Meditation is the practice of watching your mind think.
Why would you want to watch your mind think?
Well, when you can watch something, you will come to know that you are not that something. You cannot watch and be what you are watching at the same time. The Sanskrit term for this watcher or witness is sakshi.
A yogi strives to shift his or her misidentification with body and mind to identification with the indwelling Divine Self, whose nature is eternal happiness.
Meditation is not the same as prayer or contemplation. Prayer often means asking for something from someone other than you. Contemplation means to dwell on an idea or concept. Meditation means to listen for the soul within.
Meditation is not exclusively a Hindu or Buddhist practice. It is older than any doctrine preached by any organized religion. Those individuals willing to bypass thought and intellect in order to reach an indefinable experience of being have practiced it for countless centuries by simply, as the Quakers say, “listening to the still voice within.”
All yoga practices, including meditation, are designed to allow happiness to radiate through every cell and tissue of the body and every vibration of the mind. Through these practices, the yogi seeks to clear the mind of all thoughts that cloud the truth of the psyche (which is the inner soul, or Self) so that it exists eternally in a state of happiness. To truly be happy we must bring the mind into a condition of clear perception. With clear perception the mind reflects the Self, like a clean mirror.
In the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali answers the question: What is Yoga? with a description of the result gained through the practice of deep mediation:
Yogash chitta-vritti-nirodhah. (YS I:2)
Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations, or whirlings, of the mind.
When you stop identifying with your thoughts, the fluctuations of mind, then there is Yoga, which is identification with the true Self; samadhi, happiness, bliss, and ecstasy. The Sanskrit term for meditation is dhyana.
Once we can sit down and draw inward without being distracted, we are prepared for meditation, which may happen spontaneously and naturally if the ability to concentrate the mind on one object and hold it there for some time has been mastered. We cannot make ourselves meditate. We can only make ourselves concentrate.
Just as you cannot “do” Yoga you cannot “do” meditation. Yoga is the natural state of union with the Divine source: happiness itself. Meditation is the means to reach that source. The practices of yoga are practices of letting go of all limiting thoughts and ideas. The experience of meditation is graceful; it cannot be attained by effort. But grace arises only after the mind has been purified through much effort. Through consistent mediation practice, one becomes able to sit still long enough to be able to concentrate the mind so that it becomes balanced, steady, and one-pointed. When this concentration is intense enough and long enough, then concentration will become mediation. If meditation is intense enough and long enough, then it will move into a state bliss or samadhi.
It is the nature of the mind to think. Thinking is a form of talking. Our minds are usually chattering on and on, and we are engaged in constant dialog with this chatter. In order to interrupt this chatter, Patanjali recommends that we concentrate on something else-the flow of the breath, for example. Let the mind go on talking to itself, but you disengage. This concentration is called dharana.
The various schools of meditation differ from one another primarily in the object chosen for concentration. For example, this object may take the form of elaborate or simple visualizations, a mantra, a candle flame, or the breath. Only through prolonged concentration can the experience of meditation begin to dawn. You cannot make yourself meditate, just as you cannot make yourself fall asleep. If you want to fall asleep, it is helpful to create a situation that invites that shift into another state of consciousness. You brush your teeth, wash your face, put on your pajamas, lie down in a comfortable bed, turn out the lights, close your eyes, and within a few minutes you are asleep, maybe.
Meditation is similar. It is an effortless state that can only arise after you train yourself to sit still and concentrate the attention on one object without distraction. Even with all that preparation, you may not be able to shift into the meditative, thought-free state. But through practice you do get closer and closer. You don’t give up on sleep if you have a sleepless night. The next night you try again. The same is true for meditation. Don’t give up-try again.
Your concentration may be interrupted many times during one sitting practice. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are diligent. When you become aware that you have lost your concentration, bring it back to your original focus. With practice your concentration will become so strong that it is no longer easily seduced away from its focus. Then it moves into the next stage-uninterrupted concentration, or dhyana.
The following ancient metaphors describe these two stages:
Dharana (concentration that is interrupted) like pouring water into a pot. Water does not pour in a steady stream, but as separate drops.
Dhyana (meditation, uninterrupted absorption) is like pouring oil into a pot. It pours as an uninterrupted stream towards its goal, the pot.
After a period of not engaging with the thoughts, they begin to quiet down. Space between the thoughts becomes apparent. Your state of consciousness begins to shift, from a condition of fragmentation to one of concentration. This shift in consciousness is typified by a peaceful feeling, which affects both the mind and the body. This peacefulness is the result of identifying with the infinite rather than the finite.
Daily Meditation Instructions:
1. Choose a seat. Select a comfortable seated position in which the spine is perpendicular to the Earth. If you are sitting on the floor, elevate the seat by sitting on a pillow or folded blanket to make it easier to bring the spine fully erect. You must be able to hold the position still for the duration of the meditation practice. Choose a position for your hands that you can maintain comfortably for the duration-folded in your lap, perhaps, or resting on your knees.
2. Be still. Your body will become still when you eliminate any reason to move it.
3. Focus on the breath. Do not follow the breath into the body. Feel it at the tip of the nose, or in the rise and fall of the abdomen. Do not control the breath; just notice when it is going in, and when it is going out. Keep the attention on the movement of the breath; let it come and let it go.
Allow the thoughts to align themselves with the movement of the breath. Don’t hold your breath and don’t hold onto a thought and begin thinking it. Instead let the breath come, let a thought come. Let that breath go as you allow that thought to go. Let there be a continuous flow of breath through the body and thought through the mind, while “you” don’t breathe and don’t think. Instead, be the witness of breathing and of thinking.
No teacher can tell you what you will experience; that experience is yours alone. Let go of expectations, be diligent, be devoted, be spacious; begin.