meditation is the act of listening for the response." The key words in both quotes aren't "talking" "asking," "listening" or even "God" but the careful addition of the word "act." Meditation is an action that will not occur passively. Intention, focus and motivation bring a person to meditation.
The biggest false obstacle to a successful meditation practice is the belief that it needs to be "practiced" or that it even needs to be successful. Often the results of meditation may not even reach the analytical mind. Moreover, I've noticed my monkey mind spend lots of time translating what the meditation experience is while meditating! I used to try to harness that thinking pattern (what's happening? what am I experiencing now? and now? etc) as part of improving my mediations but eventually I learned to just let it float or circle my left brain to keep it occupied until I shift to another level of meditation.
It might be accurate to say that meditation is important because it puts you in a sacred receiving mode. Different from everyday receiving stimulation from driving, radio, conversations, entertainment and tasking around, meditation is a gift you can give to your brain and your heart. That's a nice motivator, isn't it? When the brain is overworked, the body and mind get out of balance. The heart is always, always working to restore that balance so the body can return to its best healthy state. The stimulus we passively receive feeds a ping pong match between a thought and the body's response.
Meditation is a time to actively put down the ping-pong paddles, offer in Pranayama with breath-work, and honor our whole self by surrendering. There are many reasons to meditation and many methods as well.
For a beginner, it's probably a good idea to offer the brain as reason for meditation time. Some better answer than "my yoga teacher says it's important" would be helpful. The brain will really appreciate this and even be more likely to play along. A reason I meditate is to remove myself from my limited thought patterns and seek a higher consciousness. I offer my brain a seat in the audience and let my breath carry me into a field of beautiful, loving information.
So, for the beginner, a good reason to take time and effort to meditate might be to gracefully enter into a flow of receiving. It is an act of self-love, which is always healing. And if that sounds too selfish to a beginner, then it's helpful to be reminded that when each of us chooses self-love we are supporting the love of humanity and nature too. It can be that simple.
The next question is how to meditate. What's the difference between sitting in lotus pose with palms facing upward and making a grocery list in your mind or actually meditating? From the outside, there is no difference. And maybe, that grocery list is the Pratyahara of the day. One item, then another, and then another. I do think it's interesting what the brain does right after it's been instructed to quiet and stop thinking. Like a zealous messenger I can observe my brain like the character named Radar from the classic M.A.S.H. TV. series. Radar is the medic/ dispatcher/gofer...."oh, oh, just one more thing sir, before I go, remember you need to eat tonight and there aren't any tomatoes left for that sauce you were going to make, oh and get onions too, and oatmeal, you'll need that for tomorrow...gee, you seem so quiet, can I keep listing a few more things because I've been meaning to remind you to get garlic, you never have garlic when you need it....so glad you're finally sitting still"
I like Radar, he's a loyal friend, great soldier, and wonderful character -- and he sure deserves a vacation. Meditation is a vacation for the brain.
In terms of methods to meditate, I have to admit I love a moving meditation. Walking - one foot in front of the other. Folding laundry - lift, fold, place, repeat. Running to chanting melodies - Ra Ma Da Sa.
I also love healing meditations -- giving the brain one affirmation to roll along with. For instance "The Earth heals, The Earth heals, The Earth heals." An affirmation gives the brain one extremely positive task and often that has powerful results. Coupled with Pranayama, an affirmation can be the gateway into a beautiful and expansive meditation.
Anytime, the brain/mind bows to the guidance of the body/spirit, meditation is possible.
Another wonderful way to meditate is the single point of focus method. Last night, I crawled into bed and read a book called Metatron, Invoking the Angel of God's Presence by Rose Eynden. On page 30, as I was almost ready to sleep, the author invites the reader to gaze at an image called Metatron's Cube - based on sacred geometry (hey, Mr. Delaney -tell me about this one!) Eynden writes earlier that "meditation is the gateway to the other side, to worlds that would amaze people if they would just learn the process." On this page she suggests to meditate on this image.
It's said this holds the structures that are the building blocks of the universe and as we recognize this from deep in our being - deep knowing and peace is unlocked.
This is a really fun item to focus on - it shifts and reveals its inner working like a moving picture. It was a beautiful way to fall asleep last night. I woke early and refreshed.
One of the best things about going to a yoga class is the time designated after asana practice to meditate. Meditation resets the day and allows the body, mind and spirit to come into balance. Probably the most amazing aspect of meditation is that it is so simple but doesn't come naturally - you can't just trip over it. It's an intention and activity that requires some time commitment and results in unlimited rewards.
For the beginner, I think the most important thing to know about meditation is that there is actually no wrong way or false way. The act of trying to meditate is, in fact, meditation.
I'm sure this can be argued, but if meditation is truly to benefit the human collective then it needs to become acknowledged as accessible. I find the term "moving meditation" to be incredibly freeing. If gardening or washing dishes brings the mind to a single point of action, then that's a meditation.
Meditation is a practice that can be cultivated like a seed - plant it and care for it. There will be times that there is no way of knowing how meditation is rooting and other times where the full bloom is apparent.
When opening to a meditation practice, be creative, have a sincere intention, practice Pranayama to carry the energy flow, and allow the brain to retreat. Allow a point of focus to open the gates and then simply let go.
Receive and Be.