“Meditation. A word that many people love, yet many people fear. Why? Because for the people who enjoy practicing it, it means a journey into peace, a venture into stillness and calm, a reconnection with the depth of their heart. It is the most rewarding practice which we can make part of our lives.
Yet, for the people who do not practice it, it can be seen as something quite different. It may appear boring or a waste of time. Or the idea of ‘controlling the mind’ (which is inaccurate) is seen as too challenging and difficult, sometimes threatening. Why? Because many people are afraid of their own mind or, more accurately, afraid of their own thoughts.
In many people it is very common there is fear about where their thoughts might take them, and the resulting feelings and emotions that may arise as a result. Yet thoughts can do nothing to you. Thoughts are powerless, insubstantial, superficial and empty. They are merely clouds in the sky of our mind. How can they possibly hurt is? They cannot. Yet the emotions which we feel in response to thoughts is a more real experience, and this is what holds the threat. Nobody wants to feel afraid. Nobody wants to feel isolated, or unloved. Yet this is how we allow thoughts to make us feel, when we give them our attention.
But of course, some thoughts give us feelings that we do want, such as excitement, happiness, enthusiasm, so surely not all thought is bad? Of course not. Thought is a creative tool and should be used with clear intention, and full consciousness. Yet often this is not the case. Often thought is an unconscious commentary, either about what are doing, or what we did, or what we should do!
Thought is allowed to go in directions that simply bring us unhappiness and isolation, as we think about who did us wrong, or how we did wrong. This is insanity; a mental illness that is clearly a dysfunction of the mind. The mind is not supposed to work this way, surely? Are we really designed to create suffering into our lives? Of course not. Every human being can recognise this. We are not here to suffer, and that’s pretty good news, don’t you think?
So what do we do about a dysfunctional mind that is used to operating in such an unconscious way? The answer is two-fold.
Firstly, we bring in consciousness, which means we simply watch which thoughts the mind wants to get us involved in, so that we can consciously decide if we want to go down that particular avenue or not. Sometimes the answer might be yes. For example, if you want to think about how to plan a party or your next holiday. But due to the degree of dysfunction of the mind, very often the answer will be ‘no thank you!’ and we can take appropriate action. What is that action?
Now we come to the second part: Moving Our Attention.
This is the most liberating course of action we can take in our lives and the great news is that we can do it in any moment, in any place at any time. We simply move our awareness away from thinking. Where does it go to? Into our body, into feeling. Try it now. Move your attention into your hands, and become aware of the feeling, the sensation there. It is simple, and can be done with any part of the body, especially when you relax.
Moving our attention into the body is the only course of action if we wish to remive ourself from thoughts. Thought and feeling are mutually exclusive, which means that you cannot be conscious of both in the same moment. You can think and then become aware of how you feel, and vice versa, but each is a separate realm that can only be experienced by itself. So this is why ‘feeling’ is the antitode to thinking. But let me clarify that when I say ‘feeling’ I do not means emotions. Emotions are a physical response in the body to thought, which take place in the emotional seat of the body: the stomach. This is why food is such an effective way of repressing emotions, because it dulls the sensitive nature of the stomach and temporarily makes us feel ‘better’, whereas the truth is that we are actually feeling less, not better!
When i talk of feeling, I am referring to the experience of sensations in the body, the physical sense of warmth and energy – the tangible experience of your life-force.
When we move our attention away from thinking and become aware of how we physically feel; for example, the degree of relaxation or tension in our body, the easiness of our breathing, whether we are motivated or tired – we are bringing attention into our body. Then a marvellous thing happens: The mind becomes more spacious. Why?
Our attention is a powerful force of energy which requires what all living things need: space. Through your body, and specifically through your heart, you have access to the infinite realm of beingness, which has no borders or boundaries, and therefore consciousness cannot experience limitation. It is given the full opportunity to experience its infinite nature. This also occurs at death, but we don’t need to die to experience our infinite nature, we just need to move our awareness away from the world of limitation, the mind, toward the realm of deep spaciousness, within the heart.
When attention gets stuck in the mind (which in truth it can’t do, because attention exists above and beyond all entanglements) but when it gets absorbed into thought processes for extended periods of time, our body suffers. It is a bit like the sun only shining on the flower, and not on the leaves. The leaves are specifically designed to absorb the Sun’s light, so that the flower may bloom and grow, giving its delicate beauty to the world.
And so it is with your body; it needs your attention, your light, so that it can be nourished. When your body is nourished and healthy, it can effectively sustain greater consciousness, so that your consciousness can then bloom and radiate its beauty for all to see. When your consciousness blooms, you become radiant, full of light and full of Peace.
Have you ever noticed how peaceful a flower is? It simple transmits beauty, as well as providing nourishment for the creatures that are drawn to it. You can be like this too, when you let the beauty of your heart shine you will attract others who want some of what you have – you could call it ‘heart consciousness’.
