The idea of meditation and its practice has nested within our cultural confindmints for a number of years. Generally, it congers up for us visions made popular by T.V. and movies: of priests or monks cloistered in some remote place, either chanting or quietly absorbed in prayer, or a practitioner of one of the marshal arts preparing for mortal combat or some spaced out "newager" sitting in a crossed legged position trying to experience oneness. Beyond those images, we have not a cultural niche of real value in which to place the practice of meditation.
The problem is that we have no tradition, no established conceptual foundation, aside from the Science of Psychology whose study mainly focuses on the functions of the physical brain. We therefore, need to barrow the cultural traditions of mind established over many ages, from the Orient and from India to help us understand, experience, and establish a true value for meditation. These borrowed traditions of mind are difficult for us to quickly and neatly integrate, adapt, and transpose into our culture. Yet as remote as these concepts seem from our everyday experiences, we are beginning to realize that the practice of meditation has a relevance to our spiritual, mental, and physical lives.
The motivation for this releverancy comes from our desperate desire to, in some way, neutralize and manage the stress and anxiety we create in our daily lives. People are desperately seeking any practice, method or technique that may relief their stress and bring some peace of mind. The problem is that the search is usually confined to the material side, trying to find the right pill, therapy, medical technique , psychological training, ect. The more we search for cures from the outside, and the more our attempts fail to satisfy, the greater our stress, anxiety, insecurity, and confusion. We are trying to satisfy infinite appetites with finite practices; an exercise in futility and ultimate frustration. Life's enduring fulfillments lie within us, and the practice of meditation puts us in touch with that infinite world within. The practice of meditation begins to discipline our mind and gradually begins to abate those 1000 voices in the mind speaking at one time.
Our mind is always on; 24-7. The Masters of the mind's world tell us that there are more than 84,000 points or centers of entry for streams of thought-atoms coming from innumerable terrestrial and comic sources. Our mind's are continuously filled with these thought forms, whether we are awake or asleep. Our own experience of the workings of our mind tells us that there are differing patterns in the receiving of these forms, ranging from very slow and clear an to rapid and diluted. Science has confirmed this intuitive observation. It has studied the electrical impulses generated by the human brain through an instrument called an "electroencephalograph" and has grouped and labeled common brain waves rhythms: alpha, beta, theta, and delta. These rhythms are measured in cycles per second (CPS). It generally is agreed that about 14 CPS and higher are known as beta waves, about 7 to 14 are called alpha, 4 to 7, theta, and finally 4 and below delta.
The mind patterns we are most habitually involved with is beta. Under the influence of a beta pattern our thoughts are reeling through the center of our head at great speed, with infrequent gaps or brakes. There is a Toltec word, (mih-toe-tay) which succinctly describes this kind of mind chaos. It describes an untrained mind as having 1000 people talking at the same time, and nobody understanding the other. Zen Master's, call this speedy beta mind, "monkey mind." Through our ignorance, we become so thoroughly attached and familiar with this beta pattern of thinking that we aspire to it, and swell up with pride as we proclaim, "I am adept at multitasking." In truth, our customary speedy mind acts to disperse our attention, energy, and desires, in a multitude of directions, while depriving us of a chance to experience the true nature of our mind. It is a mind that once trained, can focus a stream of attention to a single point without a brake or gap, until the mind is completely absorbed and all disturbing thoughts disappears. It is within our ability to meditate, and that the bridge between our monkey mind of self-seeking, and our higher mind of self-forgetting, can be found and utilized. The practice of meditation will allow you to see and directly experience the true nature of your mind, and it will also expose the existence of dimensions far beyond the feverish, daily pitch of your monkey mind. This inner knowledge of mind will fill you with an unbending security, inspire you with wisdom beyond the reach of mere intellect, and release within you the capacity to react calmly and compassionately.
Meditation, generally defined then, is a practice that allows the mind to focus deeply and continuously upon any single idea or object. Under this general definition, if you are walking in a garden, single-mindedly admiring and sensing the beauty of the flowers, you would be meditating; if you were single-mindedly writing a poem or some prose, you would be meditating; if you were single-mindedly studying a textbook, you would be meditating; if you were single-mindedly doing arts and crafts you would be meditating; if you were singled-mindedly praying, you would be meditating; even if you were single-mindedly musing about any general topic you would be meditating. It is therefore obvious that the capacity to meditate is not a DNA predisposed mental talent, but part of the innate capabilities of all human beings. The human disposition of mind works the same for all, and the ability to train the mind through meditation is a jewel within the vastness and complexities of the mind's field of operation.
The practice of meditation, considering it from an operative sense, should be thought of as a discipline. In other words, it is training of attention, with the aim of mastering the thinking process. Here we have our usual monkey mind, filled with fast flowing streams of thought forms, and here we have our meditative practice, slowing down our speedy mind by the one-pointed focus of our attention. Of all the disciplines related to human development, the discipline of meditation is the most effective for it directs its discipline towards the seat of all behavior, the mind. Since thought is the initiator of all action, a discipline whose goal is the control of the thinking process would be directed at the point of greatest effectiveness. In addition, since thoughts initiate actions and weave a destiny, meditation is the most powerful tool for affecting change. If you can discipline and control your own mind, you can control your own destiny. If you think the idea of thoughts causing your destiny is mere whimsy, than hear from Lord Buddha, "All that we are is the result of what we have thought."
Even though the practice of meditation operates at the most effective level, progress does not occur readily. The first stages of meditation are tough, and beyond that it gets even tougher. The person who dares to examine the nature of their mind must take a long view of attaining the fruits of meditative practice, keeping in mind that anything worthwhile takes long arduous effort, and cannot be teached in a single leap. Some of the fruits however, do come within the first weeks of consistent practice. The aspirant will experience a sense of calmness especially revealing itself under circumstances that previously produced great emotional reactions. It is those fruits that reach to the highest qualities of our mind that take the longest to attain. The attainment of the highest fruits of meditative practices, such as a continuous calm, clear, and peaceful mind, is extremely difficult to achieve, but not out of the range for the average human being. What is needed for success is a mustering of the full attention of the mind and the full affection of our heart to become one-pointed in thought, and an unbending willingness to press ever upwards through the personalized veils of consciousness and feelings in order to reach our higher consciousness, our Higher Self. When success does come, we can say what Lord Buddha said, "I am the happiest of mortals. There is no one happier than I am."
Meditation should not, however be thought of as a practice that will bring the practitioner only, what the psychologist's term, peak experiences. That is, experiences of bliss, joy, expanded awareness, peace of mind, or feelings of a closer connection to God. Carrying this specific kind of expectation into the meditative practice turns the practice into a form of worship, were the worshiper wants to see only the positive aspects of God. When the meditator experiences the destructive sides of the cosmos, he or she may begin to doubt the correctness of his or her's practice, and may stop meditating. It should be remembered that meditation is not just experience of peace, but also a comprehensive experience including both the positive and negative aspects of life. The aim should be to see beyond the conceptual evaluation, and integrate all experiences that emerge during meditation whether a peak experience or a negative one.
The person who examines the nature of his or her mind by the practice of meditation, who purifies the negative energy of envy, anger, avarice, and fear, and who dedicates his or her's action for the benefit of all beings follows the path of the gods.
One truth, many paths. Be good, do good.