It was a nice afternoon, one day last week, when I was travelling with a tour group. A fellow traveler and I struck a conversation as we were hiking a long trail. The subject drifted from one to the other. At one point my fellow traveler mentioned that despite her best efforts she cannot meditate. In fact I could sense a feeling of deep disappointment in her. She said, “My mind keeps constantly drifting. I feel very bad. I know that I can never meditate” she said with a great deal of anguish in her voice. “Yes, your mind drifts from one thought to another, but so what? Aren’t you still for the few moments between the thoughts?” I asked. “Yes, that is true, but the teachers tell me that is not meditation. In fact they say that through proper mediation you reach a higher level of consciousness. I may never reach that state, I suppose” replied my fellow traveler.
Expectation of goals that may not be fulfilled is a constant regret for many on so many aspects of spirituality in practice. At this point, I must confess that I am no master of any serious art of meditation in the sense that I cannot sit at a place still and without thoughts of any kind, for hours at a time. May be with practice one can get there, just like one can lift a weight of 400 Lbs. or more through years of practice and body building? But, what if I do not aspire to be a weight lifter? Does it negate all the goodness of a healthy living and a regular regimen of exercise and physical fitness?
Meditation is a calm and contemplative mind available for our use to reflect at any time, on any subject that we choose. It is an ability to quieten my mind, such that it does not drift into thoughts on its own accord. Once my mind is focused on a subject of my choosing, how well I do with this reflection depends on my objectivity. Recall our earlier discussions that each activity is a sum total of three traits: Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance https://sipractce.wordpress.com/?s=experience pertaining to the chosen subject matter. On this basis, meditation is also an activity subject to these three traits.
- To control the mind and hence the thoughts that flow through the mind, as a purposeless exercise is ignorance.
- Attempting to meditate, only because it will lead to a higher state of existence is emotion driven (Bias), since we will not find satisfaction, in our constant quest for such elusive state of mind!
- Reflecting on the thoughts that flow through our mind and their origins and how such a reflective mind can be put to use is the knowledge or understanding of meditation.
A person is his/her own best friend through self-control. Through enmity for those which support self- control, a person remains an enemy for oneself. B.G. 6.6.
How does one reach this state of mind that treats every thought in an unattached and active manner? Where dualities such as friend/foe, like/dislike, love/hate, etc. disappear?
We seek self-control through our actions (Karma Yoga), through our emotions and their dedication to a larger cause (Bhakthi Yoga), through will full engagement of our mind and thoughts that flow through our mind – Meditation – (Dhyana Yoga), through our knowledge (Buddhi Yoga), through knowledge and understanding (Gnana Yoga), …..
The conscious choice and ability to control my mind and hence influence the thoughts that cross my mind at will is Meditation. Meditation is not an endless exercise for mind control. Instead it is a means to an end. The end is to reach a state of mind that is calm, contemplative and objective. One approach is to negate every thought that comes to our mind. This can be done by simply focusing on to one thought, such as repeating the same word or prayer song or reflecting on scenery that is neutral or impersonal, such as the ocean waves.
An ascetic seated in a clean or purified place on a firm seat covered with deer skin and dried grass, placed in a level ground of moderate height, practices the process of self-control by single minded focus on restraining his/her thoughts and sense organs. B.G. 6. 11,12.
Let an ascetic free from fear with constant pursuit of self-control, control his/her mind through his/her thoughts focused on Me (the Lord). Such concentrated reflection is made further possible by the physical practice of holding his/her body, head and neck in one line, motionless and the vision steady and unwavering and gazing at the tip of the nose. The ascetic who practices such self-control of his/her mind achieves an inner peace which leads to total renunciation (Nirvana) at which stage the ascetic is said to have reached a higher plane of existence (the state of union with the Lord). B.G. 6. 13 to 15.
The second approach is to challenge and inquire into every thought that crosses the mind at any time and place we choose. Instead of negating or erasing this thought, let us ask: What is this thought? Why this thought in my mind at this time? This process of self-enquiry or introspection has only one requirement – externalize the thought and all its attributes (e.g.): Imagine that you are seeking some favor of enormous impact. Let the mind wander to seek a favor, any favor for you. Then seek the same favor for any one close to you and continue the process. Pretty soon your mind will exhaust this seeking of favor to all those close you. Then add to the list those who are distant from you, the list gets exhausted soon. Then add to the list people, animals, plants, etc. Eventually you will come to a point, when the mind asks “Why this person? Why this animal or why this object?” This is the point, where you have to exercise self-control and say “be inclusive and move on with the list”. If you are genuine about this process of inclusion of all and exclusion of none, sooner than later, the mind will reach a state of calm and quiet exhaustion. Revel in that inner harmony.
Such a person sees no distinction between the loved ones, friend/enemy, and indifferent, uninfluenced or neutral to all those who hate him /her, those who consider him/her as a relative, the noble and the ignoble. Every one of this diversity of people is equal and accessible to an ascetic (Yogi). B.G. 6.9.
This process of self-enquiry can be practiced at any time and at any place. There are no time limits or number of thoughts to be controlled. The entire process may not take more than a few seconds. Revel in that calm, contented and contemplative state of mind. That is meditation!
Let an ascetic be in constant practice of meditation as a means for self-control, remain in quiet contemplation, thereby free from desires, belongings or possessions. B.G. 6.10
I loved your question of: “Aren’t you, for a few moments, in- between the thoughts?” Expanding those few moments of calm consistently to make them extra, extra few moments of calmness make it meditation, right? BTW, the second method is beautiful too.