Heart Consciousness is a very different experience to thought consciousness. It affects our being in a radically different way, and contributes something far more nourishing to the world. Love.
Thought consciousness is a breeding ground for opinions, judgements and conceptual perspectives of reality that have no relationship to reality itself. It is similar to how a map may seem to give us a good idea of a landscape or location, but on a practical level, you cannot experience the land through the map. You have to ‘come back down to earth’, bring your attention to the land itself, and experience it with your senses. Feel the ground beneath your feet, breathe in the clean air, feel the wind in your hair. A map cannot do this for you.
Living life through the conceptual mind, a world of endless thoughts and mental images, is like trying to live in a map – a very empty and unfulfilling experience. Meditation is simply the process of withdrawing our attention out of the map of reality created by our mind, and bringing ourself back to experiencing reality through our body and our heart.
A step by step example of meditation…
Relaxation plays an important role in meditation, so choose a period where there are no time pressures, so that you can have at least 30 minutes of undisturbed quiet time if you need it. You do not have to meditate for this long, but having more time removes any sense of pressure. Choose a peaceful place with no distractions. I recommend being outside in nature if it is warm enough and there is no man-made noise (like noisy machines etc). The quietest room in your house is also fine though. Switch off all phones, electronic devices etc. Sit upright in a chair (or on the floor) and allow your body to feel comfortable, relaxed and restful. It is better to sit upright rather than allow your body to slump because it helps you to remain alert and awake.
Now, you will become aware of two things. Firstly, the physical feeling of your body – how your muscles feel, how your back feels, how your joints feel and so on. Bring relaxation into your body with ten slow, gentle and deep breaths. Let everything slow down. Let your body become more restful, more relaxed and at ease.
You will notice that as your body relaxes, it’s inner tempo slows down as you become more calm and still. Your mental activity will slow down also. Instead of thoughts flying around in your mind, they may drift in more slowly and then drift away again, without influencing you as much. This is the great benefit of slowing down. Everything occurs in a more calm and manageable way.
Now, the important part here is that we are not interested in a single thought that comes along. Imagine you are taking a holiday from thought, like you might decide to take a break from your mobile phone. So even though texts are coming in for you to look at, you ignore them all because you have decided to take a holiday from them and experience some peace and quiet. You are not even tempted to take a peek.
Your mind may present you with many thoughts for your attention, telling you that they are important, but you must be firm with the mind and tell it that you are not interested in thinking now. The whole purpose of this period is for you to distance yourself from the realm of thinking, so that you can enjoy experiencing a more peaceful part of your being, a part which has so much more depth and richness. In this place within, you can experience the total nourishment of the Peace and tranquility that arises.
The more distance you create between yourself and the thoughts that enter your mind, the more you will gravitate back to a deep sense of quietness and stillness within. What enables you to create this distance is bringing your attention into your body and feeling the physical sensations present there – the heaviness of your arms, the warmth in your hands, the beating of your heart and so on.
You see, our attention needs to be somewhere. It cannot be nowhere! So if you are bringing your attention away from the thinking mind, where does it go? It benefits us tremendously to bring it into our body. By doing this we are becoming grounded, earthed, connected to a sense of inner strength and stability, and it feels good. With practice, it will encourage within you sense of ‘unshakeability’, so that no matter what thoughts may attempt to disturb your peace, and no matter how strong the winds of change may blow, you remain in Peace. This is the strength of your heart, which is nurtured through ideal nutrition, an active lifestyle, meditation, generosity and selflessness. Everyone will benefit greatly when they develop this part of themselves in these ways.
So, as you sit calmly in stillness, remain aware of the slow and steady pace of your breathing as it flows in and out of your body, and feel the strength of your heart beating in your chest.
Let your breath move into your belly as well as your lungs, and become aware of the sensations in your stomach. Our stomach is the seat of emotion in our body, so calming our stomach and bringing a sense of stillness to it will help us experience greater Peace. Peace blossoms through stillness. A still, centred mind. A calm, relaxed stomach. A slow and steady heartbeat. A regular, full and steady pattern of breathing. These are the physiological goals which allow us to move into Peace. We are simply calming and soothing the entire body and allowing oxygen – which brings consciousness – to flow freely through it, as we breathe consciously.
Conscious breathing is nothing more than being aware that our breathing remains steady and uninterrupted. Usually, in the thinking state, our breathing stops for short periods. Then we may sigh deeply, or yawn to get more oxygen back into our body. Breathing does not flow smoothly and regularly when we are in thought, and it is usually quite shallow – using only our lungs rather than our diaphragm. Being conscious to ensure our breathing flows smoothly and uninterrupted, whilst also being deep and slow, is a very effective way to remain grounded in our body and allow Peace to grow and spread within. In a state of calm, patient stillness, where nothing is forced and nothing is hurried, we allow our body the time and space it needs to present us with its greatest gift.